You have decided to start exercising. Congratulations! You have taken your first step towards a healthier body and mind.

Exercising regularly is crucial to leading a healthy lifestyle. There are many benefits such as maintaining a healthy bodyweight, maintaining muscle, lifting your mood, boosting mental health, reducing the risk of chronic disease, and increasing energy levels to name a few.

However, knowing where to start can be difficult if you are a beginner or returning to exercise after some time out. You can overcome your apprehensions by carefully planning your exercise routine and pacing yourself. Before you know it, you will have established a healthy routine and begin to see and feel the benefits on both your body and well-being.

  1. Check your health

If you are not used to strenuous physical activity or aged over 45 years old, it is highly recommended that you consult your doctor before starting an exercise routine. A simple physical medical examination can detect any health issues that could potentially put you at risk of injury, as well as help you understand your limitations.

The good news is that being active is usually beneficial to treat the symptoms of most health conditions, so do not be afraid of being assessed and what you may find out.

2. Assess your fitness level

You most likely have a rough idea of how physically fit you are. However, evaluating and recording some of your basic fitness scores is a great way to establish exactly where you stand and where you want to be.

You can assess different measures depending on your goals, for instance:

  • Aerobic fitness: What is your pulse rate before and immediately after walking 1 mile?
  • Muscular fitness: How many standard sit-ups can you do in a row?
  • Flexibility: How far you can reach when you try to touch your toes with straight legs?
  • Body composition: What is your body mass index?

3. Prepare a plan with set goals

Once you have established your current fitness levels, create a plan that includes realistic goals.

Start with small steps to keep you motivated and increase your chances of success. Then proceed to add more steps and continue building on it as your fitness improves. For instance, if your goal is to finish a five-mile run, you can start by building a plan that includes shorter runs and increase the distance as you improve. Or if your objective is to strengthen your arm muscles, you can start by lifting small weights and gradually increasing the load.

Whatever your goals are, make sure your plan fits around them and create a balanced routine to include exercise in your daily life. Preparing a set schedule or planning to exercise at the same time every day are great ways to sustain your routine. For instance, book your gym classes for the whole week / month or plan to exercise straight after work every weekday.

4. Be safe

Make sure you take the necessary precautions to train safely, especially if you are new at exercising. This includes warming up, ideally with dynamic stretches to both flex and warm the muscles in preparation for a workout. An effective way to do this is by doing slower versions of the upcoming exercises, which is also great for muscle memory.

Cooling down is equally as important for your safety as it can help prevent soreness and injury. Make sure you cool down properly by doing some gentle stretches after exercise. Additionally, make sure you drink plenty of water throughout exercise to maximise your performance and avoid over-heating, especially if you are working out in a hot environment.

Whatever you are doing, make sure you listen to your body. Do not try to power through pain or discomfort caused by exercise, and make sure to take a rest when needed to avoid injuries.

5. Monitor your progress

Retake your fitness assessments six weeks after you start following your plan, and then again every few months. Examining your progress will help you keep your motivation, as well as help you establish where you are improving and where you need to focus more of your attention. Do not expect too much too soon as this will only lead to frustration and discouragement, and notice the improvement of your mood and energy levels on top of your fitness results.

If you do lose motivation, try setting new goals, exercising with a friend or partaking in a new activity. Remember that self-compassion increases your likelihood of success, so do not beat yourself up if your willpower fluctuates.