How Do I Begin an Effective Exercise Program?


A balanced and effective exercise program will focus on the five health-related components of physical fitness:

Aerobic Endurance is the ability of your heart, lungs, and blood vessels to deliver oxygen to your muscles.

To improve your aerobic endurance, participate in 20-60 minutes of aerobic exercises 3-5 days per week.  The intensity should be difficult enough so you can talk but not comfortably sing.  Example exercises include brisk walking, running, bicycling, or swimming. 

Muscular Endurance is the ability to exert a submaximal force repeatedly or over time.

Muscular Strength is the ability to exert a maximal force one time. 

To improve both muscular endurance and muscular strength, perform 1-3 sets of 8-12 repetitions for each of your major muscle groups 2-3 nonconsecutive days per week.  It is important to choose a weight that causes your muscles to feel fatigued during the last few repetitions of every set but allows you to maintain good form.  Never work through pain in a joint.  Example exercises include the leg press, leg curl, chest press, back row, and abdominal curl.

Flexibility is the ability to move a joint through a full range of motion. 

To improve your flexibility, stretch your major muscles 3 or more days per week.  Hold each stretch for 10-30 seconds to a feeling of mild tension but not pain.  Example exercises include the quadriceps stretch, hamstring stretch, chest stretch, and back stretch. 

Body Composition is the percentage of fat and fat-free mass in the body.  Fat-free mass includes muscles, bones, blood, organs, and water. 

You can improve your body composition by eating a healthy diet and performing aerobic and resistance training exercises regularly.

How Can I Exercise When I Am Short on Time?

(and other barriers to physical activity)


Many barriers can try to prevent you from maintaining your active lifestyle.  Here are a few common barriers to physical activity and suggestions for overcoming them:


I don’t have enough time.

We always find time for things that are important to us.  Make activity a priority in your life and stick to it.

Remember, anything is better than nothing.  Don’t have time for that hour long workout today?  How about a 15 minute brisk walk around the neighborhood. 

Find out where your time goes.  Try writing down everything you do for three days.  How many hours do you spend watching television or surfing the Internet?  Are there activities that you can eliminate?  You may find that you have more time than you thought.

Exercise smart.  You don’t need to spend hours in the gym to achieve the health benefits of exercise.  Ask an exercise specialist how you can make your workouts more efficient. 

Incorporate it throughout the day.  Walk around the field while your children are at soccer practice.  Ride your bike to school.  Take the stairs up to the office rather than wait for the elevator.  Walk on the treadmill while you watch the evening news.

Schedule it.  The majority of regular exercisers set time aside each day to be active.  Write your activities on your calendar and treat them like any other important appointment.

Exercise in the morning.  Morning exercisers are less likely to procrastinate and skip a workout later in the day.   

Split it up.  Three 10-minute walks can provide the same health benefits as one 30-minute walk. 


I don’t have enough energy.

Exercise in the morning.  Energy levels tend to decline as the day goes on.  Try exercising in the morning when you are fresh.  It will probably give you more energy for the rest of the day.   

Follow the 10-minute rule.  Convince yourself to try at least 10 minutes of exercise.  You can stop after 10 minutes if you want.  Chances are, exercise will give you more energy and you’ll want to keep going.

Eat a small snack.  You may feel sluggish if you exercise in the late afternoon or after work.  Try eating a small snack like a banana with peanut butter or yogurt with granola.  It may give you the boost that you need.


I don’t have enough motivation.

Find an activity that you enjoy.  Enroll in a church or community recreation league.  Consider volleyball, softball, tennis, golf, or basketball.  Sign up for a new class like martial arts, dance, or yoga.  Check out options at your local fitness center, the choices may surprise you.

Try group exercise classes.  Many regular exercisers find group exercise classes extremely motivating.  A qualified and creative instructor can keep you looking forward to each new workout.  Try step aerobics, kickboxing, indoor cycling, water aerobics, hip hop, jazz, weight training, yoga, or Pilates.

Grab a friend.  Have your friend meet you at the activity destination.  You’ll be less likely to back out if you know someone is waiting on you. 

Distract yourself.  Listen to your favorite music or radio program while walking.  Try books on tape.  Ride a stationary bicycle while you watch your favorite television program.  Flip through magazines on the stair climber.

Keep a log and reward yourself.  Mark your calendar when you complete your workout.  Reward yourself with a new pair of athletic shoes or a CD when you have completed a certain amount.


I don’t know what to do.

Contact your local fitness center.  Most facilities provide free equipment orientations to members.  Fitness Center Specialists and Personal Trainers can also help. 

Try a class or video.  There are many exercise classes and videos that are geared just for beginners.   An experienced friend may also be able to help.


I don’t have enough money.

Try walking.  Walk around your neighborhood, at the mall, or at a local park.   All you need is a comfortable pair of shoes.

Visit the library.  Your local library can be a great resource for fitness and health magazines, books, and exercise videos.

Look into scholarships.  Some recreation centers, like the YMCA, provide scholarships for those who are in financial need.  Contact your local center to find out more information.


I am embarrassed to exercise in front of others.

Exercise at home.  Look into a home treadmill, stationary bicycle, or stair climber.  Or try exercise videos from the library.

Exercise with a friend.  A good friend or family member may provide the comfort that you need.

Exercise with a class geared just for you.  There are many classes and fitness centers geared toward certain populations.  Consider gyms for women, water aerobics for arthritis, prenatal classes, or classes for older adults.

I travel too much.

Do your homework.  Book your stay in a hotel with a fitness center or pool.  Ask about temporary local gym memberships for travelers. 

Go sightseeing.  Walk to tourist attractions, malls, or museums.

Pack a mini-gym.  A jump rope and resistance tubing can easily fit into your travel bag.


The weather is too hot or cold.

Go inside.  Try fitness centers, home equipment, or exercise videos.

Consider the time of day.  In the summer, exercise outdoors in the early morning or evening when it is cool.  In the winter, exercise  outdoors at lunchtime when it is warm.

Take advantage of the seasons.  Go swimming during the summer, hiking in the spring or fall, and sledding or skiing in the winter.


I have to take care of children.

Use down time.  Try to exercise when your children are in school or taking a nap.

Play with them.  Get involved in a game of tag, ride bicycles, or go for a walk together. They will enjoy the activity too. 

Get help.  Trade babysitting time with a friend or use the daycare at your local fitness center. 


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