Start Working Out Slowly

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: June 2023

Starting a workout routine can feel overwhelming, especially if you are new to exercise or have been inactive for a while. But nearly anyone can learn how to ease into a workout routine. The key is finding a safe and sustainable approach that gradually makes physical activity a basic part of your life.

Start slowly by walking

One of the best ways to ease into a workout routine is by adding low-impact exercises. The best low-impact exercise is walking. Not only is walking accessible and gentle on the joints, but it also offers a wide range of benefits for your physical and mental well-being.1

Regular physical activity can:1

  • Improve cardiovascular health
  • Increase energy levels
  • Improve mood
  • Reduce the risk of chronic diseases
  • Help with maintaining a healthy weight
  • Strengthen bones and muscles
  • Improve sleep quality

Walking is an exercise that can be done pretty much anywhere. You do not need any special workout clothes or equipment to walk. But wearing something comfortable can make it more enjoyable.1

Set realistic goals

When beginning any exercise routine, start slowly and set realistic goals. Do not expect to run a marathon on your first day. Instead, focus on small, achievable targets that will help you build confidence and momentum. Begin with a 15 to 20-minute walk around your neighborhood or a nearby park. Gradually increase the time and intensity as your fitness level improves.1

Remember to warm up and cool down

Before and after each workout session, you will need to warm up and cool down. Before you exercise, spend a few minutes doing gentle stretches to loosen your muscles and prepare your body. This helps prevent injuries and will reduce muscle soreness later.2

After your walk, cool down by gradually slowing your pace and ending with some light stretching. When stretching, you should feel light tension but no pain. The great thing about stretching is that it has a cumulative effect. This means that if you do it regularly and consistently, you will get more flexible over time.2

Gradually increase intensity

As your fitness level improves, gradually increase the intensity of your walks. You can do this by adding periods of brisk walking or adding inclines (sections going uphill) to your route.1

This added challenge will help boost your cardiovascular fitness and the number of calories you burn. But above all else, be sure to listen to your body. Avoid pushing yourself too hard too soon. That is a surefire way to get injured. A sustainable routine is built over time. Slow and steady progress is the way.1

Find your motivation

You will stick to a workout routine only if you are motivated. Identify your personal reasons for wanting to become more active. They could be to:

  • Improve your overall health
  • Increase your energy levels
  • Reduce stress
  • Improve mood
  • Lose or maintain weight

Whatever your reason(s) may be, having a clear motivation will help you stay committed and focused.3

Having trouble getting (and staying) motivated? Consider finding a workout buddy or joining a walking group to add a social aspect to your exercise routine. This can help keep you accountable.3

Mix it up

Doing the same exercises day in and day out can get dull. So, mix it up. Add variety to your activities to keep your workout routine interesting and prevent boredom.3

In addition to walking, consider adding other low-impact exercises like swimming, cycling, or yoga. These exercises each provide different benefits, engage different muscle groups, and keep your body and mind challenged.

Stay consistent, and listen to your body

Consistency is key when building a sustainable workout routine. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity spread throughout the week. That breaks down to a 30-minute walk, 5 days a week. To make sure your heart rate is up while you walk, you should be able to carry on a conversation but be breathing more heavily.3,4

Schedule your workouts like appointments. Make them a nonnegotiable part of your routine. At the same time, listen to your body and take rest days when needed. Pushing through fatigue or pain can lead to injuries and setbacks.1,3

Move more and sit less

People sit now more than ever. In the United States, about 1 in 4 adults sit for more than 8 hours every day. And close to half of all Americans get little to no exercise.5

Sitting for too long is not good for the body. Studies show that the more a person sits, the greater their risk is for chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.5

But there is good news. Every bit of movement helps and can counteract the effects of sitting. Here are some possible ways to incorporate movement throughout your day:5

  • Stand up every hour and move around.
  • Set a timer for every 30 minutes to stretch your body.
  • Go for a walk on your lunch break.
  • Opt for walking meetings instead of seated ones.
  • Invest in a standing desk.

Remember, every little bit of movement helps. And small changes can add up to big rewards for your body and overall health.

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