Fitness
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8 Easy Tips to Start Exercising—Even if You Hate Working Out

No experience? No problem. Here are some tricks to help you get moving. 

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By Olivia DeLong

Exercise should be part of almost everyone’s weekly routine. It can help you maintain a healthy weight, lower your risk of injury and health conditions like heart disease and diabetes—and it makes you feel good. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends all adults get 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity per week.

But what if you despise the treadmill? Or, what if you hate lifting weights? It’s okay—not everyone is going to run marathons or become bodybuilders. But most people can find an exercise right for them, even to do just casually.

Physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist David Steinberg, MD, of Saint Joseph Mercy Health System in Michigan talks through eight ways to jump-start your workout routine, no matter what your fitness level.

Get real about the benefits

2 / 9 Get real about the benefits

Even if you despise sweating, it’s likely you want to tone up and lower your risk of chronic conditions like heart disease, diabetes and obesity. Exercise can help you do all of those things! “A strong, lean body is more resilient,” says Steinberg. "And exercise can reduce the amount of body fat you have, improve cardiovascular endurance and strengthen your bones, which helps prevent osteoporosis." Here are some of the other benefits:

  • Helps you maintain good joint health
  • Improves the health of your spine and back
  • Lowers your risk of injury
  • Increases flexibility and stability
  • Releases endorphins, which improves your overall sense of well-being
  • Increases HDL (good) cholesterol levels
  • Reduces stress
  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Helps you get more sleep
  • Improves brain function
  • Encourages alertness and focus

What’s not to love?

Here’s how to get started, even if you’re not sure where your sneakers are. 

Schedule your workouts

3 / 9 Schedule your workouts

The first step to making exercise a regular habit is setting aside time to work out—especially if you’re not too keen on it to begin with. “Use schedules and calendars to prioritize your workouts,” says Steinberg. "Mark off your calendar anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour each day. And it doesn’t all have to be at the same time." If it’s on your schedule—and coworkers and family members see that time blocked off—you’re less likely to be pulled into a meeting or pick-up duty. Not sure if morning or afternoon is best for you? Try both and see which time jives with your schedule best.

Remember: there will be times when long exercise sessions won't be possible. On those days, try squeezing in a walk or set of stretches between meetings and activities. And keep in mind, when you make exercise a priority, you may have to push other things like straightening up the house to the backburner to stay committed. Don’t worry—that’s okay! 

No matter when you’re planning to work out, prep yourself for success the night before. Pack your gym bag for work, or lay out your clothes if you’re an early-morning exerciser.

Kick off an exercise group at work

4 / 9 Kick off an exercise group at work

A sedentary lifestyle can be detrimental to your health, raising your risk of heart disease, diabetes, anxiety, depression, cancer and obesity. That’s why it’s important to get moving, even at the office.

Start by moving more throughout the workday. Steinberg says there are walking and fitness groups at the hospital where he works. “We’ve developed something called the Summit Club—anyone who’s walked up the 11-story stair tower of the hospital can write their name at the top on the poster board, then keep track of how many times they’ve done it,” says Steinberg.

You can also set up walking meetings or lunch groups, and if there are fitness gurus in your office, have them lead a 30-minute exercise class once a week. If you’re a manager, encourage your direct reports to move. “If you’re able, make it easy for your workforce to be engaged in exercise, fitness and wellness.”  

Start with an exercise in your wheelhouse

5 / 9 Start with an exercise in your wheelhouse

If you haven’t been very active in the past, creating a workout routine may be pretty daunting. “You have to spend some time thinking about the exercises that will be fun, engaging and energizing before you jump into them,” says Steinberg.

The easiest way to find exercises that are both doable and exciting is to uncover something in your wheelhouse. “Find exercises that you enjoy and that you are capable of," he says. "If you know you have problems with your back, hips or knees, running isn’t a good option, but swimming is.” Try lots of different workouts until you find the one that’s the most fun.

There are also free online resources that can help you learn new moves and techniques to spice up your workouts. A lot of health experts and bloggers offer no-charge workout videos and in-depth how-to instructional guides. And of course, fitness websites and magazines are great resources, too.

Not sure where to begin? Try American Council on Exercise’s quiz to determine the best exercises for you.

Get outta your head

6 / 9 Get outta your head

Steinberg says one of the most common reasons people stop working out, or are afraid to start exercising, is because they’ve had a negative experience in the past. “Whether you’ve had an injury, you’ve worked out too hard and it took forever to recover or you didn’t get the results you were hoping to achieve after a strict fitness plan, it may be easy for you to come up with excuses not to work out.”

If you’re easing back into exercise after a chronic or ongoing injury, remember to take it slow—5 to 10 minutes is all you need—and turn the intensity down a notch. Walking and swimming are great low-impact workouts that are easy on the joints. And physical therapists are good resources—they can help you understand your condition and learn exercises to get back in the game.

When starting a new workout routine, think about what may have stopped you from continuing last time:

  • Did you feel sore or get hurt?
  • Did you have fun?
  • Were you discouraged by your fitness level?
  • Did you feel self-conscious at the gym?
  • Did you get the results you were hoping for? 
Create accountability

7 / 9 Create accountability

When it comes to your sweat sessions, a workout buddy, coach or personal trainer helps you define goals, stay motivated and share successes. They can encourage you to push yourself or try a new exercise you fear is too difficult. They can also hold you accountable: “Even just texting or emailing a close friend about the days of the week you’re planning to work out will help you keep your word," says Steinberg.

Workout classes are another option that can help you stick to your plan. Once you sign up, you’re probably not going to skip if you’re meeting a friend there, or if you’ve already paid for it. 

Use social media and technology

8 / 9 Use social media and technology

Though Instagram and Facebook can keep you on your butt for hours scrolling through your feeds, there are lots of pros to social media when it comes to fitness. “Being connected to a larger community is helpful for establishing that accountability and creating a social environment where you are working out with others toward common goals and interests,” says Steinberg. Here’s how to use a few of the most popular resources:

  • Facebook: If you’re taking part in local events like 5k fundraisers or walks, chat with other participants about how you’re preparing on the group’s page.
  • Twitter: Search hashtags #health, #workouts and #fitness for workout routines and tips.
  • Other apps and devices: In addition to wearable fitness trackers, phone apps like MapMyRide or MapMyRun will help you plan out your routes and talk with other exercisers about your favorites.

Don’t forget: fitness gurus and online magazines will post free workout ideas to their social media pages, complete with how-to videos and instructional guides. Use these to spice up your current workout routines and to discover new moves that will tone other areas of your body.

Don’t disregard walking

9 / 9 Don’t disregard walking

All walking requires is a pair of supportive sneakers and a great place to get moving. The exercise can boost your energy levels, improve oxygen flow through the body and strengthen your heart—and that's just for starters.

Steinberg recommends getting outside and into the sunshine to do your walking. Working out outdoors can be more strenuous thanks to hilly terrains, and the fresh air can boost your mood, too. Your neighborhood or the high school track are great places to start. To make your walks more interesting, listen to your favorite tunes or a podcast—you won’t even realize you’re exercising!

To motivate you, set a daily step goal on a wearable fitness tracker or on your phone. If you’re just starting out, shoot for 5,000 and increase your goal every two weeks until you hit 10,000. And, get competitive! Create contests with family and friends to see who can take the most steps each day.