Starting to Exercise

What can improve your mood, boost your ability to fend off infection, and lower your risk for heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and colon cancer? The answer is regular exercise. It may seem too good to be true, but it's not. Hundreds of studies demonstrate that exercise helps you feel better and live longer. This report answers many important questions about physical activity. It will also help guide you through starting and maintaining an exercise program that suits your abilities and lifestyle.

Starting to Exercise Cover

What can improve your mood, boost your ability to fend off infection, and lower your risk for heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and colon cancer? The answer is regular exercise. It may seem too good to be true, but it's not. Hundreds of studies conducted over the past 50 years demonstrate that exercise helps you feel better and live longer. This report answers many important questions about physical activity, from how your body changes through exercise to what diseases it helps prevent. It will also help guide you through starting and maintaining an exercise program that suits your abilities and lifestyle. Throughout, you'll find advice on staying motivated, measuring your progress, and being a savvy consumer of fitness equipment, as well as tools and tips designed to help make exercise work for you.

Prepared by the editors of Harvard Health Publications in consultation with L. Howard Hartley, M.D., Staff Cardiologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School; and I-Min Lee, M.B., B.S., Sc.D., Assistant Professor of Epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health, Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, and Associate Epidemiologist, Brigham and Women’s Hospital. 49 pages. (2015)

What can exercise do for you?

  • Prevents cardiovascular disease  
  • Fights diabetes
  • Offers a dose of cancer prevention 
  • Fights fractures and reduces falls
  • Tunes up immune function 
  • Eases arthritis pain 
  • Extends life span  
  • Improves quality of life

Should you talk to a doctor first?

  • When to speak with your doctor
  • Advice for people with heart problems
  • Advice for people with diabetes
  • Advice for people with arthritis 

Getting started: What type of exercise should you do?

  • Aerobic exercise (cardio)
  • Strength training   
  • Balance exercises   
  • Flexibility exercises
  • Judging the pace of your workout  
  • Safety first: Avoiding injuries  
  • Posture and alignment  

The workouts  

  • Terminology used in the workouts   
  • Measuring results  
  • AEROBIC: Cardio Workout
  • AEROBIC: Walking Workouts
  • AEROBIC/STRENGTH: Walking Workout with Resistance Bands
  • STRENGTH: Lower-Body Workout
  • STRENGTH: Upper-Body Workout
  • STRENGTH: Total-Body Workout
  • BALANCE: Balance Workout
  • FLEXIBILITY: Morning and Evening Stretches
  • FLEXIBILITY: Post-Workout Stretches  

Designing your own program  

  • Tailoring your program to your needs  
  • Setting goal-specific targets  
  • Choosing exercise equipment wisely 

SPECIAL SECTION: Keys to staying motivated

Resources  

Keeping it fresh

Want to change the way you experience exercise? These tips can make workouts more enjoyable.

1. Set your own calendar. Bored by the same-old, same-old schedule of exercise? Mix up your activities and time spent on each. People who plan ahead are more likely to follow through. So, once a week, pencil in your choices on your calendar. Carving out room for several short daily stints is often easier than one lengthy bout of activity. Three 10-minute blocks on Tuesday, one 10-minute block on Wednesday, two 10-minute blocks on Friday, plus a 90-minute hike or bike ride on Saturday meets aerobic goals for the week. Choose combinations and activities that appeal to you. Remember, though, it’s best to be active at least three days a week.

2. Wear a pedometer. The simplest step-counter can up the ante on exercise, according to a 2007 Journal of the American Medical Association review of 26 studies. Over all, those who clipped on a pedometer raised their physical activity by nearly 27%, adding about 2,100 to 2,500 steps a day. Other results were promising, too: a drop of 3.8 mm Hg in systolic blood pressure and a decrease in body mass index. Setting a step goal counted for a lot. Those who did so significantly increased activity; those who didn’t generally remained at baseline.

So it may be worthwhile to invest in a pedometer and to set a step goal for yourself. To translate aerobic exercise guidelines from the page to the pavement, aim for 3,000 steps in 30 minutes — that’s 100 steps a minute. Five days of this (or three days of 5,000 steps in 50 minutes) enables you to meet your weekly goal of 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity. Can’t find a chunk of free time that long in your schedule? Try 10-minute chunks — that is, 1,000 steps in 10 minutes — throughout the week.

3. Plug in. Turn on your computer and power up with the great range of individual exercises and workouts on these websites:

  • American Council on Exercise (www.acefitness.org/exerciselibrary) Browse an extensive library of exercises sorted by ability level, muscles targeted, or equipment needed, then view selected exercises in motion.
  • Centers for Disease Control (www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/everyone/videos) View video clips describing intensity levels as well as aerobic and strength exercises for home and gym. Easier variations on strength exercises are included.
  • Shape Magazine (www.shape.com) Create an account and log on for a free virtual trainer, which helps you plan workouts and track progress, plus access to free workout videos.

Or go interactive with a video game. Change up your weekly exercise routine by balancing, bowling, boxing, or trying any number of other active options available through Wii Fit and Wii Sports. Or work up a sweat stamping out the beat to music videos on Dance Dance Revolution, a video game that is available for PlayStation, XBox, and Wii.

4. Rise to the challenge. If your workouts aren’t challenging or interesting enough, expand your horizons. The Presidential Active Lifestyle Award and Presidential Champions challenge (www.presidentschallenge.org/celebrate) encourages you to become more fit. The Presidential Active Lifestyle Award helps you set activity and healthy eating goals over the course of six weeks, while the Presidential Champions challenge allows you to earn points for all sorts of activities: badminton or baton twirling, jai alai or juggling, ski jumping or skydiving, along with many more plebian pastimes. The more effort an activity requires, the more points you rack up while doing it. Log in alone or as a group (you can start your own group or join an existing one) to track your progress toward Bronze (40,000 points), Silver (90,000 points), and Gold (160,000 points) medals. There’s even a Platinum medal for those earning 1 million points. (Point requirements are higher for advanced athletes.)

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