Often, the hardest part of exercise is knowing how to get started. Begin by thinking about the principles of FITT: Frequency, Intensity, Time and Type. (And, of course, you should always talk with your doctor before beginning a new exercise program.)
Frequency: How often you exercise significantly affects your fitness, health and weight loss.
Low-intensity exercise performed most days of the week leads to improved health and moderate weight loss. More intense exercise performed three to five times per week results in even more weight loss.
Intensity: How hard you work out also determines your fitness level and affects the amount of weight you lose. To determine your intensity level, use any of these methods:
• Talk test: Push your exercise hard enough that you're slightly winded but can still talk easily.
• Scale of 1 to 10: Assign numbers to your intensity level. Give a 1 to an activity you could sustain for hours. A 10 would apply to an exercise that results in major suffering. Most workouts should fall between 5 and 8.
• Heart rate: Weight loss occurs when your exercise intensity falls between moderate (50 percent of your maximum heart rate [220 minus your age]) and high (85 percent of your maximum heart rate). Measure your heart rate by feeling your pulse in your neck (below your ear) or on the thumb side of your wrist. Count the beats for 10 seconds, then multiply by 6. This determines your heart rate in beats per minute.
Time: The American Diabetes Association recommends that you aim for 30 minutes of aerobic exercise at least five times per week. Brisk walking, dancing, swimming and cycling all count. You don't need to fit all the daily exercise into a single session. If you don't exercise regularly, a few 10-minute bursts of exercise spread throughout your day will effectively improve your health and fitness. Three 10-minute workouts—climbing the stairs at work or walking around the mall—add up to a daily workout. However, if you set more ambitious fitness goals, you need to schedule in longer workouts. Rather than squeeze several mini-workouts into your day, you need to devote a longer block of time to exercise.
Type: Choose an exercise based on what you want to gain from your efforts. For example, if you seek to improve your heart health, try low-intensity walking. If weight loss is your goal, select an exercise that uses your large muscle groups, such as walking, jogging, swimming or bicycling. Choose exercise equipment based on your personal preferences. The equipment you select will not affect the calories you burn as much as the time and intensity you devote to your workout.
Before any strenuous physical activity, be sure to talk to your doctor.