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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 initial hurdles.

 Commit 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.

 Determine 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 your goals.

 Set 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.

 List 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.

 Schedule 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.

 Keep 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 reason…

 Use 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.

 Visualize. 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.

 Reward 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!

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