I’m ready to exercise! But where do I start?

SBM: im-ready-to-exercise-but-where-do-i-start

Laura Aylward, PhD - West Virginia University School of Medicine


Whether it’s the New Year or a fitness video on TikTok, sometimes we suddenly have an interest in being more physically active. You’re ready to start exercising and make it a new habit! But, for some people, getting started can be daunting. Especially if someone has no prior instruction or experience going to a gym or planning their own work out routine, getting started could be overwhelming enough to kill that newfound motivation.

There are plenty of free guides on exercise programs for beginners out there. But, how do you know what will work for you? If you’re wondering where and how to start, consider this guide a perfect fit for you.

How to Start Exercising

When you’re trying to start exercising, answering the questions below can help you create an exercise plan that you’ll want to stick with.

1. What does exercise mean to you?

When you hear the word “exercise,” what comes to mind? Do you think of running, weight lifting, or swimming? Does it mean paying for an expensive group class or going to the gym every day? “Exercise” can be a loaded word with a lot of negative or old associations. It’s important to realize what exercise means to you and see how your beliefs about exercise may influence your habits. If the meaning of exercise to you is being miserable, constantly out of breath, and waiting for it to be over, it’s not very likely you would want to do that. Or, keep doing it after the first few times. Fortunately, the definition of being “physically active” is very broad. Physical activity includes anything where you’re moving your body and possibly increasing your heart rate. Individuals of all abilities, backgrounds, and circumstances can be physically active. Walking, dancing, chair exercises, and water aerobics: What do these all have in common? They’re all forms of physical activity! Don’t limit your options to forms of movement that are only considered traditional exercise.


2. What exercise will you enjoy?

Healthcare providers are often asked what is the best form of exercise. And the answer is anything you like enough to keep doing it (and can do safely). The same goes for wondering when the best time to exercise is—anytime you will do it. Particularly when starting a new habit, you want to make the task as pleasant, simple, and easy as possible. Are there exercises you have done before and enjoyed? Is there something you’ve always been curious about but never tried? You know yourself best, and to choose a form of exercise initially, ask yourself what may you enjoy enough to keep coming back for more? For those who easily get bored with monotonous tasks, try something new or dynamic. For those who are comfortable with the tried-and-true, walking, jogging, cycling and swimming are great options.


3. Do you have the necessities?

Depending on the form of exercise you choose, having certain apparel or equipment may make things run more smoothly. Of course, physical activity could happen in a living room, outside, or anywhere you can make space.There are many ways to be active without a whole bunch of paraphernalia. However, certain forms of exercise may require certain equipment. At minimum, do you have a water bottle or way to help stay hydrated? Do you want a towel or sweat band? Do you have proper shoes, sports bra, compression shorts, or socks?If a routine involves hand weights and you don’t have any, many household items can serve as perfect substitutes:

  • cans of soup or beans
  • jugs of water
  • laundry detergent
  • and more!

If there’s something you need and can’t substitute, such as goggles, running shoes, or a yoga mat, consider low-cost options while you’re getting started and deciding if you like it.


4. When do you start exercising?

The best time to start is when it’s on your mind and you’re motivated! If there are no actual constraints to starting, there’s no time like the present! Procrastinating starting could lead to second guessing, doubting, or getting discouraged. The caveat is that it’s crucial to make sure you can exercise in a safe and healthy way. Be mindful of previous injuries or pain, and make sure that your activity will not worsen the way you feel. Depending on your medical history, you may need to speak with your doctor before starting exercise.

Once that you picked an activity that’s enjoyable, have any equipment, and you have the green light medically, you are unstoppable!

Here are some bonus tips to help solidify your new habit:

  • Consider tracking how many days you exercise or your step count. This self-monitoring can reinforce motivation for your new habit
  • Pre-plan when you will exercise. Our calendars have a way of filling themselves up unless we carve out time in advance
  • Warm ups and cool downs are important aspects of being physically active, especially to prevent injury!


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