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? We looked at ways to help you get started, help you stay there, and to help you push through the intimidation factor you may be facing.
First, it’s a good idea to get a physical checkup and permission from a doctor before beginning any new exercise program. There probably isn't anything to worry about, but it helps build confidence to get the green light. In fact, your doctor will probably be thrilled and give you an enthusiastic yes. But that doesn't mean you shouldn’t check-in, first. It may also help to know that your physician is waiting to help you test the benefits of those results — built-in accountability is another great reason to visit the doc from the get-go. But if you have certain challenges, it's especially important to see the doctor first. If you're facing the following, please be certain to schedule that appointment ahead of any changes:
Having any one of these health conditions does not automatically preclude you from exercising. But a doctor may want to run some tests to make sure you’re healthy enough for activity. He or she may also have recommendations on what’s safe for your condition in particular or comments on what to watch out for.
Those who are new to exercise should probably start out slow with an activity they enjoy. Walking is a great beginner activity. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends walking 150 minutes per week, but that can be broken up into 10 to 15-minute sessions throughout the week if necessary. And all walking counts, even walking the dog and walking around the mall.
The key to choosing the perfect beginner activity is to choose something personally enjoyable. Most of us are more likely to follow through if we’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.
For those who need extra support or who are worried about balance, remember that the rowing machine is both a strength-training machine and a cardio machine in one. Moreover, since it doesn't require standing, it eliminates the balance factor as well as the impact, making it one of the only no-impact cardio machines available. And we can't say enough good things about the benefits of swimming, so consider that, too.
Unrealistic goals are discouraging and can sabotage even a solid effort. Instead, set attainable goals. Begin walking for 10 to 20 minutes per day most days of the week and work up to the AHA’s recommendations and beyond. It can also be fun to work on increasing intensity or speed as well as duration.
For strength-training exercises, plan to work 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. And remember that body-weight is just fine to start. There's no need to go to the gym if it makes you uncomfortable.
Beginning a new exercise regimen is a fantastic goal. Make sure to achieve that goal safely by getting checked out by a doctor and choosing realistic beginner activities from the start. Keep in mind that it’s difficult to create a new habit. But it can help to hook it up to an existing habit (working out at the same time of day, for example). Strive to start off slowly and do a little each day until exercise becomes a part of your routine. If you try to over-achieve at first, you may burn out or, worse yet, injure yourself. Remember, the tortoise wins the race — and is a hardbody.