The Simplest Way to Get Started with Exercise

Fitting exercise into your schedule

Woma smiling with resistance band
Getty Images/Jamie Grill

It's tough to figure out how to fit in exercise, especially if you equate it with sweat, pain and tight clothes that announce every unsightly bulge.

Maybe you plan on exercising every day but, somehow, never get to it. The good news is, exercise doesn't have to hurt and it doesn't have to occur in a health club. Exercise can happen anywhere: At work when you're walking up and down the stairs or at home while you're walking the dog, cutting the grass, or vigorously cleaning out your garage.

Once you understand that there are ways to incorporate exercise into your life without even once pulling on anything made of Spandex, you're on your way to a healthier life.

The Basics of Exercise and Fitness

Let me take you back to a little school - the good kind where there are no tests.  Your first order of business is to learn just a little bit about what you're working and why. That way, you'll be better able to put all the components of fitness together in a more effective way.

  1. Cardio endurance - The refers to how well your heart and lungs work to supply your body with oxygen during your workout. Example: How well you're breathing after chasing your terrified dog around the yard before stuffing him into the tub for a bath.
  2. Muscular Endurance - This means how long you can hold a position or repeat a movement.​ Example: Carrying 8 bags of groceries, plus a tired child, up 3 flights of stairs and into the kitchen without dropping them.
  1. Muscular Strength - Your ability to lift the heaviest weight you can, one time.​ Example: The strength required to shove your spouse over in an attempt to stifle the chainsaw-like snoring.
  2. Flexibility - How limber you are.​ Example: You're ability to reach the top shelf of your bookcase for a quick dust.
  1. Body Composition - the proportion of fat compared to bone and muscle. Example: Having a healthy percentage of muscle and fat in your body.

This all adds up to the fact that you should be doing cardio exercise, resistance training, stretching and eating a healthy diet. I know, you probably knew that, but helps to spell it out so that you really see what you're actually working on, right?

Now you know, so you're ready to get started.

Putting It All Together and Setting Up Your Basic Program

1. Cardio. Let's start with cardio. If you're just getting started, the general rule is to start with about  20 minutes of cardio exercise three times a week. This can be any activity that elevates your heart rate into your training zone. First, figure out your THR (target heart rate) and then choose activities that will get you in that zone.

This can include anything from walking the dog to weeding the garden. 

2. Resistance Training. Lifting weights increases your muscle mass which, in turn, helps to raise your metabolism so you burn more calories every day. It also helps build bone density. You don't need a bodybuilding routine; just a simple total body workout twice a week will do. For detailed information about resistance training, check out Weight Training 101 or visit my Workout Center for workout ideas.

3. Stretching. Now, you're moving, you're lifting and you're feeling great. Don't forget to stretch. Flexibility is important because it helps prevent injury. Not only that, stretching helps you relax, increases your coordination, and, best of all, it feels really good.

Tips and Tricks for How to Keep Exercising

  1. Keeping track of your workouts can help you be more consistent.
  1. Find a workout buddy to keep you motivated or exercise with your family members.
  2. Get professional advice from a personal trainer. Starting out on the right foot can make exercise more effective and more fun.
  3. Just Be active. It doesn't have to be in a health club or an aerobics class and you don't have to wear special clothes or perform complicated activities. It is as simple as making a choice. Will you park right next to the door at work today or will you walk a few extra feet? Will you take a walk after work or sit down and have a drink? Will you wash the car on Saturday or sleep in? Every day you have the option of being more active.
  1. Focus on the good things. The more you get your body moving, the more energy you'll have to fulfill your daily obligations. Exercise also helps you sleep better, and it keeps you alert all day long so it's much easier to impress your boss with how smart you are.
  2. Be consistent. Stick with it and you'll see results.
  3. Reward yourself with massage, a weekend vacation or new workout gear/clothes.

Daily Exercise Checklist

  • Get up 10 minutes early for a walk.
  • Park your car at the end of the parking lot.
  • Get up every hour for a five minute walk.
  • Take the stairs at least one time during the day.
  • Make your dog happy: take him for a long walk.

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