Starting — and Sticking with — an Exercise Program - dummies

Starting — and Sticking with — an Exercise Program

By Jane Kirby, The American Dietetic Association

If you are overweight and on a diet, expending 2,800 calories a week in exercise or committing to a chunk of time every day may sound like more than you can manage. The easiest way to make a workout part of your routine is to commit to exercise every day. That’s seven days a week! Start with 20 minutes of walking every day. You can do two 10-minute walks if you like. Just commit to 20 minutes a day.

You may think you’re already walking at least 20 minutes a day between all the things you do — and you may be. One way to find out is to attach a step counter (pedometer) to your belt. Pedometers don’t calculate time; they log the number of steps you take. Twenty minutes equals 2,000 steps or about 1 mile.

After about 2 weeks, lengthen your walks to 40 minutes. In another 2 weeks, lengthen them to 60 minutes. The following table outlines the exercise program.

Building Up Your Daily Exercise Plan
Time Period Activity Comments
Weeks 1 and 2 Walk 20 minutes a day Intensity isn’t important
Weeks 3 and 4 Walk 40 minutes a day Gradually increase the intensity
Week 5 Walk 60 minutes a day Walk briskly
Lifelong Add recreational sports or aerobics for cardio respiratory
Supplement with walking on off days

If you’re new to exercise, keep in mind that you don’t have to do exercise in one lump sum. Finding a continuous 30 to 60 minutes in which to work out is difficult for almost everyone. Focus initially on the day’s total amount of activity — it doesn’t matter how or if you break it up.

For example, find three 20-minute periods in your day for exercising. Exercising at least 10 minutes at a time, several times a day, adds up to sufficient exercise quickly.

Don’t try to make up for a slow day with an overly active one. But if you do go overboard with an activity that’s too strenuous, still try to do something the next day, even if it means a slow walk. The important thing is to do some kind of exercise every day. That’s how you make it a habit.