Exercise: How to Get Started

Setting Your Goals

Consider These Five Steps

Many people find that having a firm goal in mind motivates them to move ahead on a project. Following these steps will help you achieve the goal of making exercise a part of your everyday life.

  1. Identify your starting point.
  2. Figure out your current fitness level.
  3. Set short-term goals.
  4. Set long-term goals.
  5. Write a plan if you need to.

Goals are most useful when they are specific, realistic, and important to you. Consider both short- and long-term goals. Your success depends on setting goals that really matter to you. Write down your goals, put them where you can see them, and review them regularly.

Identify Your Starting Point

To figure out how to begin, you need to know your starting point and build slowly from there. Knowing your starting point will help you pick activities that are comfortable and realistic for you. Starting out this way also will help you be successful. To identify your starting point, think about a typical weekday and weekend day. How much time do you spend sitting? How much time are you active? When you're up and moving, what kinds of activities are you doing?

Test Your Fitness Level

To help you figure out your current activity level, try filling in an activity log. For a couple of weekdays and a weekend, keep track of how much time you exercise or are physically active. Write down how much time you spend doing each activity. Here are tests you can use that measure endurance, strength, balance, and flexibility.

  • Endurance. Pick a fixed course—once around the block or from one end of the mall to the other. Time how long it takes you to walk it.
  • Upper-body Strength. Count how many arm curls you can do safely in 2 minutes.
  • Lower-body Strength. Count how many chair stands you can do safely in 2 minutes.
  • Balance. How long can you safely stand on one foot? (Stand next to something sturdy you can hold on to if you lose your balance.)
  • Flexibility. For this test, sit toward the front of a sturdy chair, and stretch one leg straight out in front of you with your heel on the floor and your toes pointing up. Bend the other leg and place your foot flat on the floor. Slowly bend from your hips and reach as far as you can toward the toes of your outstretched foot. How far can you reach before you feel a stretch?

Set Short-Term Goals

Short-term goals will help you make physical activity a regular part of your daily life. For these goals, think about the things you'll need to get or do in order to be physically active. For example, you may need to buy walking shoes or fill out an activity log so you can figure out how to fit physical activity into your busy day. Make sure your short-term goals will really help you be active.

Here are a few examples of short-term goals:

  • Today, I will decide to be more active.
  • Tomorrow, I will find out about exercise classes in my area.
  • By the end of this week, I will talk with my friend about exercising with me a couple of times a week.
  • In the next 2 weeks, I will make sure I have the shoes and comfortable clothes I need to start walking.

If you're already active, think of short-term goals to increase your level of physical activity. For example, over the next week or two, you may want to move gradually from walking to jogging, increase the amount of weight you lift, or try a new kind of physical activity. No matter what your starting point, reaching your short-term goals will make you feel good and give you confidence to progress toward your long-term goals.

Set Long-Term Goals

After you write down your short-term goals, you can go on to identify your long-term goals. Focus on where you want to be in 6 months, a year, or 2 years from now. Long-term goals also should be realistic, personal, and important to you. Here are a few examples:

  • By this time next year, I will swim a mile three times a week.
  • Next summer, I will be able to play ball with my grandchildren.
  • In 6 months, I will have my blood pressure under control by increasing my physical activity and following my doctor's advice.

Regularly review and update your plan and long-term goals so that you can build on your success.

Try Writing an Exercise Plan

Some people find that writing an exercise and physical activity plan helps them keep their promise to be active. See if this works for you. Be sure the plan is realistic for you to do, especially as you gain experience in how to be active. You might even make a contract with a friend or family member to carry out your plan. Involving another person can help you keep your commitment.

Make your plan specific and grounded in your goals. For each exercise or activity you choose, include:

  • What kind of activity you plan to do
  • Why you want to do it
  • When you will do it
  • Where you will do it