How to begin an exercise program when you’re out of shape

“Does running late count as exercise?”

If that’s as close as you get to working out your 30 to 60 minutes a day, five to six times a week, then you might be out of shape.

“You’re out of shape if you’re 30% over your ideal body weight or you don’t exercise for at least 30 minutes a day three times a week,” says Sharon Balcells, MD, Scott & White Internal Medicine.

If you’re out of shape and you want to begin an exercise program, Dr. Balcells suggests you start with these steps:

Get a full check-up from your physician first

You want to exclude a heart or pulmonary problem or any other underlying health problems that could be dangerous when you’re exercising,” Dr. Balcells suggests. “For example, you want to make sure you don’t have asthma or IHSS [idiopathic hypertrophic subaortic stenosis], which is a problem with the heart where exercise is harmful. You want to be cleared to exercise by your doctor before you begin,” Dr. Balcells says.

Start slowly.

“Start slowly, maybe 20 minutes a day for three days a week, increasing your intervals in five-minute increments to hit exercising five to six times a week for 60 minutes a day, as the federal government suggests,” Dr. Balcells says. “Walking through Wal-Mart is not enough. When you exercise, your heart rate needs to be elevated. You need to be sweating, and your heart needs to be pounding. It may take a little time to build up to that,” Dr. Balcells advises.

Recognize that every little bit of exercise helps.

Some exercise is better than no exercise. If you’re busy or tired or not feeling well and you’re tempted to skip exercising, remember that every bit does a lot of good,” Dr. Balcells says.

“Exercise reduces your chances of breast, endometrial and prostate cancers. It helps you age better: Your skin, tissues and joints stay stronger and healthier longer. Your mind stays active longer. And exercise fights depression. There are a number of studies that show a decreased rate of depression in people who exercise regularly,” Dr. Balcells advises.

“If you can’t fit in a full workout one day, get what little bit of exercise you can,” Dr. Balcells says. “Run up the stairs, open the garage door manually, get up and change the channel, park farther away, or take the dog for a walk. Do the things the way we used to do them.”

If you’re just beginning exercising (and you’re cleared by your physician), it might be tough to know whether you’re working at the right level—or not working hard enough or too hard. Dr. Balcells suggests you stop every 10 minutes and check your heart rate.

“Take your pulse rate at your neck or your wrist and count the beats for 15 seconds and multiply by four. You’ll want to be in your target heart rate zone. [See chart.] If you’re just starting—and you have doctor’s clearance to challenge your heart—keep your heart rate around 70%,” Dr. Balcells suggests.

“You should be working so hard that you are able to carry on a conversation, but not be able to sing. You need to be winded but not so winded that you cannot have a short conversation with someone. If you can’t talk, you need to slow down,” Dr. Balcells says.

Some signs that you’re working too hard include heavy sweating, a racing heart, difficulty in catching your breath, cloudy vision, headache, dizziness and nausea. If you experience any of these symptoms, sit down and rest until you are recovered. Drink plenty of water.

“Exercise is the closest thing we have to a magic pill for making us feel better and improving our quality of life. Don’t pass up any chance you get to exercise,” Dr. Balcells says. Even if you’re running late.

3 thoughts on “How to begin an exercise program when you’re out of shape”

  1. Pingback: Spider veins — are they more than just scary? | Scrubbing In

  2. Lisa you sound like me! Ideal weight just out of shape. I am on my 3rd day and can handle my elliptical for 10 minutes.

  3. Thanks for the tips. I am at my ideal weight, but very out of shape. This article as well as others seem to equate being out of shape with being overweight. I have never been overweight, but I have spent most of my life being rather sedentary. I am starting an exercise program now, and am on my third day of exercising for the first time in 4 years. It is very hard, and I can only now handle the elliptical for 20 minutes at a very easy pace. I have no idea what to do in terms of strength training. I was looking for more specific tips on how to get into shape. Thanks.

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How to begin an exercise program when you’re out of shape