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A Beginner’s Guide to Exercise

Person rolling yoga mat

By: Grace Derocha, registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator and certified health coach at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan

Although many people aspire to exercise more in the new year, nearly 80 percent of adults fail to meet the recommendation for aerobic and muscle-strengthening activity. In order to achieve any fitness goal, it’s important to take a step back and determine what’s possible based on health history, lifestyle, interests and abilities. Consider this step-by-step guide to kick off the new year on a more active note:

  • Step 1: See a Doctor – Making time for exercise, even just 30 minutes a day, decreases the risk and effects of seven of the 10 most common chronic diseases. Because health history and physical ability impact any exercise regimen, it’s important to check in with a primary care doctor before pursuing any fitness goals. A quick check-in with routine screenings allows a person to make more informed decisions about how and why they would like to be more active.
  • Step 2: Define Goals – Whether the goal is to lose weight, build muscle, increase flexibility or improve health overall, consider the why and how as much as the when and where. In order to establish a sustainable exercise regimen, identify goals that are S.M.A.R.T.E.—specific, measurable, attainable or adjustable, realistic, time-specific and exciting or enjoyable. No major lifestyle change happens overnight, so consider the small changes will help achieve larger goals.
  • Step 3: Make a Plan – Between work and home life, finding time and motivation to exercise can be difficult. Thankfully, integrating movement alongside everyday activities can minimize the chances of skipping a workout. Those who work long hours at the office might consider walking meetings or parking farther away to squeeze in some extra steps throughout the day. Stay-at-home parents can take a few extra trips up and down the stairs or get the kids involved with living room dance parties or bedtime yoga sessions.
  • Step 4Nourish the Body – Food is the anchor of any exercise program. Regardless of the workout goal, it’s also important to consume a balanced, whole-food-based-diet including fruits, vegetables, whole-grains, lean proteins and healthy fats. Staying hydrated also plays an important role to overall health and boosts metabolism. Both women and men should aim to consume at least 64 ounces daily, or half their body weight in ounces.
  • Step 5: Gear Up – Believe it or not, workout wear can influence the psychological process and improve focus while boosting confidence. Before exercising, suit up with clothing that encompasses both fashion and function. Depending on the workout, look for pieces that reduce sweat or are insulated to create warmth during outdoor training. Non-restrictive workout wear allows for a full range of motion without compromising comfort.
  • Step 6Tackle Gym-timidation – Those exploring a new workout regimen may feel intimidated by the gym atmosphere. Thankfully, there are a variety of alternative routes to get started. Home workouts and equipment are useful tools, along with group classes and exercise apps. Go beyond the traditional means of running or weight lifting with activities like yoga or Pilates, which increase flexibility, help improve balance and support joint health. Aerobic activities will strengthen your heart and lungs, while resistance training will build muscle and bone density.