Starting a workout regimen or healthy eating routine can be intimidating. With so much information available, you might be asking yourself: how much exercise do I need, or where do I start? You want to know if cardio or strength training is best for you, or perhaps you’re looking for guidelines about how often to work out, and for how long.
Our K Health Exercise Guide is designed to give you the tools you need to navigate this sometimes confusing world and live your healthiest life. Some benefits you can look forward to? Increasing your lifespan and reducing your risks of heart disease and osteoporosis, just to name a few.
Physical Activity Guidelines
Regular exercise is important for your health. It decreases the chances that you’ll develop certain diseases, encourages weight loss, improves your mood, increases energy levels, and helps you sleep better.
The American Heart Association recommends the following:
- At least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes per week of vigorous aerobic activity, or a combination of the two.
- Add moderate to high-intensity strengthening workouts, like weight lifting, at least twice per week.
- Limit the amount of time you spend sitting.
- Increase the duration and intensity gradually.
- Yoga, Pilates, walking, and other low-impact activities can be done as often as you’d like.
Older adults, 65 and up, should incorporate these guidelines into their routines:
- Add balance training to workouts, such as standing on one leg (and holding onto a stable surface until they feel secure enough to do balance moves unassisted).
- Understand how chronic conditions may impact the ability to safely do physical activity.
The Physical Activity Pyramid is a helpful resource for people of all physical activity levels who want to increase their daily activity. At the base of the pyramid are activities you should do everyday, such as walking. The next two levels of the pyramid are activities you should do less frequently because they’re more strenuous, such as weight lifting or dancing. At the top of the pyramid are activities you should cut down on, like watching TV and sitting in front of your computer.
Looking to get started with a workout routine? The Physical Activity Pyramid offers goals to set depending on your level of physical activity.
- If you rarely do physical activity, the pyramid suggests you focus on low-intensity activities you can do every day, like walking. It suggests setting realistic goals instead of jumping into intense workouts.
- If you get occasional physical activity, try to achieve more consistency in your workouts, and begin incorporating the higher intensity workouts found in the middle of the pyramid. You should also set weekly and monthly goals.
- If you do physical activity often, you’ll want to focus on a variety of workout modalities, i.e. strength, flexibility, and aerobic work. You can also stay motivated by continuously challenging yourself with new goals.
Keep reading to learn how exercise can make you healthier, and discover different types of exercise you may want to explore.
Types of Exercise
Exercise types you can add to your routine include aerobic, resistance, mind-body, balance, and flexibility training:
- Aerobic: Aerobic training includes activities like running, walking, HIIT (high intensity interval training), exercise classes, biking, rowing, swimming, and certain gym equipment (i.e. elliptical machines). Aerobic training increases your lung capacity and makes your heart healthier, in addition to burning calories and fat to help you lose weight.
- Resistance: Resistance training includes the use of your own bodyweight, free weights, barbells, weight machines, or other weighted props that act as resistance against which your muscles can contract. Resistance training increases muscle and bone strength, burns calories, can speed up your metabolism throughout the day (not just when you’re working out), and reduce your risk of injury.
- Mind-Body: Mind-body exercises include yoga, Pilates, tai chi, and qigong. These exercises use breathing and focus to move the body in controlled movements. Mind-body exercise can improve your flexibility and stability, and is excellent for lowering stress and anxiety.
- Balance: Balance training helps you strengthen the muscles that help keep you upright. You’ll work on training your core and legs to be stronger, which in turn will help you become more coordinated and reduce your risk of falling. Examples of balance training are balancing on one leg, or sitting and standing from a chair without the use of your hands.
- Flexibility: Flexibility training focuses on lengthening your muscles and increasing their range of motion. The benefits include preventing injuries and decreasing the risk of low back pain. Examples of flexibility training include dynamic stretches, like walking lunges, or static stretches, like a butterfly stretch.
How Exercise Can Help You
Physical activity can help you by both preventing and/or alleviating the symptoms of some conditions. Exercise may lower your risk of dying from type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. It can also reduce both stress and anxiety, putting you in a better mood. A regular workout routine can help manage arthritis by reducing pain and increasing range of motion. It can help control the onset and severity of asthma attacks, improve cognition in individuals diagnosed with dementia, and increase core and spinal stabilizers strength, helping to manage the symptoms of back pain.
