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- Get proper medical advice if you have a condition or an injury that might mean that exercise could be harmful. Do this before you start if this applies to you.
- Choose activities that you think you will enjoy. There is no point in doing something that you hate, because you will fall at the first hurdle. You can run, take up a new sport, join a gym, go to classes, or workout at home. If you're not sure what you want to do or will like, try a few things out but give each option a good few weeks. No-one is ever good as soon as they start.
- If you join a gym, try to get a trial period before signing your life away or pay as you go for a while. Check any contract very carefully as some gyms charge large cancellation penalties. Don't be swayed by fancy facilities at a private gym - council run leisure centres are often cheaper and the staff are normally well trained. They also allow you to pay as you go although memberships will work out cheaper. Don't think that paying lots of money will guilt you into going. That's how fitness clubs make their profits - all the people that pay hundreds of pounds a year who go twice. In total.
- Get the right equipment. Some people find they are more motivated by buying new fitness gear. You don't need to, but if it works for you and you have the money, do it. There is, however, one piece of equipment where no reasonable expense must be spared - running shoes. Please don't think you can get by starting to run with any old trainers. A trip to any of the sports chains (Yes, you JJB, JD Sports and the like) will not cut it either. Go to a proper shop for runners where they can analyse your gait and help work out the best type of shoes for how you run. If you don't, you risk developing shin splints, which will seriously hamper your progress. Invest in good shoes and the risks are greatly reduced. Definitely worth the money.
- Put your workouts or runs or classes in your diary like any other appointment. It takes about 3 weeks to create new habits, so making time for your workout may be an effort at first. So many good intentions fail because people don't make the time. You only need about 3-4 hours week to get started. Putting the time aside to do your workout will help you see yourself as a regular exerciser until it becomes second nature. Home workouts are particularly prone to other distractions. I got round this by doing EA Sports Active's 30 day challenge which recorded what you have done and when so you had to do the workouts.
- Consider having a fitness buddy. It works for some - it will help motivate you each other when the going is tough and you're answerable to them if you want to bunk off. Or you could spend your whole time trying to get them to go. Your call.
- Start out gently and build up gradually. I cannot stress this enough because it will help prevent injuries and stop you getting demotivated. To get fitter, you need to challenge yourself, but not to the point of pushing yourself too hard. If doesn't matter if your first few workouts feel easy; just make a mental note to run a bit faster, work a bit harder or whatever it is next time. The first few workouts - if not the first few weeks - are for you to find your level. And remember it's your level, not anyone else's. If you really can't keep up, don't try.
- Set goals realistically. Particularly true of running, I think - there are plenty of running programmes around which you can follow. Stick to them, don't try to do them at twice the pace. You won't become fit overnight, it will take time to see results. And see point 7!
- Make sure you get enough rest. When do you think you actually get fitter? Is it whilst you are exercising? It isn't! When you exercise, your body is under stress. When you rest, the body repairs itself and if you've been challenging it with exercise, it adapts to the challenge and you become fitter or stronger at rest. When you're starting out, it's a good idea to rest every other day if you can, but if your schedule doesn't allow it, working out for a couple of days then taking a rest will do. Overtraining gives no time for recovery and can turn niggles into injuries.
- Have contingency plans. This particularly applies to outdoor pursuits, like running, which can become dangerous in winter weather, but it could something as simple as your class being cancelled. Have a back up plan so that you can at least have a workout when this happens, especially if the activity is going to be laid off for more than a couple of days. I go back to EA Sports Active on the Wii when a class is unexpectedly cancelled.
- Listen to what your body is telling you, particularly if you get ill. You will get ill or injured at some point. How you manage it is important to the speed of your recovery. If you get a cold, you can probably still exercise if your symptoms are above your neck and the rest feels fine, but if they are below the neck, it is best to wait until you get better. You can make yourself very ill if you exercise when ill so admit defeat and concentrate on getting better. Same goes for exercising with an injury - rest if necessary and if it's more serious than you first thought, get proper medical advice. Better to miss 1 or 2 workouts to get better than have to miss 12.
- If you are exercising with the aim of losing weight, try to measure as well as weigh yourself. Keep a record of the measurements and measure regularly but only about every 2-3 weeks. This is because you may find that you lose fat but it not show on the scale. Muscle is denser than fat so it looks slimmer - and believe me, it's a good thing to have more muscle.
- Don't expect to lose weight by exercise alone. As I was once told, "you can never outrun your mouth". Watch what you are eating. Some people start to eat more after they have exercised when in truth, particularly at the start, they may not have burned that many calories. My pet hate is someone coming off a cardio machine at the gym saying they've earned themselves a chocolate bar (the calorie count on those things is often way out). You may find may appetite is increased but try not to overdo it. And DRINK! Keeping hydrated may take away the hunger pangs. Honestly. On the flip side, don't starve yourself - exercise needs fuel.
- When starting out, or starting back even after a shortish break, you are likely to get achey in your muscles the day after. The technical term for this is DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) and it will pass after 2-3 days. Your body will get better at reacting to the exercise over time but the first few can really hurt. Warm baths or a sauna can help, and if it's really bad, so can painkillers.
- Always do a warm up before each workout with some gentle exercise and do a cool down afterwards. Learn how to do a few basic stretches but don't overstretch.
- Finally, don't expect there to be an exercise that will spot reduce fat from one problem area. It's just not going to happen.
Finally, let me end by giving you some links to some useful sites or posts:
jagsfitnessblog.com - written by my friend Jo about her own weight loss and fitness journey. She has written some useful posts on Frequently Asked Questions and Diet and Fitness Myths which are well worth a read.
stumptuous.com - lots of useful advice for all, with a particular slant towards women using weights.
ExRx.net - a huge free resource with calculators and exercise directories, featuring videos of how to perform each one.