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How to start exercising and stay motivated

December 27, 2016 | UCI Health
woman exercising

Ask people what their resolutions are for the New Year and, according to consumer tracking firm Nielsen, and these are two answers they’re most likely to give:

Getting more physically active fits in with both goals. This time, let’s make sure it’s more than just good intentions; we all remember those years when our first weeks of hitting the gym gave way by midyear to sinking into the couch.

Exercise is a worthy goal all on its own.

It is associated with reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes and even some cancers, said Dr. Brian Y. Kim, UCI Health sports medicine specialist and assistant clinical professor of family medicine. It increases our sense of energy and improves our mood. Exercise also strengthens your heart ›

Now is the right time to do a little planning to make your year of increased exercise fun, injury-free and a lifelong habit. It's never too late to start exercising, either ›

Kim offers this advice to keep you on track — or in the swimming pool or at the soccer field.

Just start exercising

The prevailing wisdom used to be that you needed a doctor’s OK to begin an exercise program. That’s not necessarily true, Kim said, particularly for those at low cardiovascular risk or embarking on a light exercise regimen.

Studies have shown that sticking to the health-screening advice can create barriers to people starting an exercise routine.

“In fact, there is considerable evidence that exercise is safe for most people and that the possible risks lessen as people become more physically active,” Kim said.

People with possible risk factors, however, such as cardiovascular or renal disease, should get a medical exam before embarking on an exercise program.

Goal: 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week

That’s 2 ½ hours of such activities as brisk walking or doubles tennis, or anything that involves a similar amount of exertion.

Resistance exercises to build muscle are included, if they get your heart rate going to a similar level as those other activities. But time spent waiting for the next machine to be free doesn’t count!

Start slowly and avoid injury

From the beginning, you can do plenty of familiar exercise such as walking, Kim said.

Start modestly and build up your activities slowly if:

  • You’re planning to work muscles that haven’t been active in years
  • You're changing activities, such as from swimming to running
  • You are a sedentary person who has suddenly decided to train for a half-marathon

Starting slow will help you avoid the risk of injury.

Warming up your muscles with a few minutes of mild cardio work, getting the blood flowing and delivering oxygen and nutrients to those muscles, will also help you avoid injury and get a more effective workout.

Even a change in the type of footwear — such as a switch from regular running shoes to the “barefoot” style — can put significant new stresses on the feet and Achilles tendon, so go gradually until you’re fully comfortable.

Do what you want … more or less

It isn’t news to most of us that we’re supposed to find exercise we like doing, but the importance of doing this can’t be over-stressed. It’s a rare person who will stick with an activity that feels boring or too hard.

Try some new things, such as: 

Variety might keep boredom from creeping in.

Make good food and rest part of your exercise routine

If your big goal is weight loss, remember that exercise, though it burns calories, isn’t as important as reducing the number of calories eaten. 

Still, exercise is closely associated with keeping weight off once it has been lost, in part because it helps keep your metabolism revving.

Even if weight loss isn’t part of your fitness goals, proper nutrition should be, said Kim, who also holds a master’s degree in nutrition science. A balanced, wholesome way of eating will provide the nutrients and energy to support your physical activity. Check out our healthy recipes ›

Rest is as important to building new stamina and strength as movement is. In addition to getting adequate sleep, Kim suggests taking at least one day off each week from exercise.

Recovery is an important part of the equation,” Kim said. “Exercise puts your heart and muscles under greater stress and rest allows your body to make the adaptations—such as increased strength and improved blood flow—that improve fitness. Those things take time."

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