How to Get Started with Exercise

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor or health/fitness professional. I’m new to all of this stuff myself and I’m completely unqualified to be giving fitness advice. I’m just a random Joe who would like to share his experience and encouragement with you and hope that you can take the steps to change your life as well. Please see your doctor before starting a new fitness routine.


So, you’re curious enough to have at least Googled about exercise or you’ve otherwise meandered to my weblog and found yourself reading about it. Are you motivated enough to take the next steps to begin a lifetime of health and total wellness? It’s no easy task to transition from a sedentary lifestyle to one of daily diet and exercise, but the rewards you reap will pay dividends for the rest of your days on Earth. Exercise sharpens not only our bodies, but also our minds, and the benefits are incredible:

Here are 7 major benefits of exercising, from the Mayo Clinic

  1. Exercise improves your mood.
  2. Exercise combats chronic diseases.
  3. Exercise helps you manage your weight.
  4. Exercise boosts your energy level.
  5. Exercise promotes better sleep.
  6. Exercise can put the spark back into your sex life.
  7. Exercise can be — gasp — fun!

And there are at least a million more reasons to start exercising right away. There’s no reason not to do it — aside from it being difficult to get started. Theodore Roosevelt has the answer to that conundrum: Far and away, the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing. There may be no work more worth doing than investing in yourself with exercise.

Change Your Life[style]

I think the biggest mistake people make when starting out with exercise is an improper mindset. Too often, we want to see an immediate change or have short-sighted goals like, “I must lose 5lbs to get into that dress” or “I need to get ripped for swimsuit season”. While the swimsuit or dress can be a great motivator, things can’t end there. You don’t put forth the effort to lose the weight or tone up only for that single, material goal. You must commit for life.

If you do this one thing, commit yourself to a total lifestyle change — from now until you are unable to exercise — you will be amazed with your results. There will be no “time crunch” weighing you down. There won’t be a rollercoaster of weight loss and gain. There won’t be any pressure to perform. This is the promise you need to make to yourself in order to be successful for the long term. It’s no simple thing and it will drastically change your life — but it will be for the better.

Also, keep this in mind: it’s not about the numbers. Your weight, while important to know and a potential motivating factor, is not who you are. Too many factors can affect your weight and it’s not an all-inclusive indicator of your health. It’s easy to become obsessed with figures and pounds, and in the end, it is not what’s important. Your health and how you feel is the reason for exercising.

Needless to say: don’t do drugs — including tobacco (though some alcohols, like red wine, may be beneficial). It’s just common sense. I smoked for 10 years starting when I was a teen, but I haven’t had a cigarette in nearly four years. I was young and stupid. Don’t be like me.

Educate Yourself

Now that you’ve made the commitment, it’s time get the facts. You need to educate yourself and learn the basic principles of nutrition and exercise. It is important you learn the answers to these fundamental questions (I’m still learning about them, too):

  • Which foods are good and which are bad (I honestly did not know this for a long, long time — no one ever taught me, or I didn’t care to learn, about nutrition)?
  • How do calories, fat, cholesterol, and carbs impact your body when consumed?
  • The different types of exercise and how they benefit you:
    • Cardio/Aerobic Exercise
    • Strength/Resistance Exercises
    • Flexibility/Stretching Exercise
  • How do I determine what my heart rate should be?
  • Etc.

There’s a mountain of information related to health, exercise, and nutrition. Some of it is common sense (lean meat is healthier than fatty meat, yogurt is healthier than chocolate cake) and some you will struggle with (how many carbs/calories do I need?). Stick to the basics for now and increase your knowledge, bit by bit, over time.

Diet: It’s Not a Bad Word

Before you even begin exercising, you need to work to correct your diet. Diet is not a bad word! You don’t have to punish yourself, you just need to limit the bad things you eat and replace them with healthy choices. It’s OK to cheat or treat once in a while — but not at every meal, like so many of us tend to do. I personally love chocolate chip cookies and I can’t begin to tell you how hard it is to resist those babies, but I do it because I don’t want to jeopardize all the hard work I’ve done to get in shape.

I don’t want to discourage anyone from exercising, but if you want to see significant changes, you must eat a healthy diet. Sure, some exercise is better than none even if you do eat poorly, but if you don’t commit to the full lifestyle of healthy eating and healthy living, don’t expect to see mountains being moved. What you eat is equally as important (or arguably more so) as the exercise you do.

One of the major things you can do in this area is to stop eating when you’re no longer hungry — don’t keep eating until you’re full! It’s hard to do, and food is delicious, but eating until you’re full is a big “no no”. Combine this tactic of eating less with eating more often — yes, more often! Try to eat 5 times a day — your standard 3 square meals with light, healthy snacks (such as a handful of nuts or a cup of yogurt or a piece of fruit) in between. This keeps you from feeling hungry between meals (and thus, you’ll be less likely to want to chow down to satiate the hunger feeling at meal time), and will also serve to boost your metabolism.

With the method of “eating less, more often” in hand, your next step is to determine how many calories you need in a day (depending on your exercise goals), and try to maintain that until your goal changes. There are plenty of online calorie calculators, and if you have a smartphone, there are also free apps available to help you keep track of your food intake.

Give yourself a break once in a while. Leah and I give ourselves one meal a week (on our typical “date night”) to eat whatever we want. We still try to stop before we’re full, but if the food is bad for us (pizza, cheeseburger, etc.), that’s OK. If we want dessert, we account for that too and either try to be a little more conscious of the meal choice, or leave lots of room for the dessert. The most important thing here, other than giving yourself a reward, is that if you fall off the wagon completely, don’t beat yourself up about it too much — just get right back on. We all make mistakes!

