The only thing harder than sticking to an exercise program is getting one started in the first place. The biggest mistake most people make is trying to go from couch potato to triathlete in one fell swoop, which sets them up for failure. You didn’t develop your sedentary ways all at once, so you can’t expect to change them overnight, either.
Acknowledge the Risks of Being a Couch Potato
Being in good physical shape is far more than just a cosmetic issue. According to research discussed on the Harvard School of Public Health website, leading a generally sedentary lifestyle poses definite health risks even if you exercise fairly often and are not carrying any extra weight. Researchers surmise that sitting for long, unbroken periods of time changes your metabolism in ways that increase your risk of diabetes, heart disease, and obesity and can contribute to the development of certain chronic diseases.
Test Your Fitness Level
Before starting any exercise program, it’s important to get a general sense of your health status and fitness level especially if you have existing health issues such as asthma, diabetes or high blood pressure or are recovering from surgery or any condition that can be affected by a change in activity levels. Have a doctor assess you for any chronic conditions. Otherwise, you can check your own fitness level by walking. If you can walk at a moderate pace for 10 minutes while being able to carry on a conversation normally, you can probably start a fitness program.
Set Realistic Goals
Your end goal should include an active lifestyle that includes 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise every day, as well as two to three weekly sessions of strength training that involves eight to 10 exercises for each of the major muscle groups. You also need to stretch for five minutes after each workout to keep your muscles and joints flexible and supple. All together this can seem overwhelming, but you can start more simply. Walking for 30 minutes every day is a good way to begin.
Start With Aerobic Exercise
Aerobic exercise, which is also called cardio, is any activity that uses large muscle groups repeatedly for a sustained period of time, thereby making you breathe harder. This includes a wide variety of exercises from walking to vigorous sports such as cycling or tennis to intense workouts featured on DVDs or given at fitness centers. Aerobic exercise strengthens your heart muscle. It also oxygenates your blood, increases your circulation and helps strengthen your lungs. The good news for couch potatoes is that you can start slowly by walking for 30 minutes every day and increase from there. You can even break up the 30 minutes into several shorter sessions throughout the day.
Add Anaerobic Exercise
Anaerobic exercise has benefits that complement those of aerobic exercise. Simply defined, anaerobic exercise requires short periods of effort, such as lifting weights or sprinting. Strength-training exercises help create lean muscle tissue, which helps you burn more calories even while resting. If you have never lifted weights, start with weights that are about 2 to 5 pounds and shoot for 6 to 8 repetitions of each exercise followed by five minutes of stretching. Do this once per week to start and then increase your weight intensity and frequency as you get stronger and more fit.
All of the exercise in the world will not help you to get in shape if you aren’t giving your body the nutrition it needs. But don’t make yourself crazy trying to count calories or stick to a fad diet. Start gradually by making small changes. The biggest and simplest change you can make is to stop eating processed foods in favor of foods that are fresh and varied in color, texture and type. Eat small portions of lean proteins, whole grains, fresh vegetables and fruits, beans, nuts, seeds and healthy fats such as those found in olive oil and avocados. Drink water instead of sodas and eat fruit instead of cookies. Change one element of each meal, for example, have whole grain toast instead of toaster pastries; a turkey, lettuce and tomato wrap instead of a burger for lunch and grilled chicken or fish instead of fried versions. Work from there to change your habits and develop new favorites.
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