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Having Trouble Jump-Starting your Exercise Routine?

Nina Ghamrawi, MS, RD, CDE
5
March 15, 2022

Whether it's a lack of motivation, time, or just trouble sticking with it, there are plenty of reasons why keeping up with exercise may be tough. Most of us will either have a routine that we want to keep, or have some goals that we want to start and maintain. If any of these apply to you, read on for some tips on getting started.

Envision Your Goal

  • Consider your fitness goals. Are you starting a fitness program to help lose weight? Or do you have another motivation, such as preparing for a marathon? Having clear goals can help you gauge your progress and stay motivated.
  • Create a balanced routine. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends getting at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity, or a combination of both of these, spread throughout the week. To provide even greater health benefitS and to assist with or maintaining weight loss, at least 300 minutes a week is recommended.  
  • Does 150 minutes per week sound like a lot? We know. That’s why it’s a goal to strive towards. If you are not there yet, you don’t need to reach it just this week. Set this as a goal you may reach gradually, over the course of 6 weeks or 6 months.
  • Be OK with taking small steps. They say Rome was not built in a day. Sadly, neither is abdominal 6-pack. You may start with 5 minutes per week, or 50 - but depending on where you start from, it may take less time, or more time to reach that goal.

Know Where You’re Starting From, and Write it Down.

  • Find your baseline - You probably have some idea of how fit you are, but testing yourself against your goals and writing your current level down can help you gain motivation by comparing your progress. Want to improve your heart health, stamina, strength, flexibility, or body composition? Then test yourself in that area, and write it down. Below are some examples:
  • Heart Health: Your pulse rate before and immediately after walking 1 mile (1.6 kilometers)
  • Stamina: How long it takes to walk 1 mile, or how long can you run for?
  • Strength: How many pushups (standard or modified) can you do at a time? How many crunches? How many squats or wall-squats?
  • Flexibility: How far can you reach forward while seated on the floor with your legs in front of you?
  • Body Image: Your waist circumference, just above your hipbones
  • Body Fat Content: Your body mass index, or body fat mass (measured using a home body fat scale or professionally using skin calipers)
  • Recheck your Baseline - Just as you might write down your blood pressure, or journal your food, recheck your progress every 2 weeks, or every month by remeasuring the baseline.

Start Slowly

  • Start your workout routine gradually. You already know where you want to be. Acknowledge that it may be a journey to get there. Give yourself plenty of time to warm up and cool down with easy walking or gentle stretching. Then speed up to a pace you can continue for 5 to 10 minutes without getting overly tired. As your stamina improves, gradually increase the amount of time you exercise. Work your way up to 30 to 60 minutes of exercise most days of the week.
  • Listen to your body. A little muscle pain in the areas that you’ve exercised is normal. But if you feel pain in your joints, shortness of breath, dizziness or nausea, take a break. You may be pushing yourself too hard.
  • Be flexible. If you're not feeling good, give yourself permission to take a day or two off. Set a plan, or schedule a favorite workout or activity with friends for when you’re expected to feel better. This will help you get back on track.

Build Gradually

  • Break things up if you have to. You don't have to do all your exercise at one time, so you can weave in activity throughout your day. Shorter but more frequent sessions have aerobic benefits, too. Exercising in short sessions a few times a day may fit into your schedule better than a single 30-minute session. Any amount of activity is better than none at all.
  • Be creative. Maybe your workout routine includes various activities, such as walking, bicycling or rowing. But don't stop there. Take a weekend hike with your family or spend an evening doing latin or ballroom dancing. What activities do you enjoy?
  • Progress slowly. If you're just beginning to exercise, start cautiously and progress slowly. If you have an injury or a medical condition, consult your doctor or an exercise therapist for help designing a fitness program that gradually improves your range of motion, strength and endurance.
  • Allow time for recovery. Many people start exercising with the strength of 10 of themselves - working out for too long or too intensely - and give up when their muscles and joints become sore or injured, or they’re just too exhausted. Plan time between sessions for your body to rest and recover. Don’t derail your own plans.
  • Write it down. Just as you may write down your starting point for exercise, or your baseline, write down the routine you are planning to help you reach the next step. Sometimes simply having the plan established makes it easier to stick with it.

Workout with Others

  • Find someone to rely on. (Trust me - there are times when they’ll rely on you, too) Exercising with a friend will not only keep you on-track, but it’ll also keep them working out, too. Let’s face it. We all need a little convincing sometimes - when it’s cold out, or we are just feeling down.
  • Use socializing time as exercise time. working out helps one person feel better, but working out with a friend makes two people feel great.
  • Don’t let work get in the way. Have a meeting that doesn’t require a computer? Invite your officemate or client (depending on their fitness level) on a walk or a light exercise class. Working out together helps people bond and foster relationships.
  • Getting bored with the same workouts? If feel yourself losing motivation, set some new goals, try a new activity, invite more people to exercise with you, or join a different workout group.
  • Leverage social media. Having trouble finding a workout buddy or a walking group to join? ask around on facebook or other social media platforms. Chances are, someone is looking for the same things you are, or already has a group going.

Be Consistent

  • Stick to routine, start a habit. It takes as little as 28 days and as long as 6 months before doing something regularly becomes a habit. Until then, you’ll need to convince yourself and give yourself some pep-talks to get it done routinely (almost daily).
  • Schedule a backup plan - because life happens. Sometimes, life, work, and family can throw us a curveball. Schedule a favorite workout during a less busy time, and block your calendar as best as possible. Even if it’s only 15 minutes, this will help keep your routine going. If you take more than a couple days off your routine, you may have trouble getting back in it.

Takeaways

Overall, the key to getting started with exercise is to envision your future with fitness, plan out your goals,  start slowly and build up to your goal gradually. Find a support system to keep you motivated and consistent about exercising. Changing habits doesn’t happen in a day, and often we need someone (other than ourselves) to keep us on track. Stay honest as your abilities and stamina improve, gradually increase the amount of time you exercise, and raise the bar until you get to your goal. And remember- while everyone’s exercise levels and goals are different, nearly all of us either have or want to have exercise goals. So talk with your doctor, your dietitian, and your personal trainer to fit these goals in and reach them.