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  • Writer's pictureWellFit by Jennie

Starting or Restarting Your Exercise Program

Updated: Mar 11

WellFit by Jennie services include Personal Training, Health & Wellness Coaching, Fitness Assessments. Available person to person in Charlottesville, Albemarle County, Central Virginia, VA or online nationally.

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Perhaps a boost of motivation has inspired you to finally start the new exercise program you know you need. Maybe you have been able to start and/or sustain regular exercise in your life in the past, but have lapsed and would now like to re-engage with exercise in a fresh, more sustainable way.

The decision to support your health by incorporating an appropriate, beneficial exercise program requires just as much knowledge about the mental aspects of exercise as it does the physical. Anyone who has worked to implement a new health habit can attest to the various ingredients required to make it last.

This includes but is not limited to identifying your big WHY, using the finite supply of motivation wisely to fuel the change process, and anticipating potential obstacles along the path. Many of these principles are detailed in my past blog posts Mental Preparation for Habit Change and Health Means.

This post will provide a primer about the physical aspects of exercise to help you build an effective program that fits your life and your body in the present.

Fitness is for Everyone

I have encountered my share of people who believe that fitness does not apply to them. Have you ever heard yourself or someone else utter any of the following statements: “I am too old”, “But I’m in a wheelchair”, “I’m already thin”, etc.? Make no mistake; just about everyone, regardless of age, stage, health status, or level of ability needs some sort of physical activity or movement program in their life. In fact, oftentimes the greater the degree of challenge you have, the more you need to exercise. This can and should be appropriate and customized to the person.

Aspects of Physical Fitness

In order to select properly from the “menu” of available options of exercise, we must first understand a bit about the various aspects of physical fitness. If you live in a human body (and who doesn’t??), these apply to you. The following is a list of these fundamental elements of fitness with general descriptions.

Cardiovascular This encompasses generally repeated movements made with large muscle groups and associated increase in heart rate sustained over some period of time. Cardiovascular exercise strengthens the heart and increases lung capacity and endurance in addition to many other health benefits. Examples of this can include walking, running, bicycling, swimming, rowing, etc.

Strength Muscles are made stronger by progressively overloading them with different types of resistance such as elastic bands, hand weights, medicine balls, kettlebells, or even body weight. Strength gains are acquired during the recovery period following these intentionally applied “stressors”.

Flexibility Stretching exercises contribute to the attainment or maintenance of ideal muscle length and range of motion about a joint. Self-myofascial release, through the skilled use of foam rollers, massage sticks, muscle hooks, and other tools can optimize stretching.

Mobility This category combines strength and flexibility. For example, let’s suppose that you are lying on your back and another person is able to lift your leg up to 90 degrees (flexibility, which is passive). If you are able to lift your own leg to this extent under your own muscle power, however, that is mobility.

Balance In general, this is your ability to stabilize yourself against the risk of falling over. This is the only aspect of fitness that improves in the moment as neuromuscular pathways from the muscles to the brain and nervous system are created or activated.

Agility This can be thought of as a combination of all of the above and involves quickness to respond, especially to unexpected conditions. Two examples might be a soccer player chasing a ball or a senior navigating a curb in a busy shopping center.

Parameters of Exercise

Ask yourself about the 4 W's as you begin or continue to act upon your intention to become more physically active. Know the what, where, when, and most importantly, WHY involved in your decision to exercise.

When embarking on an exercise program, one must choose the type of exercise, frequency, intensity, and duration.

Type What type of exercise will it be - hiking or the upper body ergometer (arm bike)? Jogging or using the rowing machine? Aquatic exercise?

Frequency Will you do your chosen activity twice a week, once a day, or somewhere in between? If starting from scratch, start conservatively, allowing your body and your life to absorb the new albeit good “stressor”.

Intensity How intensely “should” you exercise given your health status and starting point? This can be expressed in terms of heart rate ranges or more simply, rate of perceived exertion from 1 to 10.

Duration How much time will you be committing to each session of exercise? Again, start with flexible expectations as you build a foundation of fitness. If you decide to start a walking program, begin by walking on a treadmill or around the block or neighborhood. This beats walking 2 miles only to realize you are exhausted and your knee hurts, but now you have no choice except to walk the 2 miles home!

Simple Ways to Start

If you are confused and overwhelmed reading about all of the above-described aspects of fitness and associated types of exercises, take the pressure off! Start imperfectly, but just start.

Choose one or two of the following to get started:

- Walking

- Bicycling

- Gentle Yoga

- Stretching

- Water exercise such as pool walking or an aquatic exercise class

- Strengthening exercises using light hand weights

- Body weight exercises (Many of these are simple but not easy! In my opinion, these are gold.)

To Keep in Mind

As you are gearing up to get started, consider shoring up your core muscles and any known weak links such as an old shoulder injury. This is one of the ways I work with clients. While it is always a good idea to have your doctor’s blessing when starting or resuming exercise, do not let this be so much of an obstacle that it keeps you from walking around the block! Lastly, be sure you are building the time or margin into your life needed for recovery from exercise sessions in order to fully assimilate the benefits. It will be worth it as you begin to notice some of the positive changes in your physical and mental health!

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