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Step-by-Step: Starting an Exercise Routine

The key to taking that first step to being more active is to be prepared and have reasonable expectations. Having a plan will help you be more confident when you start working out. In turn, this means that you'll be more likely to stick to a routine.

Over time, you should aim to meet the guidelines established by experts. The guidelines recommend healthy adults get 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity activity (such as walking fast or cycling). They also advise doing strength-training exercises at least twice a week.

Here are some steps to help you get started:

  • Talk to your doctor. Check with your doctor before you start or increase your activity. If you have a health condition or a disability, ask if you should take any special precautions when you exercise.
  • Get the gear. You don't need to spend lots of money on high-tech fitness apparel, but you should have comfortable clothing to wear that won't restrict movement. It's worth investing in a good pair of sneakers to protect your feet and cushion the impact on your joints. Make sure they fit well with thick athletic socks. If you want to try strength training, you can even use household items like bottles of water or cans of food instead of dumbbells.
  • Start slowly, and set realistic goals. Pushing yourself too hard from the get-go is a recipe for failure. Instead, ramp up your activity gradually so your body and mind can adjust. As you reach your goals, set new ones for yourself, like walking a longer distance each day, increasing the weights you lift or signing up for a charity event like a 5K walk/run. Learn more about setting goals
  • Make a fitness schedule – and stick to it. "Having no time" is usually just an excuse for not exercising. After all, don't we make sure we have time to watch TV most days? Swap out 30 minutes of TV viewing for 20 or 30 minutes of activity. Set up fitness "appointments" on your calendar to help keep you honest about how you spend your time. More ways to exercise when you don't have time
  • Keep things interesting. If you start to get bored with your routine, mix things up by trying something new. For a change, you could walk a new route, buy a new workout DVD, use the fitness stations at a local park or sign up for an amateur sports league. You might also want to take a dance class or have a session or two with a personal trainer. If you've been exercising alone, find a friend to join you.
  • Reward yourself. When you meet a goal – even a small one – acknowledge it. Treat yourself to a "healthy" reward like a new mp3 player or upgraded earphones, a wearable heart rate monitor or a massage to relax those well-used muscles.


  • By Amanda Genge, Staff Writer, myOptumHealth
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Adding physical activity to your life. Accessed: 06/12/2010
  • The President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. Pep up your life: a fitness book for mid-life and older persons. Accessed: 06/12/2010
  • U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Physical activity guidelines for Americans. Accessed: 09/14/2011

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