First steps to fitness

You've made it. Reading this section is your first step to getting fit and healthy. Making a few simple changes to your lifestyle is all it could take to improve your fitness, and the result is likely be an improvement in both the way you look and feel.

But start with achievable goals - you won't turn into an athlete overnight if you haven't been exercising regularly up until now. Results will come over a period of time and, if you're starting a significantly more intensive fitness regime, don't forget that a visit to your GP is always a good idea first. The next step is to understand what it takes to develop a successful exercise routine:

Find a routine

Don't expect too much too soon. Understand your current fitness levels and set achievable goals. If you're new to swimming, don't expect to swim the channel straight away! Also, take stock of how much time you realistically have to spend training. If you're going to a gym, your trainer or instructor will help you with this. If you're improving fitness levels at home, get into a routine that you can manage - and stick to it.

Go gently

Once you've worked out a routine you can stick to, look for ways of moving your fitness on. Just make one change at a time. For example, increase the speed you walk, run, bike or set your cardio equipment, or increase the weight and number of lifts you do when you're weight training. Add or switch an exercise to vary your routine. For example if you usually cycle, try running. Your body adapts to any exercise, and while a switch gives your body a different challenge, a change of exercise can help keep you motivated.

Cardiovascular exercise

Cardiovascular exercise (cardio) is any kind of activity that raises your heart rate and keeps it elevated for a period of time. Another name for it is aerobic exercise. It includes jogging, swimming, cycling, brisk walking, running or using equipment like a rowing machine or cross-trainer.

  • Cardio strengthens the heart and lungs, and increases lung capacity
  • It boosts the metabolism, burns calories, and helps you lose weight
  • It helps reduce stress, increases energy levels and promotes restful sleep

Start with a session

By exercising in 'sessions', you'll be less tempted to make direct comparisons of one activity to the next. Also, start slowly - it's important to give your body time to adjust. For example, if you've not been running before, aim for a short session you feel comfortable with, rather than a long session you can't repeat and build on. Varying your session is a good idea too, you're less likely to get stuck in a rut and you'll soon find out which exercises you enjoy most.

Example session 1

  • Walk/run/bike/cardio machine for 10 minutes (easy level)
  • Stretch, follow on with strength exercises:
    • 3 sets of 8 upper body exercises
    • 3 sets of 8 leg exercises
    • 3 sets of 8 stomach/core exercises
  • Stretch, follow on with a different cardio activity for 10 minutes

Example session 2

  • Walk/run/bike/cardio machine for 15 minutes (moderate level)
  • Stretch, follow on with a different cardio exercise for 10 minutes
  • Work through some strength exercises:
    • 2 sets of 10 leg exercises
    • 2 sets of 10 upper body exercises
    • 2 sets of 10 stomach/core exercises
  • Stretch, and finish with 5 minutes of any cardio activity (easy level)

And relax

You probably know that it's important to warm up before you begin any exercise, but it's also important to take every session at a steady pace. Never push yourself too far - it's better to make steady progress. Don't feel that every session has to be better than the last: just relax, enjoy the training, and don't forget to warm down when you're done.

Read more about Warming up and down.

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