How to Start Exercising: A Beginner’s Guide to Getting Started
Sit less, move more. We know: it’s easier said than done. Between work, family obligations, a social life, hobbies and maybe even some time to yourself, it can be hard to squeeze exercise into an already packed schedule. If you don’t currently have a consistent workout routine, we’re here to help with some tips from experts on how to start exercising so you can start making it a part of your life.
The health benefits of exercise
The physical, mental and emotional health benefits of exercise can’t be ignored. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and National Institute on Aging, exercise may help you:
- Cut your risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome and certain cancers
- Develop stronger bones and muscles
- Improve everyday function
- Reduce your risk of falls
- Live a longer life
- Manage your weight
- Sleep better
- Have more energy
- Improve your mood
- Lower stress
- Decrease depression feelings
How much exercise do I need to do?
The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that adults aim for a minimum of 150 minutes to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity a week, or 75 minutes of high-intensity aerobic activity a week, or an equal combo of moderate- and high-intensity aerobic activity a week.
According to the American Heart Association, moderate-intensity aerobic exercise may include activities such as:
- Taking a dance class
- Walking briskly
High-intensity aerobic exercise may include activities such as:
- Jumping rope
In addition, it’s recommended that adults aim to do strength training exercises at least 2 days a week. This may include weightlifting, using weight machines at the gym or doing bodyweight exercises such as planks, push-ups, lunges and squats.
We know starting an exercise routine may feel intimidating, but getting started is better than never starting at all. If you don’t know where to begin, start here.
Below, we asked experts to share their best tips on how to start exercising and the easiest ways to make working out a consistent part of your life.
How to start exercising
Know your why.
“If you asked, nearly everyone would say they want to work out regularly, get healthier, be more fit and so on. But, it takes dedication and consistency over time to achieve these goals — consistency that can be incredibly challenging in the context of busy lives full of competing priorities. Having a vague sense that you ‘should exercise’ is not enough of a reason or motivator to actually do it or stick to it consistently. To start working out (and do it consistently enough to see positive benefits), it helps to have a goal or a tangible, intrinsic reason for doing so. It doesn’t have to be anything epic, but simply having a concrete goal like ‘go hiking with my kids’ or ‘do 10 strict push-ups,’ or ‘run a 5K in three months’ can help provide a framework to build those consistent habits.” — Ashleigh VanHouten, health coach and co-founder of Muscle Science for Women
Start smaller than small.
“The best way to build long-lasting habits is by starting small. Start by setting your alarm 10 minutes earlier or simply putting your walking shoes next to your bed.” — Raven Ross, Master Pilates Teacher Trainer
Choose achievable goals.
“When starting a workout routine, most people overcommit and end up giving up. When beginning an exercise routine, start with 1-2 times a week, and see if you can maintain that for a month. If you can, then slowly increase from there, but do what works with your schedule and your existing daily routine.” — Lisa Schoenholt, owner of Brooklyn Embodied Pilates
“Set your personal goals, but make them realistic. Make movement a priority. Show up for you. Ask yourself daily, ‘how do I want to feel in my body?'” — Genny Mack, fitness coach and holistic nutritionist
Focus on behavior, not motivation.
“No one is motivated to work out all the time — even professional health experts and elite athletes. If we had to rely on wanting to work out in order to get into the gym, most of us wouldn’t be showing up consistently. Instead, build your workout time into your life in a way that’s realistic and sustainable, the same way you carve out time to eat, sleep, shower and do all your other daily non-negotiables. It’s much easier to get to the gym when it’s in your calendar for the same time every Monday and Wednesday, rather than having to wake up every day and decide whether or not you’re in the mood.” — VanHouten
Planning is better than winging it.
“The last thing you want is to show up for your workout but have zero idea what you will do. Plan your workout in advance, whether that is getting ideas from YouTube or having a personal trainer program specifically for you. Know what your workout is so you do not get overwhelmed at the time and can be confident going into your workout.” — Missy Berkowitz, NASM certified personal trainer and StrongBoard certified PT and instructor, owner of Dig Your Deepest
Incorporate “fitness snacking” into your day.
