Make Exercise Part of Your Life

Being physically active can help you live longer and stay healthier.

  • Engaging in aerobic exercise—such as walking briskly, jogging, biking, or swimming—can help you lead a longer, healthier life. Aerobic exercise involves working your heart and lungs. It can reduce your risk of developing heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, and even certain types of cancer.
  • Weight-bearing exercise, such as walking or running, builds bone mass, which reduces your risk of osteoporosis.
  • Strength-training activities, such as weight lifting, will boost your body’s muscle mass, which can help you stay slim and strong, as you get older.

Exercise also can boost your mood, reduce stress, and help your immune system function more effectively. And if you walk with a friend or join a gym, you get the health benefits of social interaction.

Yet for many of us, exercising is a lot like dieting—we know it’s good for us, we know we should do it, and despite our best efforts, we find it hard to maintain. Here are five things you can do before you start that can help you stay with an exercise program:

Get Your Doctor’s OK

Even if you are in good health and you decide to start with an everyday activity like walking, speak to your physician before you begin. This is especially important if you have high blood pressure, asthma, seasonal allergies, arthritis, or any condition that may affect your ability or endurance. Your doctor can steer you toward an activity that will be safe for your joints, and can give you guidelines about your target heart rate that takes into account your age, health, and fitness level.

Get Expert Advice

If you’ve had health problems or injuries in the past, ask your doctor about working with a physical therapist or a licensed personal trainer for a few sessions. He or she will be able to help you tailor a fitness program that takes into account your current medical condition and physical limitations, and can make sure you are doing the movements with proper form. He or she can also motivate you and help you build confidence.

Do Your Homework

Joining a gym or fitness studio gives you options like classes, machines, and swimming or other activities, but memberships can be expensive (Tip: Check with your health insurance provider or employer for discounts, or look into a program like Silver Sneakers). As you consider the costs and evaluate the programs and offerings, take one important step: Visit when you’ll most likely be going. If you plan to work out in the evenings, that’s when you should schedule your tour or stop by to speak with a membership coordinator. You’ll be able to see how crowded the facility is, how loud the music is, and whether you’ll feel comfortable or you’ll think up excuses to avoid going.

Start Slow

As a beginner, forget about rules like, “you need to exercise one hour a day, three to five days a week”—that’s your goal, not your starting point! Take a beginner’s class (no matter how advanced or skilled you used to be), and set realistic, incremental goals as you become stronger. You might want to work toward 30 minutes of activity on most days, but keep in mind: You should discuss any exercise regimen with your doctor because it could affect any current health conditions and their treatment.

Make It Enjoyable

If you hate to run, you probably won’t stick with a treadmill-based workout—but a ballroom dance class might be so much fun you don’t even think of it as exercising. The stretches and poses in yoga or Pilates might appeal to you, but if you’re self-conscious about going to a class, look for a DVD or search YouTube for videos. As you become stronger, try new activities to keep challenging yourself and to avoid getting bored.

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