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Start Where You Are

Making a commitment to exercice.

three women walking through a park

You know that exercising can help you lose weight, boost your heart health and even reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.  But if you haven’t been active recently, it can be hard to get started. 

The key to taking that first step is to be prepared and have reasonable expectations. If you have a plan, you’re more likely to stick to a routine.

Are you ready?

If you haven’t been physically active or have a health condition, injury or a disability, start by talking with your doctor. Also, talk with your doctor before significantly increasing your activity level. Your doctor can help you decide if you’re ready to start getting more active. Ask if you should take any special precautions when you exercise. They may be able to help you come up with an exercise plan. If you smoke, set a quit date so you can get even more benefit from an exercise routine.  

Have you chosen an activity? 

It helps to consider the wide variety of activities available to you. Choose a sport or a pursuit that you’re interested in. The best exercise is the one you will do regularly. 

Be sure your plan includes the basics of a healthy workout: 

  • Warming up, cooling down. Whatever exercise you choose, make time for warmup and cooldown periods in your workout. A good warmup gets your body ready for more intense activity.  An easy way to warm up is to do an aerobic activity at a slower pace for a few minutes. You can cool down the same way.
  • Stretching. When you’re in a hurry to complete your workout, you may be tempted to skip this step. But stretching correctly is important. It may help make you more flexible and improve your range of motion.
  • Setting goals. Build up to the exercise goals in the federal guidelines for physical activity. Adults should try to exercise most days of the week. Do a mixture of exercises that increase your breathing and heart rate and that strengthen your muscles. Shoot for getting your heart rate up for at least 150 minutes each week by doing things like taking a brisk walk. Focus on strengthening your muscles two or more days a week. You could climb stairs, lift weights, do push-ups, or practice yoga.

At home or at a gym?

Exercising at home is cheaper and easier for many people. But it requires self-discipline. You can easily get distracted by household needs that seem more pressing. 

A club or gym costs more, but it may offer a range of activities and equipment. Also, you may find that having more people around at a club energizes you. If exercising with other people helps motivate you, don’t forget your friends and neighbors. They may want to form a walking club or join you in a new physical activity. 

What’s at play here is your exercise personality. Find an activity you enjoy and a setting where you’ll be most comfortable.

Have you set realistic goals?

Many people make the mistake of jumping into vigorous exercise in the hopes of faster results. If you start out too hard, you could get overly tired and discouraged. It takes time to build stamina, and it takes willpower to stick to a routine. A slow and steady start can help you stay with your plan for the long haul and avoid burnout. 

Take that first step today. It can help make your tomorrows even better.

By Ginny Greene, Contributing Editor

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Physical activity guidelines for Americans, 2nd edition. Accessed: June 18, 2021.
American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Starting an exercise program. Accessed: June 18, 2021.
UpToDate. Overview of the benefits and risks of exercise. Accessed: June 18, 2021.

Last Updated: June 18, 2021