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How to Start an Exercise Program for Life

​​​​​​​Slow and steady wins the race. This is good advice if you are starting an exercise program. If you start slowly, you are more likely to be successful at reaching your goal of losing weight or getting into shape, or to just get moving.

couple on bikes

Start your program by talking with your doctor. “You want to be sure you have no underlying medical problems,” said Cardiologist Deborah Cortlandt, D.O., Marshfield Clinic Eau Claire Professional Plaza and Rice Lake Centers. “This is particularly important if you are over 50 and know you have risk factors.”

A dose of realism may be in order. “If you haven’t exercised in a couple of years, don’t try to run three miles first thing,” said Dr. Cortlandt. “You didn’t get out of shape overnight, and you won’t become a marathoner overnight. People who try to do too much too soon may get discouraged or injured.”

How long you exercise is what helps improve cardiovascular or heart health. “Thirty minutes a day is the minimum amount of time,” said Dr. Cortlandt. “It’s more important to be steady and consistent. You’ll get more out of 30 minutes of walking flat on the treadmill than putting it at an uphill climb and walking for 10 minutes.”

Resistance training can complement your exercise for heart health, and the activities don’t have to be muscle building. “Yoga and Pilates can help maintain muscle tone,” said Dr. Cortlandt. “Yoga is a great stress reliever. Holding some of the poses is a lot harder than it looks. Pilates incorporates bands for resistance. You will get more muscle toning than muscle building from either of these forms of exercise.”

Support from family and friends can affect your long-term commitment to an exercise program. “The more encouragement you get from family and friends, the more likely you will stick with it,” said Dr. Cortlandt. “Find an exercise buddy, or take advantage of workplace initiatives. When everyone does a health program together, it can help you to get moving and lose weight.”

Dr. Cortlandt suggests a routine that includes more walking. “Park further away in the parking lot or take the stairs instead of the elevator. You can buy ankle weights so you have to work a little harder,” she said. “Simple walking is as good as running a marathon. You don’t have to belong to a health club to walk.”

Find an activity you enjoy and push yourself as your tolerance builds. “You probably can’t do what you did in high school,” said Dr. Corlandt. “The level that you are comfortable with is the level at which to start.”​