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Exercise 101: Getting Started with a Fitness Routine (Part 2)

Written by:  Isa Carani, RD, CDE
Fit4D Nutrition Coach

This article is the second part to our guide on getting started with exercise. This week, we will talk about setting goals, fitting activity into your day, and how to choose the best type of activity for you. Click here for Part 1, which defines different kinds of exercises and how to get them, whether you belong to a gym or not.

Sometimes, the hardest part about exercise is putting on your sneakers. We all need a little help with motivation so here are some tips about setting goals and achieving them.

Creating a FITT plan and setting exercise goals

Exercise goals give you direction on the exercise components we discussed last week in Part 1, and help measure progress.  As each fitness goal is achieved, the following will help you create the next step in your current exercise plan so that it remains interesting and challenging.

Frequency – This goal is to increase how often you are including one of the fitness components weekly. For instance if you are doing cardio two times per day how can you increase it to three times a day?

Intensity - How hard are you exercising? Checking your heart rate is a great way to tell how hard you are working when doing cardiovascular exercises. 

  • You want to increase the rate at which your heart beats per minute to increase your strength and endurance without causing injury. Raising your heart rate to 60 percent of your maximum heart rate is a great place to start.  Your maximum heart rate per minute is 220 minus your age.  According to the American College of Sports Medicine if you can talk comfortably while exercising you are likely exercising at a very light intensity. A good indicator of when to increase your cardio intensity is if you are not reaching your target heart rate goal.
  •  How to calculate your target heart rate range:
    • 220 – your age =  maximum heart rate  X 0.60 to 0.85 =  your target heart rate range between 60 and 85%
    • The above calculation gives you your heart rate range when calculated between 60% and 85% which is the recommended range for most adults
  • You can also increase intensity in weight lifting by increasing your weights.  If you can do 8-12 reps with moderate difficulty it may be time to increase your weights to increase your intensity.  Make sure you can complete 12 reps in proper form before deciding to increase the intensity to avoid risk of injury.

Time- This focuses on how much time is spent doing the exercise. If you walk or weight lift for 20 minutes you can make it a goal to increase it to 30 minutes. You want to set your pace based on what works for you.   

  • Depending if muscular endurance or muscular strength is your goal when weightlifting you can increase your time by adding another exercise for the same or different part of the body or increase your reps or sets of an exercise you are already doing. 
  • If you can do 8 reps with moderate difficulty it may be time to increase your reps, sets or add another exercise.

Type- Vary the types of exercises you do to work different areas of your body and to increase your overall strength. For instance if you walk but want to change up your cardio add biking.  Or maybe you don’t want to change your cardio but want to add flexibility.  

  • Include some stretches right before cardio and you’ve just added another fitness component.
  • You can do all the fitness components on the same day or different day as long as you make it a goal to incorporate a little bit of everything weekly.  

When increasing your FITT goals it is common to experience muscle soreness the same day or a few days after.  To avoid injury work on one FITT goal at a time as well as one exercise component.

Seeking professional help

As a reminder, if you are starting an exercise program for the first time or if it’s been a while since you have been physically active, it is important to consult with your doctor first and get medical clearance.

At times, starting an exercise program on your own can be daunting. If you’d like a professional to help direct you and keep you motivated, look for a qualified experienced certified personal trainer who understands and has worked with overweight people or those who have conditions such as respiratory problems, who may struggle with functions of everyday living. Several  reputable organizations are the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), American Council on Exercise (ACE) and  Aerobic Fitness and Association of America (AFAA). When inquiring about the personal trainer’s experience and educational background ask if he or she has had experience working with people with diabetes who have been cleared for physical activity by their healthcare provider.

Make everyday routine activities count

Daily we come across decisions to increase or decrease our physical activity. Perhaps you are overweight or have a condition such as neuropathy that makes it difficult for you to move your body weight.  Retrain your mind to take advantage of every opportunity to be physically active.  These additional small steps really do make a difference. Here are a few examples of daily activities that make a positive impact on your health:

  • Park your car further away in the parking lot so you walk a few extra feet.
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
  • Walk while talking on the phone.  Sitting and doing leg lifts while talking may be another option to increase your segment of exercise to 10 minutes.
  • Do you use your television as background noise? Turn it off and turn on your favorite tunes instead.  You will get a cardio workout as you dance or move to the beat whether you are sitting or standing.
  • Get off the bus or train one block earlier than your original stop and walk the rest of the way. You can start by doing it once a week, and increase the frequency as the activity becomes easier.
  • While watching your favorite shows exercise a different part of your body during the commercials or just march in place.   This is a great way to add different types of fitness components.
  • Set a timer or a reminder on your computer or phone every hour or so to get up and walk or stretch for a few minutes.  Go for a 5 minute walk during your lunch or break. You will start to feel better and be motivated to increase the time.
  • Do a chore once a day and increase the type or time of these activities that can get your heart pumping and improve your range of motion. A few examples are dusting the house, vacuuming, doing laundry, gardening, mopping, sweeping and mowing the grass.
  • If you have children create a list of fun physical activity games that are family friendly. Write each idea on separate small pieces of paper. Fill up a container or jar with these small pieces of paper and pick one out every day to do together after dinner.

The best type of activity is one that works for you!  

Daily exercise is possible even if you are just starting out or overweight.  The best exercise is any type of physical activity that gets you moving, will improve your daily function and your quality of life.  Studies show that the less time one spends sitting reaps large health benefits!  Challenges can be overcome by taking one step at a time. Create a physical activity plan that works for you and reward yourself for each goal achieved.  As you continue to set goals to challenge yourself and to keep your exercise routine interesting, you will start to feel better and improve your health.

What combination of activities help keep you motivated? What’s your biggest challenge when it comes to exercise? What other creative ways do you have to stay fit that you would like to share in the comments? 

For more information:

A Little Bit of Exercise Makes a Big Difference

American College of Medicine Exercise Article Archives


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