Starting an Exercise Program

I’m not particularly active, and I haven’t exercised in years. Is it safe for me to start now?

If you haven’t been active for a long time, it’s important to start out at a low level of effort and work your way up slowly. Beginning slowly will help you become more fit without straining your body. For example, you may want to start with walking, biking, or swimming at a comfortable pace and then gradually do more, or start strengthening exercises with 1- or 2-pound weights and gradually add heavier weights. You may want to talk with your doctor if you decide to start a vigorous exercise program or significantly increase your physical activity.

How long do I need to be active before I see results?

Once you start being physically active, you’ll begin to see results in just a few weeks. You may feel stronger and more energetic than before. You may notice that you can do things more easily, faster, or for longer than before. As you become more fit, you may need to make your activities more challenging to see additional results.

I find it hard to make myself be active. What can I do?

You’re more likely to keep going if you choose activities you enjoy, if you can fit them into your schedule, if you believe you’ll benefit from them, and if you feel you can do them safely and correctly. Making a contract with a friend or family member also may help you keep your commitment. Setting small, realistic goals, checking your progress, and rewarding yourself when you reach your goal also can help. If you can stick with an exercise routine or physical activity for at least 6 months, it’s a good sign that you’re on your way to making physical activity a regular habit.

How do I find time to be active?

There are a number of ways to fit exercise and physical activity into your schedule. For example, exercise first thing in the morning before your day gets too busy, or combine physical activity with a task that’s already part of your day, such as walking the dog or doing household chores. If you don’t have 30 minutes in your daily routine to be active, look for three 10-minute periods.

What kind of equipment do I need?

For many activities, you don’t need any equipment or special clothing. All you need for brisk walking, for example, is a pair of comfortable, non-skid shoes. For strength training, you can make your own weights from unbreakable household items. Many communities offer free or low-cost programs. Check with your local parks and recreation department or senior center about the facilities and programs in your area.

What if I have an injury or health problem that keeps me from exercising for a while? How do I know if it’s safe for me to start again?

If you miss a few days or weeks of exercise because of an injury or illness, don’t be discouraged. Once you recover, you can start again and be successful. Talk with your doctor about when you can resume your regular routine. When you start again, begin at about half the effort you were putting in when you stopped, then gradually build back up. With a little time, you’ll be back at the same, or a better, fitness level.

Is it better to join an exercise class or group, or exercise on my own?

There are many ways to be active. The key is to find activities you truly enjoy. If you prefer individual activities, try swimming, gardening, or walking. Dancing or playing tennis may be for you if you enjoy two-person activities. If group activities appeal to you, try a sport such as basketball or join an exercise class. Some people find that going to a gym regularly or working with a fitness trainer helps them stay motivated.