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Tips to Start Exercising – and to Stick With It

Two ladies exercising outside.

David Smith, MD, a primary care sports medicine physician at The University of Kansas Health System Sports Medicine and Performance Center, offers guidance and encouragement to people of all ages who want to start an exercise program.

Q: I'm out of shape and overwhelmed. How do I even start exercising at all?

A: Always remember – anything is better than nothing.

Start by walking. Do some gentle stretches and simple strength exercises. You'll likely find that once you get moving you'll start to feel better physically, mentally and emotionally. Use this to motivate you to keep going, maybe adding a bit to your basic fitness routine.

Fitness fads come and go. So, try to start by doing something you know you can stick with for at least a year. By diversifying your program to include different exercises and activities, you're less likely to get injured or burned out.

Q: What's the most important thing to keep in mind when starting an exercise program?

A: Understand that you have to start somewhere. Think about what will motivate you not just to start – but to stick with – an exercise program. Set reasonable short-term and long-term goals, find ways to measure your results and then reward yourself when you reach a goal.

In my opinion, people spend a lot of money on fitness center memberships, home exercise equipment and wearable technology – that then go unused. I suggest 3 things:

  • Set reasonable goals
  • Keep a fitness log
  • Use an accountability partner, maybe a friend, spouse or personal trainer

But first, think about what will motivate you to get started and to keep at it.

Q: What prevents so many of us from getting started or trying new ways to work out?

A: I think there can be an uncertainty or general lack of knowledge as to how to begin a fitness routine. That's why a reputable fitness center, personal trainer or even guidance from a friend or family member can be very beneficial.

Q: How much time should the average person spend exercising each week? Does the type of exercise matter?

A: Adults should get at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week. This might be done by doing 30-60 minutes of moderate exercise 5 days a week. Or some people prefer 20-60 minutes of vigorous exercise 3 days a week.

All exercise should include proper warm-up and stretching, cardio activity (walking, running, cycling, swimming, stair climbing, elliptical), strength training (weight training, body weight training) and finally an adequate cool down and gentle stretching.

Q: Any final advice?

A: Remember that despite our best efforts, we all experience obstacles and failures along the way. Figure out ways to overcome your obstacles and realize that although you may fail now and then, that does not make you a failure.

Start low, go slow and never give up!

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