You have a sedentary lifestyle but want to become more active in order to look better, feel great and be healthy. Unfortunately, becoming fit isn't an easy task to complete after being inactive for a number of years. Soon after starting you'll get sore, tired and may even want to quit. What's the best way a beginner can get active? The answer is slowly. Making small, gradual changes will allow for a better adjustment to your new lifestyle and make it less likely that you'll even think about going back to your old ways.
Types of Exercise
Exercise can be split up into different categories: flexibility, strength and cardiovascular routines. You should be engaged in each one of these to have a well rounded workout plan but any exercise is better than none at all. Flexibility will not directly lead to weight loss or muscle gain but will allow you to perform better and reduce your risk of injuries. Cardiovascular workouts will allow you to burn calories which helps in weight loss. There are also many health benefits to cardio including a decreased risk of heart disease. Even if you're trying to gain weight, cardio is a good idea.
Strength training will help you build muscle. A lot of people who are trying to lose weight skip this final step because they're afraid of gaining weight. The amount of muscle you can build is no where near the amount of fat you can lose in a given time. Building muscle allows you to increase your metabolic rate which means you'll burn more calories throughout the day further aiding in your weight loss goal.
Flexibility can be done 3-5 times per week or whenever you exercise. It isn't hard and should take no longer than 10 minutes. Start by lightly warming for 5 minutes with a walk or jog. You shouldn't stretch cold muscles since they'll be stiff . Pick 1 stretch for each major muscle group (quads, glutes, hamstrings, calfs, chest, back, shoulders, biceps, triceps, abs). Take each stretch to a point of slight discomfort but never farther and hold it for 20-30 seconds. You can do each stretch twice.
Cardio should be done 3-5 times per week for 30-60 minutes per day. If you're a beginner, you don't want to start your first week by running 4 miles each day, 5 times per week. By the end of your first workout, if you even finish it, you'll be dead tired, sore and unable to move. You need to start off slowly. Start your first week by going under the recommendation: 2 times per week for 15-20 minutes per day. Don't do something that's too rigorous. You can walk or jog. The next week, either increase the number of days to 3 per week or increase the amount of time to 20-30 minutes per day while staying at 2 sessions per week.
Once you feel comfortable, you can begin getting closer to the lower end of the recommendation for cardio: 3 times per week, 30 minutes per session. Stay there for another week and then start moving up again gradually. You can increase your exercise level by 1 day per week and 10 minutes per week until you reach 3-5 times per week for 45-60 minutes per session. It doesn't matter how long it takes you to reach that level. The slower you make the changes, the more likely they are to stick. The great thing about cardio is that you can use any activity to exercise as long as it gets your heart pumping. You can run, jog, play a sport or swim. Use your creativity and most importantly, have fun.
Strength training is the other area of fitness that you need to add into your daily routine. The recommendations here are to workout 2-3 times per week hitting every major muscle group of the body per session. This might sound like a lot but you only need to pick 1-2 exercises per muscle group (quads, glutes, hamstrings, calfs, chest, back, shoulders, biceps, triceps, abs) and do 1-2 sets per exercise. You want to pick a weight in which you can get between 8-12 repetitions with the last one truly being your last.
Just as with cardio, you want to start at the lower end or even under the recommendations. During your first week, do strength training 1 or 2 times. Pick 1 exercise per muscle group and 1 set per exercise. During your second week, move to 2 times (per week), 1 exercise per muscle and 2 sets per exercise. Keep moving up slowly until you reach the recommendation.
Remember that you can only improve by setting new goals. Once you reach a steady level of exercise, your job isn't done. From there you need to run farther, lift more weights and continue to set new goals. You can help yourself by keeping track of how far you run or how many repetitions you complete. This way, you'll always know where you stand by looking at your workout log.
The Bottom Line
Getting into shape is a long term goal. Outlined above is a short term path to eventually getting fit which takes a long time and requires hard work. The most important thing to remember is that there will be times you simply don't feel like exercising. Take a day or two off and start fresh when you feel ready. Don't let a few tough spots get in the way of accomplishing your goal and don't quit just because of one off day.