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Strategy for Starting a New Exercise Program
Categories: Caregiving Articles, Senior Care Tips, Taking Care of Yourself | Posted: 1/12/2016 | Views: 4345

Well, it is the new year – you know what that means?  It means a renewed sense that maybe we should take better care of our health.  It is rare to find a discussion about health or disease prevention that does not include getting some form of exercise.  While there are many ways to get healthy – like eating right, staying connected to others, being in the present, finding meaning, etc. - exercise seems like the most common and obvious path to improved health.


But, how do we know how much is enough and how much is too much?   And how do we get motivated, avoid pitfalls, and get a successful habit going? For starters, anyone starting a new exercise program should consult with a doctor first.  And people with advanced age, motility problems, or other chronic illnesses are even more in need of a good check up to make sure that exercise will enhance – not harm – their health.

Tips for Starting Your Exercise Routine

  • Always Start Small -  Any new goal of exercise should first and foremost “do no harm.” If you start off twisting an ankle or developing a new muscle strain, that is not going to help you get healthier!  By small, I mean very small.  You can start with just walking for 5 minutes or doing 5 minutes of chair exercise if you have to.  You can always gradually increase your intensity or length of time as you get stronger, but for now, err on the side of caution and ease.  
  • Develop a Good Habit - More important that what you do or how long you do it is the regularity of your routine.   It is believed that you have to do something for 30 days in a row to develop a habit.  If you want to develop a good exercise habit, it is more important that you do it 5 minutes every day for 30 days than it is for you to run a marathon.  In the long run, a good habit will be a ticket to good health.
  • Alternate Strength and Cardio - Cardio exercises are those that make you work your heart and lungs – like walking, swimming, biking, or dancing.  Shoot for doing three of these a week.  Alternate that with 2 days of something that will make you stronger – like lifting small hand held weights or calisthenics.
  • Have Fun - To keep a good habit, it should have some element of fun.  If that means listening to your favorite music while on the treadmill, joining a class at a community center, or enlisting your favorite buddy to exercise with you – do whatever it takes to add an element of enjoyment.
  • Reward Yourself -  Also, consider some kind of small healthy reward for meeting your goals.  It can be something like eating at your favorite restaurant after a week of following your plan – or a fancy healthy smoothie or long bath on days you exercise.  Find a good treat for yourself that you can regularly reward yourself with and that will help motivate you to continue.

Unfortunately, exercise has become associated mostly with just weight loss.  While you may lose some weight if you exercise, exercise has many more benefits than just losing a few inches or pounds.  Among these benefits are:

  1. Improved balance, muscle tone, and strength
  2. Better posture
  3. Reduced risk of falls
  4. Prevention of many diseases like Alzheimer’s, Heart Disease, and Diabetes
  5. Reduced depression and fatigue
  6. Better sleep
  7. Improved appetite
  8. Better circulation

Challenges of Starting a New Exercise Program

  • Injury – again, starting small and slow and maintaining a routine is more important than running a marathon.  Starting slow and small allows you to build up very gradually with less chance of injury.  By checking with your doctor and making sure you are fit to start a program, you are also reducing your chance of injury.
  • Finding Time - Time is one of those funny things.  Sometimes, we have too much and sometimes we seem to have too little – but the truth is, we all get the same exact amount every day!   Time is really about priority.  If you set exercise as a priority and knock it off first thing in the morning, there is less chance for your monkey mind to talk you into procrastinating!  Interestingly, when we exercise first thing in the morning, we waste less time thinking and feeling guilty about how we “should” do it. And, the extra boost in self-esteem form doing it early - along with the extra energy we get- actually helps us be more effective and efficient throughout the day.  Try doing your exercise first thing and see how much time it really takes and how much it may give!
  • Other People -  I hate to say this, but other people can get in our way!  Maybe it is a spouse – or someone you are caring for.  Maybe we still have kids or maybe we are watching grandchildren during the day.  Whatever your circumstance, it is important to identify whether someone is holding you back from exercising daily.  You may need to get up earlier – before everyone else or have a talk with someone who places too many demands on your time.  Maybe you need to have the kids join you or find a solitary activity while you are exercising.  Whatever the issue is, many of us put others’ needs ahead of our own and exercising should not be one of the needs we put on the back burner.  It is just too important to our health.  Find creative ways to solve “people” obstacles to a good exercise plan.
  • Lethargy or Lack of Motivation – What it Really Means -  Many of us would much rather hit the snooze button or come up with excuses than put on a pair of sneakers and head outside in the cold drizzle to take ourselves for a walk.  When we are overcome with anxiety about the other stuff that is “more important” to do than exercise, or guilt for the other people who are “more important,” or our own dismay over the discomfort of our bodies actually having to work hard, I think what we are really doing is not valuing ourselves enough to “just do it.”  When you get to the point of valuing yourself more than your discomfort, others, or your to do list, you will find the motivation and energy to exercise! It really boils down to making a choice that you are worth the effort.  Whether you think you are worth the effort or not, you can decide to believe you are anyway!  That is a choice you may need to make every single morning your alarm goes off – but a choice well worth the effort.  One day, you may actually start to effortlessly believe you are worth the effort!
  • Being “Over-Eager” -  The person who starts off a new exercise plan often over-does it.  For some reason, this is a common pitfall.  People who do this may exercise too much and get injured.  Or, they feel that if they started at a certain level, they have to maintain that every day.  When the day comes (usually day 3!) to have to run a mile, they are too tired to do it and just quit!  What if they had just started small?  First of all, at the risk of sounding ridiculously repetitive, the best way to ensure a good routine is to worry more about doing it daily than to worry about doing it well or doing it intensely – especially in the first month as you establish the habit of exercising.  Reward yourself for doing “something” every day - even if all you can manage is to sit in a chair and stretch your arms for a few minutes.  Try a checklist that simply says “exercised – yes or no” – not one that says “I ran 5 miles and did 49 reps of weights!” Even if you were the president of the USA, have 40 children, and 12 part-time jobs on the side – you could still probably find 5 minutes a day!  When you keep it to just a few minutes a day (or whatever you can maintain easily) to establish that habit, you will naturally increase it as you make room for this new source of enjoyment and health.

A regular routine can improve your life in many ways.  Hoping you can get moving on this one thing that can make all the difference in your health and happiness!


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