Adding Exercise to Your Routine Today
Don’t worry if you’re new to exercise and the recommendations outlined above sound daunting. Any movement is better than just sitting still for extended periods of time. Try adding short walking breaks throughout your day. They can be as little as five to 10 minutes. Don’t start out with too much intensity; the last thing you want is to get injured or feel burnt out.
Before you begin, make sure to follow a few important steps to ensure that your workout routine gets off to a good start:
1. Speak with your doctor: Make sure to get annual physicals and an OK from your doctor before you begin any workout regimen.
2. Set realistic goals: One reason some people quickly give up on working out? They set lofty goals that they inevitably don’t meet, thus feeling like they failed, and then quitting altogether. Make your goals small and achievable, and recognize that fitness is a lifelong habit, not a short-term, quick fix.
3. Always warm up: Never jump into a workout without warming up first. You’ll be more likely to pull a muscle or get injured. Try doing a five to ten minute warm-up with a brisk walk outside or on the treadmill to prep yourself for the workout ahead.
4. Listen to your body: Make sure to listen to what your body is telling you. If you’re feeling sick, or noticing an ache that just won’t go away, it might be a sign to rest so that your body can recover. Make sure to watch out for signs of overtraining. Overtraining is when you push your body too hard such that it struggles to fully recover. Some symptoms of overtraining include:
More is not always better. Stay smart, and avoid doing too much too soon.
Working out at Home
Want to start working out, but don’t have access to a gym or fitness facility? No problem! You can start with at-home workouts, no equipment needed. As little as ten minutes of exercise a day can start making a difference in your overall health and mindset.
Try adding walking, stretching, and balance for a well-rounded introduction to wellness.
- Walking: Try building up to a medium-paced walk that will raise your heart-rate. Don’t worry about the duration at first; go for as long as you feel in control of the pace.
- Stretching: Add stretches that will help you lengthen your muscles and tissues. An example of this is a roll down to reach toward your toes. From a standing position, relax your chin towards your chest and round through your spine, going as far to the floor as you feel comfortable. Feel free to bend your knees if your back/hamstrings feel tight.
- Balance: Introduce activities that will challenge your proprioception, or your awareness of where you are in space. An example of this is standing on challenging surfaces such as foam pads or a BOSU ball. Try increasing the amount of time you can spend standing. Once that gets easier, you can try balancing on one foot at a time.
This cardio and bodyweight circuit will burn calories and increase overall strength.
Start by going through one circuit. Once you start feeling fitter, you can add another round (or two!) Remember to warm-up and cool-down, listen to your body, and rest when you need to.
At Home Cardio + Strength Workout
- High Knees
- Jumping Jacks
- Pushups (can be done on knees)
- Hip Bridges
- 30-second Plank
- 30-second Wall Sit
Exercise Dos and Don’ts
Here are a few do’s and don’ts to keep in mind when increasing your weekly exercise:
- Explore workout options: If you don’t like working out, don’t despair. It may be that you just haven’t found the right workout for you. Try different options and see which you gravitate towards. Tennis? Hip-hop cardio? Ballroom dancing? There’s something for everyone.
- Find a partner: Having a friend or accountability partner to workout with can make your sessions that much better. You’ll feel motivated and have fun with someone who has the same fitness goals as you.
- Reward yourself: Don’t forget to take time to pat yourself on the back once you meet a workout goal. Whether it’s a dinner out or new workout clothes, give yourself a reward for a job well done.
- Sacrifice form: You should never sacrifice your form to lift a heavier weight or execute a new move. For example, if you’re unable to stabilize your shoulders while doing a bicep curl, you need to go lower in weight. Ignoring this rule could lead to injuries.
- Skip rest: Rest is an integral part of any healthy lifestyle and will make you stronger in your workouts. Make sure to take some time off to allow your body to recover.
- Do only one routine: You, and your body, will get bored doing the exact same routine every day. Avoid an exercise plateau by challenging yourself with different workouts.
Exercise is an integral part of a healthy and balanced lifestyle. It can make you feel both mentally and physically fit, and decrease your risk of developing many chronic conditions. Make sure to listen to your body, and start out slowly. No matter what your health goals are, there’s a workout modality suited to you. Have fun, and enjoy the journey.
Want a doctor’s advice about how to start exercising?
Download K and chat with a doc today.
K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.