How to Start an Exercise Routine

Does the word “exercise” make you think of boring routines that feel like an obligation you’d just as soon avoid? Follow our step by step checklist to help yourself get moving and stay on track. Let’s make 2012 your year to be a fitness maven. Ready, set, glow!

Get Your Doc’s OK Before You Begin

You’ve heard this before but it bears repeating. Especially if you been pretty much sedentary for a while, check with your doctor to find out how much and what kind of exercise is safe and sensible for you as you start your program.

Do Just One Thing

Buy a pair of walking or running shoes, or a pair of ballet slippers, or some swim goggles and a new suit. You don’t have to do anything else the first day or even week. Just invest in something that signals your commitment. Then congratulate yourself on taking the first step toward fitness.


Keep a Fitness Journal

Study after study shows that people who write down what they do – or for that matter, don’t do – on a daily basis have a better chance of sticking with an exercise plan. A computer spreadsheet is ideal, but you can also use an old-fashioned blank book. Make a note each evening of the exercises you did (or skipped) and how long you worked out. Once a week, record your measurements if part of your goal is to trim off some inches.

Don’t Overdo It at First

Doctors orders notwithstanding, you should go easy in the beginning. Chair exercises may be your best bet including lifting 2 or 3 pound ankle weights, doing head rolls and arm swings, clenching and unclenching your fists, and using your facial muscles for repeated winks and wide-mouthed smiles. If you do all of this while perched on an exercise ball, so much the better. You’ll be forced to use your midsection and your back in order to stay on balance.

Incidentally, a now-classic study of the “frail elderly” published in 2001 in the American Journal of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation found that 2/3 of the wheelchair bound patients with a mean age of 82 got up and walked again after a 10-week program of “lower limb progressive resistance muscle strength training.” Translation: lifting the above-mentioned ankle weights. How’s that for inspiration?

Pay Tuition for a Class

Once you feel ready to take on something more than the chair workout, why not pay full tuition for a class such as Zumba, Piloxing, Adult Beginner Ballet, or Pilates? You’ll be less tempted to cut a session if you know you’ve already spent your money! Also, group activities have a way of keeping you involved, and those with music as an accompaniment are even more addicting. Bonus: You might make a friend who will become your workout buddy for activities such as power walks and cardio sessions on the elliptical at the gym. There’s strength (no pun intended) in numbers!

RICE to the Rescue

Even professional athletes and dancers succumb to the occasional minor injury such as a strain or mild sprain. If that happens to you, don’t let the pain convince you to forego your exercise resolution. Right away, follow the sports medics’ time-honored formula: Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation. Stop whatever you were doing immediately, apply ice in a zippered plastic bag to the affected area, hold the bag in place with an Ace bandage, and prop the sore limb up above waist level.

The reason for resting is obvious. As for the ice, it keeps blood from collecting around the injury. (Tip: You can use one of those carry-along packs that get cold when you crack them, but real ice is best.) The compression helps reduce edema, or swelling. And the elevation coaxes fluid to drain back into your circulatory system. Use the RICE treatment for no more than 15 minutes at a time and repeat every two hours, or as often as is feasible, for three days. In 72 hours you should be good to go again.

Here’s to a year in which you not only get fit but actually enjoy the process!

Sondra Forsyth is Co-Editor-in-Chief at ThirdAge.com.


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