Everything you need to know about starting exercise
While we may start a new exercise regime with the best of intentions, life has the tendency to get in the way. Over time, we break our good habits, and what started as a couple of skipped sessions due to a spell of bad weather may turn into weeks of inactivity. But establishing a workout routine and our regaining our former fitness levels is not only possible, but it’s also achievable and incredibly rewarding.
Follow our tips to help guide your return to effective exercise, whether you’ve had a couple of months off or haven’t set foot in a pair of trainers since a school netball match.
What’s up doc?
If you haven’t exercised in a number of years and your body is not used to strenuous activity, consult a doctor for a health check before you embark on a new workout regime. A health check will alert you to any underlying conditions that could lead to injury, so that nothing will hinder your quest for fitness when you start working out for the first time.
Before you begin, ensure your body is thoroughly warmed up to minimise your chances of injury – there are some great examples on YouTube to try from the comfort of your own home if you aren’t ready to publicly warm up in the park – try marching on the spot for three minutes with high knees. This is a gentle way to get your body used to exercise.
The importance of a good pair of trainers cannot be overstated for jogging/running. Look for trainers in the £60-£100 price bracket, and ask for a proper fitting and gait analysis in a sports shop. Analysing your gait will work out your running style by measuring pronation, which is the way your foot rolls as your heel hits the ground. If your feet roll in too much (overpronation) or too little, a good pair of trainers will help to counterbalance this, lowering your risk of injury. Top personal trainer Michael Garry says that trainers have an optimum running life of about 500 miles – if you start to run regularly, you may need new trainers every six months to a year.
Go for goals
Give yourself something to aim for by deciding on a long-term goal, then split this into smaller, manageable achievements. If you attempt an ambitious goal too early, you may feel frustrated or defeated if you don’t immediately succeed. Setting smaller goals over a longer period of time will help make exercising more habitual, and will give you the boost of having many small victories to celebrate. Partner up with a friend if you think that being accountable to someone other than yourself will help you stick to a routine – plus, you’ll have someone to motivate you on tougher days and celebrate your successes as you smash each milestone!
Get into your stride
The old adage says that we shouldn’t run before we can walk, and there’s certainly truth in this. Instead of trying to launch straight into 5km runs, start out by walking for 20 minutes, three times a week. Try to cover slightly more distance each week at a pace where you can still talk comfortably. Finding a route with a slight hill or incline will make your body work a little harder. Michael Garry suggests that your first major goal should be to run a mile. When building up to this (literal!) milestone, you should aim to run for one minute, then walk for one minute and keep alternating until you have covered the distance. Over time, you will find that you can run for longer without walking breaks.
To the core
Strength training is just as important as cardiovascular exercise when it comes to improving your fitness levels. Studies have shown that resistance training is one of the key ways to maintain good health in later life.
Middle age is an optimum time for muscle and bone-strengthening exercises, as this helps to slow our bodies’ natural physical decline and reduce our chances of falls. Although weights are helpful, they are not essential, and you can practice core-strengthening exercises with no equipment whatsoever.
Planking is a great place to start – simply manoeuvre yourself into a press up position with your forearms on the floor and hold for 30 seconds. While walking is effective cardiovascular exercise, it also helps to strengthen your core if you maintain good posture. Hold your head high, with your ears in line with your shoulders, and your tummy button drawn in towards your spine to really reap the benefits to your core.
Whether it’s been 10 days, 10 months, or 10 years since you last exercised, progress is possible, and the benefits to your physical and mental health are unbeatable. Time to dust off the trainers…