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How to start an exercise programme

WebMD Medical Reference
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

It's not enough for us to know that we should be exercising to tone our body and improve our health. It seems we need specific strategies to help us start an exercise programme and keep it going. Or so say the experts who gave us some fitness tips to help motivate exercise beginners or drop-outs.

In fact, one study showed that when adults with long-term (chronic) illnesses were given behaviour-changing strategies, they significantly increased their activity levels. That was not the case when they were given information intended to change their knowledge and beliefs about exercise, according to US researchers from the University of Missouri-Columbia.

Simple, action-oriented strategies are the best way to get exercising, they found. For example, by writing down and tracking your activity over time, you can boost awareness of and motivation for exercise.

Here are more approaches to help get you moving:

1. Set specific, manageable goals. For example, plan to exercise for 20 minutes, three times a week. Don't forget to track your progress by writing it down.

2. Use a variety of daily reminders. Write your exercise sessions in your diary or on your calendar like any other appointment. Also, make sure you have your gym bag in the car, or leave your trainers by the door to remind you to get moving.

3. Set up a non-food reward system. To reward yourself when you accomplish one of your fitness goals, such as staying on track with your exercise for a full week or month, treat yourself to a film, massage or pedicure.

4. Invest in a good pair of trainers. Make sure they have good cushioning and arch support and feel so good that you'll look forward to putting them on. Assistants at many sports shops can help you find a good pair. Avoid high-top shoes because too much ankle support over time can actually make the joints weaker.

Don't forget to replace them when the old pair starts to lose their support - probably about every three to six months. Another option is to buy two pairs and swop between them.

5. Find a buddy, a class, or a group. When someone is depending on you and striving for the same goals, this helps motivate you. Not only that, it makes exercise more fun.

6. Start slowly. Most people try to do too much when they start exercising. It's OK to break up your exercise into segments throughout the day. Even small quantities of exercise and activity add up to big benefits. Begin with 10-15 minute chunks of activity, several times a day, fitting it in whenever you can.

7. Just walk. One of the easiest ways for most people to build in exercise is to walk. Wearing a pedometer adds extra motivation by keeping you working towards a goal each day. This works well for people who sit down for most of the day at work or live a generally sedentary lifestyle. Although you could aim for 10,000-15,000 steps a day, many people will want to start with 5,000 steps or less, and work their way up over time. You don't need to use weights on your arms or legs when you walk, as your body should not be doing continuous movement with added weight to the joints.

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