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Published on June 04, 2020

Start a Fitness Program

man doing a push-up

You know you should exercise. You may even want to.

But getting started — and knowing where to begin — can be overwhelming.

We can help.

Annelise DiGiacomo, an American College of Sports Medicine Health and Fitness Specialist, says that starting to exercise and staying committed to a routine can be difficult unless you have a clear plan, and she can help you get started.

Annelise, who regularly works with people to adopt a healthier lifestyle, advises the following seven steps when developing a personal fitness regimen:

Tip #1 Know your why. “The first thing I do with clients is help them identify the reason behind why they want to get fit,” Annelise says. “For some, it’s fear-driven — maybe they had a health scare or realize their body is changing in ways they don’t like. Others may be driven by a desire to lose weight or look better.”

Whatever it is, she explains that knowing the motivator is helpful, particularly around week four or five of exercising when many struggle with losing motivation. Everyone needs to be reminded, she says, why they started exercising in the first place.

Tip #2 Assess your fitness level. Knowing your starting point is the second step. “Recording baseline scores provides benchmarks and helps measure progress along the way,” Annelise explains. She recommends using the following to assess your baseline fitness level:

  • Pulse rate before and after you walk 1 mile
  • Length of time it takes to walk 1 mile
  • Number of pushups or sit-ups you can do at a time
  • Waist circumference (around bare abdomen just above hipbone)
  • Body mass index
  • Scale weight
  • How you feel after exercising

Tip #3 Seek support. Whether you find an exercise buddy or someone who will check on your progress, Annelise suggests that by letting others know you’re trying to exercise regularly, you gain supporters and people who will keep you accountable.

Tip #4 Make a plan. “Just like when you go on a road trip, you need to have a plan of where you’re heading and what your ‘mile markers’ are along the path,” Annelise says. “You’re much more likely to be successful in your fitness regimen if you have a plan.”

She advises clients to include things in their plan such as types of exercise, frequency and duration, and specific days and times. Realistic fitness goals and any perceived obstacles should also be included in the plan.

Tip #5 Consider the fitness equipment needed. “The first thing needed to begin exercising is a good pair of walking or running shoes,” says Annelise. “The shoes you wear affect the rest of the body so you want to make sure you’ve invested in a pair that give good support.”

Comfortable clothing that allows for easy movement is also important.

From there, other equipment — weights, jump ropes, arm/leg bands, bikes, treadmills, etc. — can be added, based on your fitness goals and budget.

Tip #6 Get moving. Now it’s time to begin. It’s important to start slowly and increase activity gradually. As your stamina improves, increase the amount of time you exercise.

Work your way up to 30 to 60 minutes of exercise most days of the week.

If that seems like a lot, Annelise recommends breaking things up, exercising in increments of 15 or 20 minutes.

Eventually, she says, adults should aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity — or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity — per week.

Annelise encourages people to look for activities they can replace or do differently. Examples include:

  • Instead of meeting a friend for coffee, meet for a walk.
  • Ride a stationary bike while watching TV, and  increase intensity during commercials.
  • Opt for the stairs instead of the elevator.
  • Park further away from a building so you can walk more.

Tip #7 Monitor your progress. A good way to find out if your new fitness regimen is working is to retake your baseline fitness assessment six to eight weeks after you begin.

There are also apps and online tracking tools – mapmyfitness, mapmyrun, and mapmyride, for example – that can help you log your progress over a period of time in areas such as duration, speed, incline, heart rate, stamina and so on.

“When it’s captured all together, it gives a big picture in terms of how far you’ve come,” Annelise says.

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