How to start exercising when you don’t know where to start

Life Lessons

How to start exercising when you don’t know where to start

If you’ve never exercised or haven’t done it consistently, odds are you don’t like it or the idea of it. However, if you’re generally active (chasing kids, mowing the lawn, cleaning floors, lugging around groceries, walking up and down stairs) you’re already exercising.

But exercising for the sake of exercising, not as a side effect, can be incredibly satisfying and clear your mind (not to mention being healthful, obviously). That’s because you’re doing something with a singular purpose, one aimed at taking care of yourself, which boosts your spirit.

This is the fourth installment of a new WorkLife series, Healthy Living Basics for Everyone. The sanely paced plan helps you with nutrition, exercise and lifestyle and includes a mental component that helps clarify goals and identify what might hold you back.

If you want to get started — or restart — exercising, here are three steps that will launch you, according to Christine Hagemeyer, senior general manager with Unum Fitness, in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

1. Buddy up.
Even if you’re really, really good at doing things on your own, having a partner helps. That partner doesn’t have to do your thing with you, but if you at least know you have to update him or her on your activity, it’ll help you along.

If you’re keen on going it together, there are more pluses. “There are so many benefits to working out with other people, including safety, accountability and overall just a good time,” Hagemeyer says. “You’re more likely to stay motivated and less likely to skip a workout.”

2. Stamp out guesswork.

Any time we start something new, it helps to have a framework.

“Plan out your workouts a month in advance so you’re not wandering around the gym wondering what to do,” Hagemeyer advises.

3. Underachieve.
Any time we start something new, it’s a little scary. That’s why it helps to start small. There’s no need to thinking you have to hit the gym at least three times a week — or whatever you’ve heard constitutes a “workout schedule.”

“Oftentimes, people start and feel as if they failed when they only make it in two days one week,” Hagemeyer says. “Then they quit coming all together.”

It’s kind of like dieting: People get off track for one day then blow their whole aspiration. (Speaking of which, creating a smart eating lifestyle, which we hit on a few weeks ago, is far more manageable, effective and satisfying than “dieting.”)

“Come up with small reachable goals and reward yourself with a massage or a new workout outfit,” she says.

And if you simply don’t want to exercise in a regimented way — walk. Start small (10 to 15 minutes a day, if you don’t already do that) then go bigger (30 to 60 minutes a day) when you stop feeling challenged.

Walking is one of the best exercises for beginners and is underrated a lot of the time,” Hagemeyer says. Everyone knows how to walk, and it’s safe. You can do it wherever, whenever. If you want to feel like your practice of walking is a committed form of exercise, create or find a walking plan. There are great walking programs on Internet.

Get started
You’ve got solid tips for getting started, but you might be wondering which exercise or exercises to take on. We’ll tackle that in the next fitness post. If you’re game for joining a gym or fitness center right now, go ahead and do it, keeping the tips above in mind. A professional there should be able to guide you toward an appropriate workout.

In the meantime, if you’re wholly unfamiliar with exercise, just walk. If you already walk a lot, try biking or running for similar periods.

Then hold some planks, either on your hands or forearms, for overall fitness. To take it down a notch, drop your knees to the ground. To create a bigger challenge (if you aren’t modifying with your knees down), lift and hold one leg at a time — as long as your hips and belly don’t sag and as you do it.

Journalist Mitra Malek regularly researches content related to nutrition and wellness for Yoga Journal, for which she was an editor. Learn more at

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