Starting and maintaining a fitness routine can improve overall health for anyone, regardless of age, ability or fitness level. Incorporating physical activity into your life can make you feel better, sleep more soundly and reduce the risk of various chronic diseases. Being physically active has mental health benefits as well, by causing your brain to release chemicals that can support well-being, reduce stress, boost your self-esteem and keep your memory sharp. Getting started isn’t complicated or expensive. It just takes some motivation and a little planning.
Determine Your Level of Fitness
Take an honest assessment of how “in shape” you are. To determine your aerobic and muscular fitness level, the Mayo Clinic offers this comprehensive guide on how to assess your fitness level and record your baseline scores so you can keep track of your progress as you implement your fitness plan. From there, determine what types of activities your body is ready for. You will be more likely to succeed and stick with your fitness program if you choose activities that match your abilities. Moderate physical activity is safe for most people, but if you have an injury or a medical condition, check with your health care provider to discuss the types and amounts of physical activity that are right for you.
How Much Exercise Do You Need?
Any amount of physical activity is better than none. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends two types of physical activity for better health: aerobic activity and muscle-strengthening activity. Aerobic activity is classified at two levels, moderate- or vigorous-intensity. Both should get you breathing harder and your heart beating faster. Some moderate-intensity examples include walking fast, dancing, pushing a lawnmower and riding a bike on level ground. Vigorous-intensity aerobic activity means you’re breathing hard and fast, like while playing basketball, singles tennis, jogging and swimming laps. Plan to get a minimum of 30 minutes of aerobic activity, three days a week at whichever level is right for you, then work up to five days a week.
Incorporating a fitness routine into your life can make you feel better, sleep more soundly, and reduce the risk of various chronic diseases.
In addition to aerobic activity, physical activities to strengthen your muscles are recommended at least two days a week by the CDC. There are many ways you can strengthen your muscles, whether it’s at home or the gym. You can try lifting weights, working with resistance bands, gardening that includes digging and shoveling, exercises that use your body weight, like sit-ups and push-ups and some forms of yoga.
Choose Activities You Enjoy
Think about physical activities you enjoy and decide which to include in your plan. Do you enjoy being outdoors or are you more comfortable exercising indoors? Do you like group activities like team sports or exercise classes? What about going to a gym for strength training or working out with exercise equipment? Or is following an exercise video or online class at home more in your comfort zone? Whatever you choose, chances are greater that you will stay the course if it’s an activity you enjoy.
If you are new to a fitness plan or haven’t been active for a while, a daily walk is a great place to begin. Start slowly and gradually increase the distance and your speed, working up to a 30-minute brisk walk. As you design your fitness program, keep these tips in mind:
- Include a variety of activities to keep it interesting.
- Establish exercise options for all kinds of weather.
- Combine your activity with learning something new, like ballroom dancing or martial arts.
- Give yourself plenty of time to warm up and cool down.
- Allow time between workout sessions for your body to rest and recover.
Get the Right Gear
Starting a fitness plan can be affordable for just about anyone. A good pair of athletic shoes and some basic workout clothes are enough to get you started. You can build from there, adding equipment or joining a gym as your budget allows. There are many low- or no-cost fitness apps for smart devices that you can use to set fitness goals, monitor weight loss, count your steps and share progress with others on social platforms.
Exercise and Health for Older Veterans
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Gerofit program helps aging Veterans maintain physical and mental health through individualized exercise plans. The program is offered at 15 different VA Healthcare Systems around the country. Participating Veterans are given a personalized exercise program. Trained staff such as physiologists, nurses or physical therapists provide guidance in carrying out the program. The program is available to Veterans enrolled with the Veterans Health Administration, whose overall health is stable and sufficient for participation without needing continuous assistance.
You have your reasons for wanting to get into better physical shape. Maybe you want to reap the health benefits you can gain by getting fit. Maybe you want a slimmer physique or the ability to climb a hill without getting winded. Once you’ve made the commitment to a fitness plan and set your goals, stay motivated by reminding yourself every day, the reasons you are doing this. Fitness coaches recommend writing down your plan and goals and keeping a journal to keep track of your progress. Use the journal to record your successes and failures and express your feelings along the way.
Ready, Set, Go!
Incorporating a fitness program into your life doesn’t have to be an overwhelming process. Start slowly and steadily increase the challenge. Listen to your body and revise your fitness routine when something isn’t working for you. If you plan carefully and pace yourself to gradually improve your performance and results, you can establish a healthy habit that lasts a lifetime while improving the quality of your life.