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Categories > Exercise and Fitness > Cardio/aerobic training

Smart ways to start a fitness program
Get going
Stick to it

Safety checklist
Safety checklist

Follow these tips to stay in the game—and off the disabled list.

  • Be prepared. Dress properly (make sure your footwear is appropriate), and use the right equipment for your sport.
  • Avoid extremes. Keep your activity indoors on very hot or very cold days.
  • Warm up and cool down. Do three to five minutes of low-intensity activity—try marching in place, riding a stationary bike or walking slowly—followed by a few minutes of stretching before and after your main activity.
  • Drink up. Keep your body well hydrated by drinking plenty of water before, during and after your activity.
  • Stop the activity immediately and seek medical help if you feel pain, squeezing or tightness in the chest, palpitations, shortness of breath, light-headedness, nausea or extreme fatigue.

Different moves, different benefits
Different moves, different benefits

Here’s how each of the three foundations of total fitness helps your body.

  1. Aerobic exercise makes your heart stronger and increases lung capacity. Building aerobic fitness is what literally allows you to go the extra mile, swim the extra lap or play the extra inning. It’s easy to work aerobic activity into your day. Go for a walk after dinner, ride your bike to the store, take the stairs instead of the elevator.
  2. Resistance, or weight, training, improves your strength and endurance. Building muscle also speeds metabolism and promotes a toned appearance. You should devote at least two sessions a week to resistance training. Calisthenics (push-ups, stomach crunches, leg lifts and so on) will do, but if you want to work with weights, ask a pro for guidance.
  3. Stretching exercises keep muscles and joints flexible, reducing risk of injury and helping maintain freedom of movement well into your later years.

Never been much of an exerciser? Here’s some good news: Start today and you’ll still have a lot to gain, including greater strength, better balance and improved agility. You’ll also reduce your risk of or help control high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes, depression, even some cancers.

If a long, healthy life sounds appealing, get your healthcare provider’s approval to start exercising and then …

Get going

  • Find some activities you enjoy. While aerobic activity (walking, swimming, cycling, dancing) should be a mainstay of your routine, a total fitness program requires resistance exercises as well as stretching.
  • Respect your fitness level. If you’re a beginner, start low and go slow. During aerobic activities, challenge your heart and lungs to work harder, but not to the point where it’s hard to talk. Build to 10 repetitions when working with weights or doing calisthenics. And to get the most out of stretches, keep them slow and static.
  • Make time. Aim for a minimum of 30 minutes of activity, most days of the week. Thirty minutes sound like a lot? Then divide it into three 10-minute sessions. Remember to keep track of daily activities like vacuuming, walking to the bus stop and climbing stairs: They count, too.

Stick to it

Okay, you’ve designed your program. Now comes the biggest challenge—doing it! Here are some tips for keeping motivation high:

  • Use a log to track your progress. You may be surprised to see how quickly you build speed and endurance. If you’re trying to shed pounds, weigh yourself periodically.
  • Find a friend. Working out with a buddy strengthens your commitment and makes exercise more fun.
  • Be flexible and forgiving. It’s okay to take a day or two off because you don’t feel well—as long as you get back on track.
  • Avoid the same old routine. Too much repetitive movement can cause injury and boredom.
  • Get distracted. Watch TV while riding a stationary bike.
  • Make it a challenge. Work toward a specific goal, like shaving a minute off your mile walk. If you work out with a buddy, maybe he or she is willing to engage in friendly competition.