Fitness program: 5 steps to get started

Are you thinking about starting a fitness program? Good for you! You're only five steps away from a healthier lifestyle.By Mayo Clinic Staff

Starting a fitness program may be one of the best things you can do for your health. Physical activity can reduce your risk of chronic disease, improve your balance and coordination, help you lose weight — and even improve your sleep habits and self-esteem. And there's more good news. You can start a fitness program in only five steps.

1. Assess your fitness level

You probably have some idea of how fit you are. But assessing and recording baseline fitness scores can give you benchmarks against which to measure your progress. To assess your aerobic and muscular fitness, flexibility, and body composition, consider recording:

  • Your pulse rate before and immediately after walking 1 mile (1.6 kilometers)
  • How long it takes to walk 1 mile or 400 meters, or how long it takes to run 1.5 miles (2.41 kilometers)
  • How many half situps, standard pushups or modified pushups you can do at a time
  • How far you can reach forward while seated on the floor with your legs in front of you
  • Your waist circumference, just above your hipbones
  • Your body mass index

2. Design your fitness program

It's easy to say that you'll exercise every day. But you'll need a plan. As you design your fitness program, keep these points in mind:

  • Consider your fitness goals. Are you starting a fitness program to help lose weight? Or do you have another motivation, such as preparing for a marathon? Having clear goals can help you gauge your progress and stay motivated.
  • Create a balanced routine.

    The Department of Health and Human Services recommends getting at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity a week, or a combination of moderate and vigorous activity.

    For example, try to get about 30 minutes of aerobic exercise on most days of the week. Also aim to incorporate strength training of all the major muscle groups into a fitness routine at least two days a week.

  • Start low and progress slowly. If you're just beginning to exercise, start cautiously and progress slowly. If you have an injury or a medical condition, consult your doctor or an exercise therapist for help designing a fitness program that gradually improves your range of motion, strength and endurance.
  • Build activity into your daily routine. Finding time to exercise can be a challenge. To make it easier, schedule time to exercise as you would any other appointment. Plan to watch your favorite show while walking on the treadmill, read while riding a stationary bike, or take a break to go on a walk at work.
  • Plan to include different activities. Different activities (cross-training) can keep exercise boredom at bay. Cross-training using low-impact forms of activity, such as biking or water exercise, also reduces your chances of injuring or overusing one specific muscle or joint. Plan to alternate among activities that emphasize different parts of your body, such as walking, swimming and strength training.
  • Allow time for recovery. Many people start exercising with frenzied zeal — working out too long or too intensely — and give up when their muscles and joints become sore or injured. Plan time between sessions for your body to rest and recover.
  • Put it on paper. A written plan may encourage you to stay on track.
Aug. 20, 2016 See more In-depth