Getting in shape is a process, not a one-time fix. As a past fitness centre owner, certified strength trainer and bodybuilder, I’ve seen my fair share of weekend warriors who jump straight into an intensive exercise program only to injure themselves or lose focus, then pick right back up where they left off with their remote control and a bag of potato chips.
For example, if you want to take up jogging regularly, start simply walking beforehand to prepare your joints, ligaments and entire body. An easy rule of thumb is 2 weeks of walking for every 10 years of your life—so if you’re in your forties, walk 3-5 times a week for 8 weeks (2 x 4 = 8) before you lace up your new fluorescent Nikes for a jog.
So where do you start?
Maybe you’ve packed on a few extra pounds, or you find yourself frequently short of breath, or you sweat just thinking about exercising. The first place to start is to visit your doctor for a basic physical to find out about any restrictions, limitations or complications before you begin an exercise program.
And on that note—don’t make it a “program.” Consider it a life change, something that you want to do to enhance your mental, physical, social and spiritual well-being so you can be fully alive for the long haul.
Find out why you don’t exercise
One of the evaluations I did as a certified trainer was called “barriers to participation,” and I used it to discover why individual people do not exercise. It covered reasons like motivation, intimidation, education, money, time or convenience. Once we found out what the issue was, we could customize a program to fit the need.
Evaluate your lifestyle and see if any of the above factors apply to you. If it’s time, try running to the gym and doing an intense 30-minute workout. If it’s motivation, plan a reward after 30 days of consistent exercise—maybe a trip, a new car, new running shoes, even braces!—something that is a real motivation for you personally. The bottom line is to figure out why you aren’t exercising regularly—what your barrier is—and work with it.
Choose exercise that you enjoy
If you can’t smile while you are doing it, do something else. I’m serious: Your body will respond much better if you are really enjoying what you are doing. This will of course be different for different people. When my wife sees me exercise, she continually cautions me to slow down so I don’t strain myself, but I just love it! Your thing that you love could be a sport, or dancing, or jogging… Just keep trying new things until you connect with what you love to do.
Walking is likely the easiest, most effective and least threatening place to start. Don’t underestimate the power of a good, brisk walk—it uses and invigorates every muscle in the body. Start slowly so that you can walk and talk. But if you can comfortably sing, it’s time to speed it up. The general rule for walking as exercise is that your breathing should be such that you can carry on a conversation with someone but not have enough breath to sing. Work your way up to at least 40 minutes three times a week to stay in the shape you are, and four to five times a week to improve.
Challenge yourself with resistance training
Resistance training, or strength training, is a great way to stimulate your muscles, burn fat and build strong bones. There are tons of great home exercise systems that can help you with this (I use a Total Gym and I love it), but no equipment will jump out of the closet and grab you to work out. You will need to commit to your program.
For that reason, among many others, consider getting a certified personal trainer for at least three to five sessions. This could work at your home or in a gym. Your trainer will set you on the right path with a personalized program that you can sustain and enjoy (since it isn’t realistic for me to design one for every single person reading this!). It could be the best investment you ever make for your long-term health and well-being. Before I became a certified trainer myself, I had trained in a gym for 20 years, only to find out that I had been doing many things wrong, even to the point where they were counterproductive or potentially harmful. Yikes!
Exercise is the spice of life! So get active doing something you enjoy, and you and those around you will reap the benefits.