Fitness and exercise
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Exercise - getting started Back

Published by Bupa's Health Information Team, December 2010.

If you have never done exercise before, or you haven’t done any for a while, it can be daunting. However, you don’t have to go to the gym or run a marathon to get the health benefits of exercise. Here we explain how much activity you need to do and give hints and tips for getting started.

So, how much is enough?

Many people believe that only vigorous exercise or playing sport counts as physical activity. However, you can get considerable health benefits from regular activity without needing special equipment or sporting ability – you don’t even have to get very hot and sweaty.

You can perform exercise at different intensities. Moderate means your breathing is faster, your heart rate is increased and you feel warmer. At this level of activity, your heart and lungs are being stimulated and this goes towards making you fitter. Vigorous intensity activity means that your breathing will be much stronger and your heart rate will increase rapidly. You will find it difficult to hold a conversation.

You should aim to do some physical activity every day. The recommended healthy level of physical activity is 150 minutes (two and a half hours) of moderate exercise over a week in bouts of 10 minutes or more. You can do this by carrying out 30 minutes on at least five days each week. Alternatively, you can do 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity.

It’s important that you include at least two weekly activities to build up muscle strength, such as exercising with weights. Try to spend as little time as possible being inactive.

Where do I start?

Getting active is easier than you may think. You can include everyday activities or structured exercise or sport, or a combination of these. Adapt your weekly routine to fit in with your own personal circumstances – some ways of doing this are described below.
  • Walk or cycle to work.
  • Take all small opportunities to be active – use the stairs, do manual tasks.
  • Play a sport, go to the gym or go swimming two to three times a week.
  • At work, walk over to speak to colleagues instead of sending an email or phoning.
  • Walk instead of drive for short journeys, or get off the bus one or two stops earlier than usual.
  • Organise a lunchtime exercise or walking group.
  • At the weekend, take longer walks, go for a bike ride or do some DIY or gardening.
  • Park at the furthest end of the car park.
  • Play with your children in the garden.
  • Take a walk in the park or find out about walking clubs in your local area.
  • Join an organised bike ride or run.

If you’re not used to doing exercise, you can start by exercising for a short period of time and gradually increase this by five minutes until you achieve your target. Don’t try to do too much too quickly because you may lose motivation and stop.

What's stopping you?

If something is preventing you from becoming active, think about what you can do to resolve the issue. It’s important that you choose an activity that you enjoy. If it’s your children keeping you busy, why not exercise with them, such as going on a family bike ride. Below are some ideas that can make starting to get active easier.
  • Set a date to start and stick to it.
  • Talk to your friends about starting and see if they are interested in joining you – it’s always easier to have someone else to do activity with.
  • Find out what facilities are available in your area. You may want to join an exercise class, go swimming or visit the gym.
  • Set goals.

Once you have started exercising, you will need to slowly increase the amount and intensity of activity that you do. This will help to increase your fitness levels.

Goal setting

Setting goals is important. Short-term goals will help to keep you motivated when the going gets tough and give you something to work towards. Create realistic goals that help to improve your fitness levels – try using the SMART process to do this:
  • Specific – say exactly what you will do.
  • Measurable – if you can’t measure your goal, you won’t know if you have achieved it.
  • Attainable – your goal should be something you can and are willing to do.
  • Realistic – something you can do with the resources you have.
  • Time-based – give yourself a time frame in which to meet your goal.

Once you have set your goals, it’s important to stay focused. This will help you make lasting changes to your exercise routine and it will become part of your lifestyle. You may find some days are more difficult than others, but try to stay motivated.

Sticking with it

You can make it easier to stay motivated in several ways. Choose an exercise you enjoy, and that is convenient, affordable and fits into your lifestyle. This will help you stick to your goals. If you don’t know what activity you enjoy, try a few until you find one or two that are suitable. Make sure that you put time aside in your week for exercise.
Writing a diary of your exercise routine can be helpful and improve your motivation. You can note the duration, type and difficulty level of the activity and how you felt doing it and afterwards. This will give you an idea of when you can increase your activity levels so you see your improvements.
Some tips for staying motivated are:
  • listening to music
  • exercising with your friends
  • varying your exercise – for example, try taking different routes when you go walking or running
  • setting goals and rewarding yourself with something you enjoy when you achieve them

Action points

  • Do at least 150 minutes (two and a half hours) of moderate exercise over a week in bouts of 10 minutes or more.
  • Include at least two weekly activities to build up muscle strength, such as exercising with weights.
  • Create goals that will help to improve your fitness levels and keep you motivated.
  • Choose an activity that is fun and enjoyable and that you will stick to.
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You don’t have to go to the gym or run a marathon to get the health benefits of exercise.
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