Each year, countless people set their New Year’s resolutions. In 2020, the most common resolution was to exercise more. Eating healthy and losing weight came in third and fourth, respectively. That’s a lot of people starting something new, and many of them may not have any experience with exercise at all. So, what should you do if you want to get more active, even though you’re a newbie to the gym? What's ideal for a beginner, anyway?
It’s a good idea to get a physical checkup and permission from your doctor before beginning any new exercise program. There probably isn't anything to worry about. In fact, your doctor will almost certainly be thrilled and give you an enthusiastic green light. But that doesn't mean you shouldn’t check-in, first. This is especially true if you have:
Having one of these health conditions does not automatically preclude you from exercising. Your doctor may just want to run some tests first to make sure you’re healthy enough for activity. He or she may also have recommendations on what’s safest for your condition. They may also want to monitor existing medications and dial them back if you start to see health gains as a result of the new efforts.
If you’re new to exercise, you should probably start out slow with an activity you enjoy. Walking is a great beginner activity. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends walking 150 minutes per week, but you can break that up into 10 to 15-minute sessions throughout the week if you need to. You can even count walking the dog and walking around the mall as long as you're moving.
The key to choosing the perfect beginner activity is to choose something you enjoy. You will be more likely to follow through if you’re having fun. So, consider out-of-the-box activities, such as going on a scavenger hunt, playing volleyball in the pool, riding a bike in the park, taking modern dance classes, swimming at the local public pool or playing team sports. You don't have to become a "gym rat" to get fit.
Unrealistic goals can lead to discouragement and may even sabotage early efforts. Instead, set attainable goals. Begin walking for 10 to 20 minutes per day most days of the week and work up to meet health association recommendations. Remember that duration isn't the end-all-be-all of working out. Speed and intensity are just as valuable, and turning these up a little at a time is another way to set and meet goals.
For strength-training exercises, plan to work on all muscle groups two times per week. One set of 8 to 12 reps of each exercise is perfect for getting started. For stretches, start with slow, static stretches of short duration, for about 10 to 30 seconds.
Beginning a new exercise regimen is an admirable and important goal. Make sure you achieve your goals safely by getting checked out by a doctor and choosing realistic activities. Keep in mind that it’s difficult to create a new habit. It may help to connect this new habit to an existing habit such as working out right after morning routines. Strive to start off slowly and do a little each day until exercise becomes a normal part of the day. If you try to over-achieve at first, you may burn out or, worse yet, injure yourself. Remember, the tortoise wins the race.