Drink lots of water. I drink about 2 liters a day, or more. Some bodybuilders drink 1-2 gallons. It’s the stuff you’re made of and it likes to be refreshed. Choose water instead of sugary (or pseudo-sugary) drinks like soda, and if you simply need some flavor, try green tea (I didn’t think I would like it, but I drink it every day now).

Learn to love your vegetables, especially the green ones. They are the most important food you eat and are packed with fiber, vitamins, and minerals. I’ve struggled with this quite a bit, mainly due to having food texture issues (which I’ve slowly been overcoming for several years). You just have to do it. Green beans, peas, and asparagus (which is super easy to roast with garlic powder in about 10 minutes and quite delicious) are some of my favorites, but I’m learning to expand and I don’t often pass up the opportunity to try something new and different.

Start Out Easy

Now that all of that is out of the way, it’s time to start exercising! I think it’s extremely important to start out slowly, doing things that are very easy — like walking or beginner yoga. This eases you into the habit of exercising and allows you to enjoy it, rather than dread it — and even better, you can achieve that great positive feeling from setting and accomplishing goals right away.

I urge you to start out this way, if only for a week or two, with something simple like walking (at a brisk pace, to get your heart rate up — leisurely strolling through the mall while window shopping doesn’t count) for 20-30mins at least 3 days a week. After a week or two, ramp it up to 5 or 6 days a week. Eventually you’ll feel ready to expand again and begin craving more… and then you just keep feeding off of that energy, reciprocating it unto yourself, setting new and higher goals and accomplishing them, ad infinitum.

I personally started out with Kundalini yoga, using an hour-long DVD that is broken up into 30min beginner and intermediate segments. The beginner portion focuses on breathing and alignment of the spine, which I can attest has improved my lung capacity and my posture by leaps and bounds (I’ve been a bit of a hunch-backed sloucher since my teenage years), and my flexibility also vastly improved (I never really could touch my toes until recently). It’s very low impact and relaxing, but it still gets your blood pumping.

After a few days of getting used to doing the beginners routine, I started stretching it for the full hour of the DVD. The “intermediate” moves were quite difficult for me and my limbs were contorted into positions I did not know were humanly possible — all the while the lady on the DVD was breaking rules of physics and anatomy simultaneously with her body as I screamed out in pain… Seriously though, it wasn’t that bad. I really enjoyed it and looked forward to it after the first couple of workouts.

I would recommend this form of yoga to anyone who is looking for a very low key way to get started exercising. The folks who made the DVD say anyone can do it, as long as you can breathe! The DVD I used is made by Ana Brett and Ravi Singh, called Kundalini Yoga for Beginners and Beyond. I don’t think I’ve ever felt better physically or spiritually than after going through the full hour of this DVD, and I like it so much, I still try to include it in my weekly regimen.

There are tons of home fitness DVDs and equipment, so I urge you to Google these products and read reviews and find out what is right for you. If you want to dive right in to the gym, that’s an option also, but consider taking beginner classes or hiring a personal trainer if you can afford it — that way there’s less chance of injury and a greater chance of success. And if walking is the best you can do, keep on walking! It’s purported that the simple act of fitness walking on a 5-6 day a week basis is enough to reduce the possibilities of premature death and thus increases longevity.

Keep Raising the Bar

Once you’re in the habit of exercising regularly and eating right and have made it a part of your daily routine, it’s time to kick it up a notch if you are interested in losing weight and/or building muscle. Walking 30min a day, 5 or 6 days a week is fantastic and a great way to maintain health, but if your goal is to change your body, that won’t cut it anymore. You need a more intense workout routine, and most likely a more time-intensive one (ie. 60 to 90 minutes).

If your goal is to gain muscle and “get ripped”, you have to strength train regularly and modify your diet to accommodate this change (more protein and calories). If your goal is to drop 10lbs and “tone up”, you will need to move towards higher intensity aerobic and cardiovascular routines and modify your calorie and carb intake appropriately.

I moved away from the Kundalini yoga to a more physically demanding DVD program called Power 90. You’ve probably heard of p90x, which is a very intense, not-for-beginners fitness regimen. Well, Power 90 is it’s little baby brother, or predecessor if you will. Power 90 has 2 sets of DVDs, each with a cardio and strength training workout. It was a big leap forward from the yoga but was still quite doable (they encourage you to take breaks and go at your own pace).

I think another important part of the equation for me is visualization. I have several photos printed out of men with desirable physiques, and I spend several minutes each day looking at them and “seeing” my body taking the shape I desire. It might sound funny, but it’s a tactic used by many athletes for various purposes, and more specifically, is used in this fashion by bodybuilders to help achieve their maximum physical potential. It is like programming your body subconsciously to do as you wish, and your mind brings it to fruition.

Reap the Rewards

I’ve only been at this stuff for a few months, but I feel amazing and my body is taking shape as well. Since beginning the Power90 series, both Leah and myself have noticed significant changes in my body. The fat around my stomach and chest is withering away and muscles are poking out here and there. It’s very inspiring and keeps me motivated to do more.

Find what works for you. Stick to it. Invest in a complete, balanced diet full of vegetables and a daily exercise routine, and your life will change: your body will change, your mind will change, you will be happier, less stressed, and more motivated to tackle the other important things in your life. You will be balanced and at peace.

So, take the challenge to better yourself. Don’t put it off for another day — you can start right now by working a 20-30min walk into your schedule. Begin your journey towards a life of total wellness. Change yourself for the better. Do it for your loved ones. —Do it for you.

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