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How to start exercising

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Exercise can help your physical and mental health in all kinds of ways, but if you've never been sporty or have fallen out of the habit, picking it up can be tricky. Here personal trainer Nicola Addison gives her top tips on how to start exercising – and carry on.

The key to beginning any new exercise regime is to build up gradually. Light exercise done regularly is always a good starting point. Everyone must start somewhere, no matter where that somewhere is.

Here are my top tips on the best ways to begin.

Start today

It doesn't matter where you start – just start! Don't put it off to next week. Don't say to yourself that you need to get fit first – just start! This is the hardest part, but it is achievable no matter how small your start is.

Don't let exercise intimidate you

Try not to worry about what you think your current fitness level is. You have to start somewhere, and any movement you do today will be more than yesterday.

It's important to recognise that activity and movement do not have to mean hitting the gym four times a week. Little and often is key, so set yourself easy, tangible goals to start, so that you feel a sense of accomplishment once achieved.

Simply doing ten minutes of activity once a week will be of benefit to your health, body and mind. Exercising three times a week for a minimum of twenty minutes will see you achieve your fitness-related goals.

"It doesn't matter where you start – just start! Don't put it off to next week. Don't say to yourself that you need to get fit first – just start!"

Nicola Addison, personal trainer

Check in before you start

Starting a new exercise routine will place different demands on your body, so it's wise to check where you are physically before you start. Do you have any pre-existing conditions that could be worsened by exercise? If you have any concerns, it could be beneficial to ask your GP for advice, if only to give you full confidence that you are good to go.

Manage your time, and plan

Planning time to be active, organising what to eat, getting up earlier in the morning all takes planning. Making activity a priority and adding it in to your diary is a huge step in the right direction.

Make sure you set yourself realistic adherence goals and remember to start off small. For example, you may want to exercise every day for sixty minutes, but it's perhaps more realistic to schedule three workouts of thirty minutes each week.

If, after six weeks, you are consistently achieving this goal, then you can up it to 45-minute sessions and continue from there.

Walk, walk and then do more walking

Walking costs nothing and is a fantastic starting point for anyone that has not exercised in a while. The average adult should aim to walk between 8,000 and 10,000 steps a day, so aim to build up to thirty minutes of consecutive walking every single day, even if it means starting with ten continuous minutes, three times a day.

Even pacing up and down your sitting room when making calls on your mobile phone is great. What's the point in sitting down when you can stand, walk, chat and burn calories all at the same time?

Find something fun to do

Most of the time it's not what you do, it's how often you do it. If something isn't fun, you simply won't want to do it. Yes, potentially there are more efficient ways to achieve goals (doing resistance work, compound movements and so on), but if you love ten-pin bowling and you are going to go three times a week, then stick to ten-pin bowling!

Rear shot of man bowling

Exercise can take many forms, and if you like a certain kind of exercise and do it regularly, carry on!

Get creative with home movement

Exercising at home doesn't have to involve press-ups and squats. Thirty minutes of vacuuming would also do a pretty good job of raising your heart rate. Try washing the car, mopping the floors, and gardening. All these activities will increase your heart rate and get you burning calories.

Always start with a warm-up

Warming up the body prior to starting is incredibly important. The warm-up prepares the brain and body for what is to come during the workout. Slowly increasing the heart rate, and in turn blood flow, will help mobilise the joints and lengthen the muscles.

A good warm-up also reduces the risk of injury. You wouldn't rev your car hard from cold, and the same applies to your body.

Finish with a cool-down

It's essential, following your workout, to decrease intensity levels in order to reduce your heart rate and ultimately bring your body back to a restful state.

Cooling down and completing some dynamic stretches will aid recovery by: returning the muscles to their normal length; helping any muscle soreness; reducing levels of lactic acid in the blood; and generally helping your body along with its repairing and recovery process.

Warm up, cool down


Check out Nicola's video for some warm-up and cool-down techniques.

Get outside

Exercising outside has many benefits. Changes in the scenery and the mixed terrain all challenge the body in different ways compared to exercising indoors. Exercising alongside nature can help lift your mood, particularly in the daylight hours (getting you that much-needed vitamin D). So next time you work out, take it outside and see how you feel.

Get on Instagram

Instagram is full of daily live group exercise workouts for you to move along to. There is yoga, dance, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) – something for everyone. Often no equipment is necessary, and it costs nothing. Follow your favourites and join their live classes.

Track your workouts

Tracking how often you work out is important to ensure you achieve your fitness-related goals.

I use Map My Fitness, which I find simple and helpful. Not only does the app track my workouts, but it tracks all movement, from walking the dog to vacuuming. It also syncs to fitness trackers, such as your Fitbit or smartwatch. It's super helpful to track activity adherence, and will highlight if you should be moving more.