If you’ve decided that you want to start improving your health, starting to exercise is a great step towards healthy living.
But if so far the most exercise you’ve been doing is trips to and from the fridge, the world of exercise can be baffling. How do you start exercising? Where do you even begin?
The benefits of exercise
If you’re not yet convinced that exercising is for you, know that it can have incredible health benefits. To get these benefits doesn’t have to involve killing yourself at the gym 7 days a week, either.
Regular exercise can reduce your risk of developing things like heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. Researchers also reckon it’s a powerful tool for mental health, with some going as far as to call it a ‘natural treatment’ for depression.
Put simply, exercise can make it less likely that you die early. And if that isn’t a powerful enough reason, we don’t know what is.
How to start exercising
Get a clean bill of health
If you haven’t been active for a long time, it’s important that you get checked over by your GP before you start moving your body in ways it’s not used to. This is especially important if you have any conditions that limit your movement in any way.
It may feel like a pain in the arse when you’re raring to go but skipping this step can mean that you’re straight on the path to injury. With your GP’s advice behind you, you’ll be able to make the most of the time you spend exercising and will (hopefully) stay injury-free.
Find something you enjoy
If the first thing you’re picturing when we say ‘exercise’ is a brutal gym session, it doesn’t have to be like that. The key to consistent exercise is to find something you genuinely enjoy, because you’re much more likely to stick with something you look forward to rather than something you’re dreading each week.
Some people will absolutely love the gym, and that’s fantastic. But if it’s not your cup of tea, take some time to consider what you are interested in.
Love football? Look for local footie sessions, or join your local MAN v FAT Football club. Enjoy walking? Plan out a scenic route and get walking.
It doesn’t have to be something you’ve tried before, either. Think outside the box. Always wanted to improve your swimming but been put off by the thought of rocking up at your local pool in your Speedos? Give it a go anyway – life’s too short to worry about showing off your gut in a place where everyone’s doing the same thing, although might we suggest something a little less figure-hugging than Speedos?!
Make a plan
You don’t need to go as far as signing up for a marathon or a charity bike ride, but having a solid plan can make exercise more rewarding. Knowing that you’ve got a plan can make it easier to stick to exercising regularly, as you’ll know exactly when you’re planning to do it.
This can be as simple as plotting out an hour or two a week on your calendar, or it can be more involved. No matter which type of exercise you enjoy, you can be sure that there are beginner’s plans online.
For running, try the Couch to 5k programme, which as the name suggests will take you from the couch to being able to run 5k in 9 weeks.
For cycling, British Cycling has an 8-week sofa to 50km training plan, which you can download here. It’s perfect for beginners, especially considering as they say week 1’s focus is ‘digging your bike out of the shed’.
For swimming, Macmillan has a 2-mile beginner’s swimming plan which also incorporates strength and cross-training to make you a better swimmer.
If your exercise is gym-based, there are many plans out there and what works for you will depend on what your goals are. Muscle And Fitness magazine have a good general beginner’s workout program that takes you through your first 4 months at the gym.
Make it a habit
It’s easy to work out once or twice and then call it a day, believing you’ve done all you need to do to keep yourself healthy. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that, as it’s consistent exercise that has the most benefit for your health.
We’re fickle beings, and we know from experience that keeping up the motivation to exercise is always tricky. Try exercising with a friend or joining a class or team to keep your motivation high – research shows that we’re much more likely to stick to something if we’re doing it as part of a group.
You might think that it’s your lack of motivation that’s a problem when it comes to making healthy habits. But motivation is fleeting and can’t be relied on. As hard as it is, if you want to get anywhere with exercise you’ve got to discipline yourself and that’s what makes it a habit.