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Exercising Your Resolutions: The Basics

Happy 2020! Many of us take the opportunity a new year brings to make resolutions and one of the most common, but often the most difficult to keep, is the decision to begin exercising. It’s no secret – diet and exercise are the two best and most essential ways to live a healthier and happier life. However, knowing what to do isn’t the same as knowing how to do it. Below are some basic recommendations and tips to start us all out on the right foot and increase the likelihood of successfully incorporating this healthy (and fun!) new habit into our busy lives this year.

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), only about 1 in 5 adults and teens get enough exercise to maintain good health. Being more active can help you think, feel, sleep better, and perform daily tasks more easily. If your lifestyle involves being inactive or sitting for long periods each day, sitting less is a great place to start. Even light-intensity activity can offset some of the risks that inactivity brings with it.

How often should I exercise?

For adults, it is recommended to get at least 150 minutes (2.5 hours) per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes per week of vigorous aerobic activity.

What kinds of exercises should I do?

Aerobic (or “cardio”) activity gets your heart rate up and improves cardiorespiratory fitness. When done at moderate intensity, your heart will beat faster and you’ll breathe harder than normal, but you’ll still be able to talk. Examples include brisk walking (no less than 2.5 mph), water aerobics, ballroom dancing, gardening, tennis (doubles), and biking slower than 10mph.

Vigorous-intensity activities will push your body a little further and require more effort. You’ll probably get warm and begin to sweat. You won’t be able to talk much without getting out of breath. Examples include: hiking uphill or with a heavy backpack, running, swimming laps, heavy yard work like continuous digging or hoeing, tennis (singles), cycling 10mph or faster, or jumping rope.

In addition, try moderate- to high-intensity muscle-strengthening activity (such as resistance or weights) at least 2 days per week. Aim to do a single set of each exercise, using a weight or resistance level heavy enough to tire your muscles after about 12 to 15 repetitions. Increase the amount and intensity gradually over time.

What are some tips on how to get started?

Assess your current fitness level and consider your goals and reasons for exercising. Are you wanting to exercise to lose weight or to improve your overall health? Are you training for an upcoming marathon? Knowing the answers before beginning can help you tailor your regimen and evaluate your progress in relation to your specific goals.

If you're just beginning to exercise, start cautiously and progress slowly. If you have an injury or a medical condition, consult your doctor for help designing a fitness program that gradually improves your range of motion, strength, and endurance. Many people start out very excited and end up working out for too long or too intensely and give up when their muscles and joints become sore or injured. Plan time between sessions for your body to rest and recover.

Build your exercise regimen into your daily schedule if you are having difficulty finding enough time in your day to workout. Use the stairs instead of the elevator, take a short walk during your lunch break, go on a run while listening to podcasts or your favorite music, or read a book while riding a stationary bike.

If you can’t reach these goals right away, don’t be discouraged. Simply making the decision to become more physically active and doing it is a huge step! Work your way up slowly using the “start low and go slow” mentality. But don’t wait! Get started today by simply sitting less and moving more.

*Recommendations from the AHA are based on the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd edition, published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Other recommendations from the Mayo Clinic.