Physical Fitness Part 1: How to Begin an Exercise Program
By: Diana Richardson, MPT, CSCS
Spring is finally in the air! The warm sunshine, blossoming flowers, and expanding greenery have you itching to get outside and get physically active. But "physically active" is a broad term and for someone who is not accustomed to a consistent exercise routine, getting started can feel a bit daunting. Fortunately, there are a few simple points to consider that can guide you on your path to success.
As a Physical Therapist and Strength & Conditioning Specialist, I am often asked how to begin an individual exercise program. Some people are recovering from a recent injury and they don’t know how to continue with physical activity on their own without potentially hurting themselves. Others have drifted away from a consistent routine, feel “out of shape”, and don’t know how to get back into the swing of things. Or some never wanted to exercise in the past, but find themselves more inclined to do so now for general health and wellness purposes. Whichever category you fall in to, there is an exercise program for you.
First Things First
Before starting a new exercise routine, it is best to speak with your healthcare practitioner - especially if you have any pre-existing medical conditions. Everyone is going to respond differently to physical exertion and you want to be sure that your body can handle the increased demands before you jump right in.
Enjoy What You Do
The easiest way to stay motivated with your routine is to do something that you inherently have an interest in. Don’t start running if you hate every step you take! You’ll be less likely to stick with it and more likely to make excuses for skipping your workouts. Find an activity that excites you and has you looking forward to performing after a long day of work.
Make It Social
Do you thrive on the encouragement and support of those around you to meet your goals? If so, a group fitness class may be what you’re looking for. You’ll have the guidance of an experienced instructor, the camaraderie of your fellow class members, and the commitment to be in a specific place at a specific time. There is a plethora of fitness class options available locally - be it at a gym, wellness center, or community center. Word of mouth or a simple internet search will point you in the right direction. Even more, you can recruit some friends to do it with you!
The Beauty of Technology
If your schedule (and wallet) don’t allow for you to make it to organized fitness classes on a regular basis, no problem! There are options for you as well. The digital world opens an entirely new realm of exercise possibilities. Data streaming services allow you to access a variety of fitness activities on any electronic device. Settle into a relaxing yoga workshop projected on your flat screen, sweat to a boot camp video downloaded to your Smartphone, or live-feed a cycling class on your tablet. You can do these things anytime, anywhere! Online marketplaces make the purchase of exercise equipment as easy as a click of a button.
The Great Outdoors
If technology isn't for you, simply walk out your front door. Mother Nature is your playground! An endless number of activities are at your disposal and they require little to no added cost. Walking, running, hiking, swimming, and biking are more than enough to increase your heart rate and get your muscles pumping.
Now that you know what steps to take on your journey to being more physically active, get out there and do it! Remember to start slow, keep it simple, and most importantly, have fun! As a final note, pay attention to how you are responding to your new exercise. If something doesn't feel right, it probably isn't. We will discuss this subject matter more thoroughly in Part 2 of this series: "Monitoring the Effects of Exercise and Preventing Injury."
Diana Richardson is a Physical Therapist and Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist at The Centers, OrthoMaryland. Diana is a member of our rehabilitation team, providing Physical Therapy for a variety of injuries or concerns.