You have to start someplace: Beginning an exercise routine

You've decided to begin exercising. Or you're looking to improve your fitness. Where to start?

Here are some frequently asked questions about fitness:

Q: What are the components of fitness?

A: They include cardiovascular condition (cardio), strength, flexibility, balance, hand-eye coordination, speed and agility. Most people who exercise regularly are strong in one or two components.

Examples of cardio are walking, swimming, playing tennis, taking a dance class, riding a mountain bike. These activities get your heart pumping.

Q: What kind of exercise do I need to be healthy?

A: In a perfect world, you would regularly do cardio, strength and flexibility exercises. Balance training such as yoga and tai chi are important for older adults.

But we're getting ahead of ourselves. Start small. Work on your cardio first and when you improve, add strength training to your regimen.

The government recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise every day. This can include training for more than one component of fitness.

Q: What if I can't complete 30 minutes during my first week?

A: That's OK. No one expects you to do a 30-minute workout if you've been sedentary. Aim for 15 minutes the first day. Add five minutes the next.

Keep adding time or increasing speed or intensity as you improve. Remember: small steps.

Q: What exercise is best for me?

A: Simple: the one that you like or enjoy doing. A neighbor once told me that she didn't like running, but she did it anyway because it was the quickest and most effective way for her to burn calories. She had a hard time staying on the program.

Some people say exercise can be difficult. But doing something you enjoy can make the tough moments worthwhile.

Here's my motto: If you like doing it, you're more likely to stick to it.

Q: But I don't like going to the gym. Do I have to?

A: No. You can work out at home. Or outdoors, because nature is a free gym. The key is to have the right tools, no matter where you are.

Your most important tool is your body. But seek the help of a personal fitness trainer who can design exercises for your chosen environment.

Go to or to find a trainer.

Q: I've tried exercising, give it a lot of effort in the beginning, but I find it difficult and end up quitting. What should I do differently?

A: Start at an easy pace and gradually build your endurance. You may have been pushing yourself too hard. Give yourself kudos for fractions of improvement. Go at your own pace.

Q: How do I know when it's time to make changes or add to my workout program?

A: Once exercise becomes easier. Your body is designed to adapt, so you have to keep challenging it.

Suggested guides:

  • The Home Workout Bible by Schuler & Mejia (Rodale)
  • Full-Body Flexibility by Jay Blahnik (Human Kinetics)

    Lisa Liddane is a health and fitness writer for The Orange County Register and an American Council on Exercise-certified group fitness instructor. Write to her

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