By Chris Iliades, MDMedically reviewed by Cynthia Haines, MD
According to the National Institutes of Health, lack of physical activity, along with poor diet, is the second leading preventable cause of death in the United States. "Many Americans are overweight and most don't exercise regularly. Both of these contribute to cardiovascular disease, the number one killer in the world," says John Higgins, MD, assistant professor of cardiology and an exercise physiologist at the University of Texas Medical School at Houston.
If you aren't getting at least 30 minutes of vigorous activity every day, pick a workout plan that works for you and get started.
Designing a Plan That Fits Your Needs
"The key to reaching your fitness goals is consistency," says Troy Tuttle, MS, an exercise physiologist at the University of Texas Medical School at Houston. The best workout plans are the ones that are realistic, accessible, and repeatable."
Here are some factors to consider when creating a fitness routine:
Pick something you like. Your chances of sticking to a workout plan that you don't enjoy are slim. "After every workout you should ask yourself, 'Did I enjoy this activity and how it made me feel?' If not, continue to explore other exercises until you can answer yes," advises Tuttle. Consider your personality. If you prefer to exercise alone and enjoy solitude, you might want to build your fitness routine around a home gym or think about hiking, biking, or walking. If you're interested in the mind-body connection, activities like tai chi, Pilates, or yoga that combine exercise with focused breathing and meditation might be a good fit for you. If you enjoy the company of people and are motivated by exercising with others, consider group activities such as aerobics or dance classes. Splurge if you can. If you can afford it, joining a gym or getting a personal trainer are options to explore. Ideally your workout plan should include aerobic exercise and some strength training. "All these exercises are available at most gyms, so I would recommend joining. Not only are you more likely to go to the gym because you're paying, but it's easier to work out and get motivated with others around. In addition, personal trainers can assist you and format an exercise program to meet your needs and goals," says Dr. Higgins. Exercise for free. "I recommend the ‘front-door workout plan’ as a way to get started,” says Tuttle. “You simply find 20 minutes in your day, put on your athletic shoes, and walk out the front door. Take a look at your watch, walk for 10 minutes, turn around and walk home. No gym membership is needed, no expensive equipment, just your desire to exercise and the space around where you live or work." Identify your fitness goals. If you're already in good shape, your workout plan can include lots of different activities that you enjoy. If you are just starting to exercise and your goals are to lose weight and get healthier, you need to start slowly. "When you are a beginner, go easy and increase your exercise by no more than 10 percent per week. I would recommend starting by walking for 15 minutes three days a week, and on alternate days do some strength training at a level that is easy for you," says Higgins. If you have any medical issues, check with your doctor about your workout plan. "You should get a physical from your doctor prior to beginning. Once the doctor has evaluated you, he or she will clear you for either unrestricted exercise or exercise with certain limitations," explains Higgins.
"The key to any workout plan is to first form a basis on which a new habit will be formed. After you have created the habit and exercise is now part of your daily routine, you can then begin varying the types and levels of activity," adds Tuttle. It doesn't matter how old you are or what shape you're in; starting a workout plan now can help you live a longer and healthier life.