How to Start Exercising When You  re Seriously Out of Shape

You've decided to take control of your health. You've made the commitment to get in shape, improve your heart health, and have an overall sense of well-being. But once you've made the decision that you're really going to do it this time, how do you start exercising—especially if you're seriously out of shape. Just follow these six simple steps to get on the road to fitness.

1. Talk to Your Doctor

If you haven't exercised before (or in a while) your first step is a phone call to your doctor. This is especially important if you have any significant health issues, like cardiac or respiratory problems. You might not have to wait for an office visit though. Just let your doctor know that you want to start exercising. That way she'll determine if you'll need certain restrictions on your new exercise routine based on your health needs. Once you get her OK, you can safely begin.

2. Start Slowly

It's easy to make big commitments about how much and how long you'll exercise, but if you attempt to do too much, you'll get frustrated and possibly injure yourself. Instead set simple, doable goals. For instance:

  • Walk for 15 minutes a day, 5 days this week.
  • Swim in the pool for 20 minutes, 3 days this week.
  • Try one new exercise class at the gym.

3. Cardio

When you're just starting out, focus on simple cardio (aerobic) exercises like walking, swimming, biking, treadmill, or elliptical trainer. If you can go for 15 minutes—great! If you can keep going for 30—even better, but don't do too much. Remember, start slowly.

4. Get Strong, But Get Help

No matter how out of shape you are, strength training benefits everybody. It boosts your metabolism, strengthens muscles and bones, and helps you burn calories better. Before you start strength training, consult a fitness expert at the gym or a physical therapist for basic instructions. Or, download how-to's from the Internet or pick up a book. There are hundreds of sites and programs that can teach you how to lift weights safely. There's no need to lift heavy weights or invest in a lot of equipment. Even lifting household objects like milk jugs and canned foods is a good place to start. And bodyweight exercises like push-ups, pull-ups, and yoga will help you build strength without any extra equipment needed.

5. Stretch

Don't neglect the "feel good" portion of your workout. After your walk or ride, stretch your arms, legs, and back gently. Don't push, bounce, or hold a stretch too long. The idea is to keep your muscles and ligaments limber, not to stretch them out of shape.

6. Work a Little Harder

Every week, push yourself to walk, swim, or bike a little farther or spend a little more time on your cardio machine. Don't make any big jumps, but keep your progress slow and steady. A good rule to follow is the Rule of 10; this requires that you increase your activity, distance, endurance, time, or amount of weight you lift by 10 percent each week. If you try to do more, you put yourself at risk for injury.

And speaking of injury, a little muscle soreness is normal when you haven't exercised in a while. Sharp pain is not. Give your doctor another call if you have any signs of injury.

Mike Ceja, CFP Certified Personal Trainer/Sports Therapist, reviewed this article.