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 — even improve your sleep habits and self-esteem. And there's more good news. You can do it in just 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 after you walk 1 mile (1.6 kilometers)
  • How long it takes to walk 1 mile (1.6 kilometers)
  • How many 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 as measured around your bare abdomen just above your hipbone
  • 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.
  • Create a balanced routine. Most adults should aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity — or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity — a week. Adults also need two or more days of strength training a week.
  • Go at your own pace. 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 a physical 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, or read while riding a stationary bike.
  • Plan to include different activities. Different activities (cross-training) can keep exercise boredom at bay. Cross-training 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.
Feb. 08, 2014 See more In-depth