You’ve finally made a commitment to yourself to start a regular exercise program. Congratulations! Taking this first step toward health is an important one. Exercise has been shown to reduce your blood pressure, lower blood cholesterol levels and is of course an important tool in any plan to lose weight. You don’t need to join a gym or purchase a ton of expensive exercise equipment either. All you need is some basic items that you can probably get from around the house. The most two important things you can do is to arm yourself with information and to get up and do it. Of course, please check with your doctor before starting any exercise program. There are three basic principles of exercise, that when used, are instrumental: cardiovascular health, weight training and flexibility.
You heart is a muscle and needs exercise as much as your biceps, quadriceps and hamstrings do. Strengthening it will make it beat more efficiently and can help reduce the risk of cardiac disease. Cardio training is also necessary to burn calories. While weight training will certainly tone a muscle, cardiovascular exercise is the only form of exercise that will actually reduce body fat.
If you have not participated in any form of exercise within the last six months, or live a sedentary lifestyle, it is important to start slowly. Pushing yourself too hard can be dangerous, and discouraging. If you start to associate exercise with pain or extreme discomfort, you will lose any motivation to stick with it. The idea is to get your heart rate into its target zone. You can use this tool to help you determine what your target heart rate is. Keep your heart rate in that zone for 30 minutes. Make sure to start at a lower intensity/heart rate for 5 minutes to warm up and again for 5 minutes afterward to cool down. Start with 3-4 sessions a week, around 30 to 45 minutes each session. If you can’t make it to 30 minutes, do what you can and work up to it. Walking, bike riding and swimming are excellent activities to begin with.
Many people, women in particular, are intimidated by weight training. They are afraid to get too bulky, or are unsure of what to do or how to do it. But weight training can be as simple or as involved as you want it to be. Besides making you stronger, weight training is necessary to strengthen your bones and muscles and create a more toned look.
When first starting, you don’t need a gym membership or fancy equipment to get a great workout. You can find resistance bands or a simple set of dumbbells at your local sports store for a low cost. Select at least one exercise for each major muscle group: chest, shoulders, biceps, triceps, back, abdominals, calves, quadriceps and hamstrings. You will want to use a weight that allows you to finish the set. There should be some difficulty finishing the last few reps, but be sure that you can maintain proper form. Generally speaking, you should aim for 3 sets of 10 to 12 reps.
As important as the exercise is the rest period afterward. Your muscles need time to recuperate and build more muscle fibers before you engage them in another workout, about 48 hours. Also, it’s important to continuously challenge your muscles so they don’t become accustomed to the workout. You need to change the exercise, increase the weight or change the pattern of reps and sets on a regular basis.
Stretching is an important but frequently overlooked part of a regular workout routine. It loosens the muscles, helps prevent injury and allows your body to move in a more fluid manner. Stretching should be done after every workout, when the muscles are still warm. Try to target each of the muscles that you exercised during your workout. Lean into the stretch for 15 to 30 seconds until you feel a slight pull. Make sure to not push yourself too hard, and never bounce, or you could risk pulling a muscle.
You can organize your exercise routine in a number of ways depending on your fitness level and time constraints. Here are some suggestions:
- 30 minutes of cardio 3 to 4 days a week. Target 1 to 2 muscle groups for weight training each day and do 2 to 3 exercises for each muscle being worked. Finish each work out with a good stretch. Make sure to include a rest day each week.
- 30 to 45 minutes of cardio 3 to 4 days a week. Twice a week (can be on your cardio off days, depending on your time availability), do a full body workout, exercising all of the major muscle groups (1 to 2 exercises per group). Finish off each workout with a stretch, and include a rest day.
- 30 - 45 minutes of cardio 3 - 4 days a week. Break up your weight training each day as follows: a day each of upper body, abdominal, and lower body exercises. Repeat this pattern twice, then give yourself a rest day. Of course, make sure to stretch after each workout.
For more suggestions and workout ideas, check out About.com’s Exercise site.