“Not every workout needs to be 30 minutes. Fitness snacks are short bouts of 5-10 minutes of movement throughout the day, as opposed to one long workout session. These are great for starting out with being more active, so you can fit in movement breaks throughout your busy day.” — Cindy Lin, clinical associate professor sports & spine medicine, UW Medicine, associate director of clinical innovation, The Sports Institute
“Read books and fitness blogs, listen to podcasts or just find someone who is a qualified expert to learn from. Those who spend time educating themselves about health and fitness have an easier time sticking with it because it reinforces the importance of taking care of our bodies.” — TJ Mentus, certified personal trainer and Garage Gym Reviews expert panelist
Set movement reminders.
“Remembering to move can be difficult during busy days stuck in front of screens, but it’s important we do, as sitting more than six hours a day is associated with increased risk of diabetes, heart disease and a higher risk of early death. A simple way to remember is setting movement reminders on your phone or computer once every 30 minutes or changing your video meetings to phone so you can walk and talk. Even if it’s a standing break, it’s better than prolonged sitting.” — Lin
Taste test workouts.
“Find what you like and what inspires you to come back. Try different classes, different instructors and even different times of the day. Figure out what time of the day you are more likely to commit to, and sample different styles and trainers to see what you gel with.” — Berkowitz
“Your body is dynamic. Your body has the ability to mobilize and stabilize to protect you. Try dancing, jogging, yoga, stretching, strength training, cardio, boxing, and meditation, for example, and find your groove.” — Mack
Ask questions, learn your body and implement workouts that work for your body type and health.
“Everything isn’t for everyone. All bodies react differently. Learn the ways of training, or hire a trainer to help you. Exercising is an investment in you that pays off heavily.” — Willie Fortune, professional boxer and founder and owner of Jabs Gym Birmingham and Jabs Gym Ferndale
Always connect your breath to your movement.
“When doing any type of exercise, incorporating your breath makes the movement more beneficial. Think of inhaling into your ribs and back and exhaling like you are blowing out through a straw, letting your belly softly deflate.” — Schoenholt
“Breathing increases oxygen to feed your muscles. Breathing also helps us become more mindful of how we feel in our bodies. Combining movement with your breath is extremely powerful to help you achieve your goals and feel stronger.” — Mack
Your living room can be your gym.
“If you have mobility or balance impairment, there are great ways to stay active at home, including online free online videos for dancing and yoga and bodyweight exercises from a living room floor, chair or wheelchair. Everyday items around the house (such as water bottles) can also be used as light weights.” — Lin
Harness the power of walking.
“If you have a hard time figuring out where to start, just start walking, which is great cardio. You can use a Fitbit and make a daily walking goal, or make a 20-minute walk a part of your weekly routine. A nice place to start could be a 20-minute walk three times a week.” — Schoenholt
Dedicate your sweat session to someone.
“Sometimes we need a nudge to care for ourselves, and dedicating a run, a yoga session or any workout to a family member or a friend can give us the push and motivation to get up.” — Jingjing Liang, yoga instructor at Three Jewels Enlightenment Studio
The best beginner-friendly workouts
Don’t know where to start? Here are the three best beginner-friendly workouts, according to Alex Navarrete, Master Trainer, CES:
- Walking or jogging. These low-impact activities are easy on the joints and can be done almost anywhere. They’re a great way to improve cardiovascular endurance and can also help with weight loss.
- Bodyweight exercises. These types of exercises use your own bodyweight as resistance and can be done at home or in a gym. They’re great for building strength and improving overall physical fitness.
- Yoga. Yoga is a low-impact exercise that can improve flexibility, strength and balance. It can also help reduce stress and improve mental clarity.
These responses have been lightly edited for clarity.