by David Throop
If you’re like most people, you know you should probably get up off the couch and get some exercise. You may even have some specific fitness goals in mind and are eager to get started. But before you begin you need to be aware that what you don’t know can hurt you.
One thing to keep in mind before starting out is that the most common mistake people make when beginning any exercise program is that they’ll begin too ambitiously and all that does is lead to burnout or injury or both.
So whether your motivation is to lose a few extra pounds or to improve your cardiovascular health, the key to make your exercise routine have a lasting effect and be safe is to take it slow. Let me say it again, you need to take it slow. Whatever your fitness goals are, you need to keep in mind that when starting out you should focus on making small improvements to your daily routines and progress slowly from there. Additionally, fitness, health and wellbeing all come hand-in-hand and your plan should be about making a lifestyle change that you’ll be motivated to continue to see continual improvements in your overall health.
The best type of exercise routine is one that won’t focus solely on only improving your fitness but one that focuses on every aspect of your health. Of course you can make a dietary change without exercise, or increase your strength training without including any type of aerobic activity and see some results, but the goal should be improving your overall health and wellbeing. Combining changes in your exercise routine, diet and nutrition on a daily basis will help you start and maintain a healthier lifestyle. And while it’s true that getting some exercise is better than none, healthier living and general wellness should be your ultimate goal.
Below are a few simple tips that will help you achieve the goals you have in mind, increase your general health and improve your overall wellbeing.
Establish a goal and take it slow. Imagine a year from now and what would you like to see as the greatest benefit of your new routine? Now work backwards from that date and make a plan that takes small steps toward that goal. Incremental steps are best to meet your exercise and health goals. Think about marathoners for example. These are some of the most aerobically fit individuals on the planet and they break down their training into small increments of training and recovery. This allows their bodies a chance to recover from their training and receive the full benefits from all of their efforts. They simply don’t start out their training by running marathons and hope to improve their time. They have a clear strategy that includes varying their runs from short run days, long runs, sprints and technique work that focuses on breaking down their race strategy into “bite-sized” portions. This is a training concept called periodization and if it applies to athletes, it can be applied to general fitness goals as well.
P.A.C.E. yourself – this is an acronym for Progressive Aerobic Cardiovascular Endurance.
Slowly build your distance and intensity over time, usually increasing your training demands by 10% every three to four weeks. This strategy will help you improve your exercise results without burnout or overuse injury.
Do something active every day to raise your heart rate.
You don’t need to hit the gym for an hour or more every day. Just be active. And this is easier then you think. Even if all you have is a few minutes a day you have the time. Go for a walk before you head to work. Or take a quick jog around the neighborhood when you get home before you eat dinner. Choose to walk all the stairs everywhere you go instead of taking the elevator or escalator. If you have time to watch TV, you have time to spend doing something active. You can even be active while watching TV, instead of sitting on the couch, challenge yourself to do some pushups, abdominal work, squats or stretching in the living room. In other words, make a passive activity an active one. One day at a time you’ll begin to see the results toward your fitness and health goals before you know it.
Include low impact activities.
Join a beginner’s yoga class or a low-impact aerobics class offered at your local community center or YMCA. The flexibility and low impact activities will help you to improve your overall conditioning without over-taxing the same muscle groups that you recently stressed. Additionally the benefits of being in a class setting allows you to meet others with similar desires and ambitions, and that makes improving your health a fun activity and we all know that if something is fun we are generally more interested in doing it.
Eat an apple a day.
Or a banana, or any fruit for that matter. Gradually improve your diet to increase the benefits of your new exercise program. Fruit contains high levels of fiber, which has a number of benefits to aid your digestion and can help act as an appetite suppressor. Take stock of what you eat and slowly tweak it to make it healthier over time. Try to stay away from foods that are processed and not what appears in its natural form.
Water has an amazing ability to help the body in the digestive process break down fats and proteins, making it more efficient. It also acts to help the recovery process post-exercise. Additionally when we become dehydrated, our body can trick us into eating more so that we can extract water from the food which makes us mistake hunger for thirst. In other words water can act as a natural appetite suppressant.
One of the main problems when people start out a new exercise routine, they work to the point of failure, that is they’ll exercise until they can’t go anymore believing that is the fastest way to get fit. It’s definitely the fastest way to something, and often that’s burnout or injury. So when starting out for the first few weeks you should have a policy to stop before you feel exhausted. It’ll help you avoid overuse injuries and stay motivated to look forward to your next training. Remember the goal is improving your overall health not just the specific activity you’re doing.
Regardless of your weight loss and exercise goals, the most important thing to consider is to start out and go slow. And by making small changes in your daily patterns from slowly increasing your level of exercise, combining many types of activities, as well as making subtle changes to your diet, you’ll see a steady improvement in your overall health. And by making these small daily changes, you’ll be developing habits that go beyond your specific exercise goals to improve your overall health and wellbeing.
David Throop is an independent sports professional and freelance writer having been a coach for over 20 years at the High School, University and Olympic Development level. Currently he is writing and coaching at the High School level in California focusing on teaching fitness for life concepts with his teams.