According to the Center for Disease Control (1996), 60% of
American adults don't get the recommended amount of physical
activity, and over 25% of adults are not active at all. The
excuses? "I don't have time.", "I'm too tired.",
"I don't know what to do."
If you think you might be ready to get started with an exercise
program, try the following steps to help get you through the
to get Started. Take the time to make a list, writing down
the reasons exercise that exercise is important to you. For
example, "it will increase my energy", "it will
help me fit into my clothes again", "it will improve
my health", "I will look better", etc. If your
primary reason for beginning an exercise program is to become
leaner, now is also a good time to have a photograph of yourself
taken (preferably in a bathing suit or workout gear).
This photograph will be indispensable in motivating your to
continue - and in benchmarking your progress.
Your Current Level of Fitness and Health. If you are over
35 and have been sedentary for more than one year, it is strongly
recommended that you obtain a physician's clearance before beginning
an exercise program. At a minimum, have your blood pressure
and cholesterol levels checked by a professional. Now is also
the time to take your body measurements and to determine your
present body fat levels. You may also wish to test your current
level of fitness at this stage (strength and/or sub-maximal
endurance testing). The results of the tests will become invaluable
in monitoring your progress and in keeping you motivated toward
Specific, Achievable Goals. Now that you're committed to
beginning a program, it's time to define specific, achievable
goals. Set long-term, intermediate and short-term goals as benchmarks
to monitor your progress. For example, your long-term goal might
be to reduce your body fat percentage from 30% to 22%, and to
decrease your total cholesterol to under 200 mg/dl within 12
months. Your interim goal might be to raise your upper body
strength fitness level from poor to good in 3 months. Your short-term
goal might be to increase your cardio exercise time from 20
to 30 minutes within 2 weeks. The goals should be specific,
measurable and challenging, yet achievable.
Your Favorite Cardio Activities. To keep your workouts fresh,
create a list of various activities you can choose from. Include
activities for all possibilities -- for when you're feeling
energetic, for when you'll spend time outdoors, for when you're
not feeling as strong, for when the weather outside is poor,
etc. For example, your list might include walking outdoors,
swimming, doing an exercise video, taking an aerobics class,
stair-climbing, treadmill, hiking, rowing, jogging, playing
ball with your children, rollerblading, etc.
Your Exercise. Write down your exercise appointments as
you would any other appointment and schedule them a week in
advance. Be specific and realistic. For example, you might write
down Monday, 9-9:30 am - Treadmill; Tuesday, 10-10:45 am - 1
set of 12 repetitions of 10 exercises for the total body; Wednesday
- Rest, etc. Be careful not to be too overly-zealous initially.
If you've been sedentary for some time, it probably isn't realistic
to schedule 2-hour exercise appointments in 6 days per week.
Your Exercise Appointments. Think of you're scheduled sessions
as you would any other appointment. You wouldn't break your
dental appointment because you didn't "feel like"
going would you? If you've committed to reaching your health
and fitness goals, you must follow through. Of course, there
will be times when you may need to reschedule or cancel your
appointment - during injury or when you are sick, for example.
Like any other appointment, skipping the session for valid reasons
may be necessary at times - but skipping the appointment to
lie on the couch and watch television is probably not a valid
the "5-Minute Compromise". There will be days
when you can't face keeping your exercise appointment. You may
have had a hard day at work, or you may be tired, or just not
"in the mood". On these days, try the "5-Minute
Compromise". Tell yourself that you'll try to exercise
for only 5 minutes. If after 5 minutes you don't feel like continuing,
then tell yourself you'll stop and you won't feel guilty about
it. Nine times out of ten, once you've begun you will continue.
Remember, you are exercising because you want to achieve
the goals you have set for yourself. If your goal is to reduce
body fat, visualize your cardio activity as peeling layers of
fat off your body, much as you'd peel layers off an onion. If
your goal is to gain muscle definition, visualize your muscle
as it will look, and feel it working and you lift the weight.
If your goal is to increase your cardiovascular health or to
reduce your blood pressure, imagine your heart working and pumping
blood and oxygen to the cells of your body--getting stronger
and more efficient. As you perspire, imagine the impurities
flowing from your body and you work your way toward better health.
Yourself. As you reach your short-, intermediate-, and long-term
goals, reward yourself. You deserve it! Buy that new exercise
outfit or pair of tennis shoes. Take a long bath after a tough
workout. Look over your appointment book and see how much progress
you've already made -- and all the fitness appointments you've
kept! You're doing a terrific thing for your health and appearance
- reward yourself for a job well-done!