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When you’re starting a fitness program, one thing is true: the first step often is the hardest.
“Exercise is one of the easiest things to postpone when your schedule is tight,” says Andrew Lehman, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon at Mayo Clinic Health System in Menomonie, Wisconsin. “But making time in your day to work out can have a big impact on your health and mood.”
IT'S ALL ABOUT THE BASE(LINE)
Before you start, take note of some baseline measurements of your aerobic fitness, strength and flexibility:
- How long it takes you to walk 1 mile
- How many half sit-ups, standard pushups or modified pushups you can do at a time
- How far you can reach forward while seated on the floor with your legs in front of you
Repeat the process after six weeks and then every few months. Record the numbers in your phone, calendar or notebook.
“It can be incredibly rewarding to see hard evidence that your fitness is improving,” explains Mikal Mikkelson, a Family Medicine physician assistant at Mayo Clinic Health System in Mankato, Minnesota.
If you find that your numbers plateau after a few months, you may want to increase your workouts to keep seeing gains.
KNOW YOUR WHY
Do you want to lose weight? Stress less? Keep up with your children or grandchildren?
“It can be helpful to view exercise as a tool to help you reach goals in a lot of areas in life,” Mikal says. “Exercise can give you more energy, help you sleep better, and reduce depression and anxiety. All of that can make it easier to manage work and family demands.”
KNOW YOUR WHAT, TOO
Before you start, think about the type of activities you enjoy. For example, if you like dancing and get energy from being around people, aerobics classes at a gym might be a good fit. If you’re drawn to running as a time to clear your mind, then try a solo run outside.
“You’re much more likely to maintain healthy exercise habits if you actually enjoy what you are doing,” Dr. Lehman says. “It may take some trial and error to find the right workout, but it’s worth taking time to find an activity that you truly look forward to. I was not a swimmer or biker growing up. But through trial and error, I have discovered that I greatly enjoy both these activities. They are a great way for me to enjoy nature and step away from the business of life.”
HOW MUCH IS ENOUGH?
Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity a week, plus two strength training sessions.
“Strength training is especially important for people as they age,” Mikal says. “You lose muscle mass as you get older, and weight training can help preserve it. Strength training also helps build stronger bones, which can help reduce the chance of fractures.”
SCHEDULE YOUR WORKOUTS
Want to make sure you have time to get those minutes in? Put your workout on your calendar.
“Treat your workouts like an important appointment,” Mikal says. “Block time to exercise, and be serious about honoring that time.”
TRY FOAM ROLLING
Are you sore after a workout? You may want to try foam rolling. “Foam rolling is a great way to loosen up before a workout, and to reduce muscle soreness afterwards,” says Joshua Balts, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon from Mayo Clinic Health System – Northland in Barron, Wisconsin.
The official name for it is more of a mouthful: self-myofascial release. The term refers to the myofascial tissues that cover the muscles and can become tight or knotted. Rolling over those spots can release or loosen them. Download a basic foam rolling routine to help get you started.
CONSIDERING A 5K?
Is there a cause you care about? There’s probably a 5K race to support it. Registering for a race can be a fun way to show you care — and give yourself an extra dose of motivation. Download Mayo Clinic’s 5K training schedule for beginners.