Maintaining a regular fitness routine can be challenging for even experienced exercise enthusiasts. So getting into a fitness routine for the first time — or restarting one after a long break — can be especially daunting. Setting realistic expectations and forgiving yourself when you miss a goal (we’re only human!) are key to success. Studies show that doing some exercise is always better than doing no exercise — even taking a couple of minutes each day to get moving can start a healthy habit that you can build on, helping you to feel better, do more, and decrease your risk for certain injuries and chronic illnesses.
And it’s always best to increase your activity level gradually, so you can avoid strain or injury. Carbon Health’s director of program development, Aaron S. Weinberg, MD, MPhil, adds, “Getting into the habit of stretching every day is a good way to prevent injury as you increase activity levels.”
Before making drastic changes to your fitness or exercise regimen, talk to your healthcare provider about your fitness goals.
To set realistic expectations for yourself, think about the various things in your life that currently prevent you from pursuing your fitness goals. Here are the most common obstacles people encounter and tips to help you overcome them.
We all have busy lives! And many people who used to exercise regularly have faced significant shifts in their schedules or obligations. Here are some pointers for making time to exercise:
• Identify available time slots. Monitor your daily activities for one week. Identify a few time slots you might use for physical activity (even if they are short). Certified kinesiologist and sports nutritionist Jake Harcoff, MS, CSCS, suggests choosing a manageable workout regimen to start. He adds, “This means don't commit to a three-day-a-week program that has huge time-consuming workouts if you are just getting started. Choose something that you know you can do — maybe one or two workouts a week, for 20 to 45 minutes. Once you become consistent with these shorter workouts, try adding more time or a third session each week.”
• Add physical activity to your daily routine. And it’s OK to start small! For example, walk or ride your bike to work, and take stairs when you can, instead of an elevator. New York–based certified fitness professional Kate Cherichello says, “We don’t all have the capacity to get to a gym each day, but we can most likely walk for five minutes or get on the ground for a few push-ups. You become someone who finds the time to move your body every day, and that habit then leads to more: more time spent, more exercises added, more discovery of ways to incorporate fitness into your daily routine.”
• Take advantage of workplace physical activity facilities and/or programs if you can. Hold walking meetings and conference calls if possible. During phone calls, try to stand, stretch, or move and walk around some, if possible.
It can be especially difficult to stick to private commitments — ones that you make to yourself but haven’t told anyone else about. Letting friends and loved ones know about your fitness goals can help you maintain a regular exercise routine.
• Explain your interest in physical activity to friends and family. Ask them to support your efforts.
• Invite friends and family members to exercise with you. Plan social activities involving exercise. Cherichello explains, “Knowing that your friend is waiting for you at the park or knowing that your child loves walking to school with you rather than driving are all excellent motivators. If it’s a challenge to find someone to be a part of your ‘buddy system,’ check for classes or Facebook groups in your area.”
• Develop new friendships with physically active people. Join a gym or group, such as the YMCA or a hiking club.
Exercise and fitness bear an extra burden when it comes to motivation — they don’t bring instant results (however, even a brief period of moderate exercise has been shown to improve mood within just a few minutes). So it’s important to make physical activity as fun as you can — so it’s an end in itself, and not a dreaded chore. Weinberg adds, “Once you start exercising, endorphins are released — over time, this will help motivate you and help you start a routine.”
• Plan ahead. Make physical activity a regular part of your daily or weekly schedule and write it on your calendar.
• Join an exercise group or class — Harcoff adds that it’s helpful to try a few things out until you find something you enjoy doing — don’t feel that you’re “locked in” to the first activity you try. “Realistically, any sort of activity can give a workout if done with intent, and you're more likely to stick to it if you enjoy what you're doing. Fitness is a marathon, not a sprint,” he says.
• According to Cherichello, when you can’t muster the energy to get to a class or go for a long walk, see if you can convince yourself to move for just a few minutes — and then see if you end up working out longer. “It’s all about creating the habit of showing up,” she says. So if you’re going to have to miss a workout, maybe just put on a favorite song and dance for five minutes instead!
When you haven’t exercised for a while (or not much at all), it can be easy to overdo it — with sometimes painful results. To help avoid that, you should:
• Learn how to warm up and cool down to prevent injury.
• Start off slowly and easily, and then gradually — over the course of several weeks, if needed — settle into a pace and routine you’re comfortable with.
• Learn how to exercise appropriately considering your age, fitness level, skill level, and health status.
• Talk to your healthcare provider about your health goals, so they can talk about a fitness plan that’s safe for you.
With so many activities, workouts, and exercises to choose from, nearly everyone feels unskilled in some fitness routines. The good news is you’re in plenty of company, and you don’t have to do everything. As mentioned previously, exercise and physical fitness are not all-or-nothing. Every bit helps, so:
• Select activities that don’t require new skills, such as walking, climbing stairs, or jogging.
• Take a class and learn something new!
Getting back into a fitness routine can (and often should) take time. A fitness journey starts with one step! But once you take the first step, the next steps should slowly become easier.
The right amount of exercise varies from person to person, but for people who like a goal to work toward, the American Heart Association has general guidelines for adults:
• At least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes per week of vigorous aerobic activity, or a combination of both, preferably spread throughout the week.
• Add moderate to high-intensity muscle strengthening activity (such as resistance or weights) on at least 2 days per week.
• Spend less time sitting. Even light-intensity activity can offset some of the risks of being sedentary.
• Gain even more benefits by being active at least 300 minutes (five hours) per week.
Do what you can to start, and try to make healthy movement a new habit that you can build on.
If you have more questions about how to start or maintain a fitness routine, talk to one of our compassionate, judgment-free healthcare providers. Download the Carbon Health app or visit carbonhealth.com to make a virtual or in-person appointment.
Carbon Health’s medical content is reviewed and approved by healthcare professionals before it is published, but it is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Talk to your healthcare provider about questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition, and before making changes to your healthcare routine.