If you have never exercised before, or you haven’t for a while, trying to start can be daunting. However, you don’t have to go to the gym or run a marathon to get the health benefits of exercise. Here we explain how much activity you need to do and give hints and tips for getting started.
Many people think that only strenuous exercise or playing sport counts as physical activity. But you can get considerable health benefits from regular activity without needing special equipment or sporting ability – you don’t even have to get very hot and sweaty.
You can do exercise at different intensities. Moderate means that your breathing is faster, your heart rate is increased and you feel warmer. If you do vigorous intensity activity, your breathing will be much deeper and more rapid and your heart rate will increase quickly. You will probably find it difficult to hold a conversation. At these levels of activity your heart and lungs are being stimulated and if you continue with this regularly, your fitness will improve.
Aim to do some physical activity every day and spend as little time as possible being inactive. The recommended healthy level of physical activity for adults is 150 minutes (two and a half hours) of moderate intensity exercise over a week in bouts of 10 minutes or more. Try doing this by carrying out 30 minutes on at least five days each week. Alternatively, you can accumulate 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity over the week, or do a combination of moderate and vigorous intensity activity.
It’s important that you include at least two weekly activities that build up muscle strength, such as exercising with weights (this can include using your own body weight).
Getting active is easier than you may think. You can include everyday activities, structured exercise and sport, or a combination of these, into your 150 minutes. Adapt your weekly routine to make physical activity fit into it in ways that are easy for you to stick with – some suggestions of how to do this are described below.
If you aren’t used to exercising, start by doing something for a short period of time. Then you can gradually increase the amount and intensity of activity that you do. Don’t try to do too much too quickly because you may lose motivation and stop – adding just five minutes will help you reach your target and increase your fitness levels.
If something is preventing you from becoming active, think about what you can do to resolve the issue. Maybe you haven’t exercised in a while because being forced to do cross country at school put you off. It’s important that you choose an activity that you enjoy, so instead of running you could try an aerobics or dance class. Have a go at a few things until you find one or two that suit you. If it’s your children keeping you busy, why not exercise with them, such as going on a family bike ride. Below are some more ideas that can make it easier to start and stay being active.
Once you have started exercising, you will need to slowly increase the amount and intensity of activity that you do. This will help to increase your fitness levels.
Setting goals is important when you start exercising. You need to be clear what you’re aiming to get out of the effort you’re going to be putting in. Short-term goals will help to keep you motivated and give you something to work towards, whether it’s to decrease your risk of developing diseases or to improve your physical appearance. Try using the SMART process to create realistic goals.
Once you have set your targets, it’s important to stay focused. This will help you make lasting changes to your exercise routine and it will become part of your lifestyle. You may find some days are more difficult than others, but knowing you have something to aim for will help you to stay motivated when the going gets tough.
So you have chosen your exercise – something that you enjoy, and that is convenient, affordable and fits into your lifestyle – and you have set yourself a goal. Now you have to stay motivated and stick with it. One way of doing this that you may find helpful is to write a diary of your exercise routine. Note the duration, type and difficulty level of the activity and how you felt doing it and afterwards. This will give you an idea of when you can increase your activity levels and gives you something to look back on so you see your improvements.
Some other tips for staying motivated are:
Produced by Polly Kerr, Bupa Health Information Team, September 2012.
For sources and links to further information, see Resources.
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This information was published by Bupa's Health Information Team and is based on reputable sources of medical evidence. It has been reviewed by appropriate medical or clinical professionals. Photos are only for illustrative purposes and do not reflect every presentation of a condition. The content is intended only for general information and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional. For more details on how we produce our content and its sources, visit the About our Health Information page.
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