Have you been couch surfing thoughout lockdown? Are you feeling the effects of lack of movement and exercise but you are not quite sure how to get moving again? Many of us are in a similar situation!

Starting a fitness program may be one of the best things you can do for your health and mental wellbeing. Physical activity can reduce your risk of chronic disease, improve your circulation, improve balance and coordination, help you lose weight, increase energy and endurance, and even improve your quality of sleep and self-esteem.

Now most of us do not want to become a competitive athlete, and we don’t need strenuous or rigorous exercise to be healthy. You do not need high intensity or excessive exercise for significant health benefits. Your main aim is to get the blood flowing and release endorphins… you will feel healthier and happier for it. Even regular brisk walks can make the world of difference to your health and wellbeing. But it can be hard to get a healthy routine started and keep it up. So we need some steps.

Are you ready to get active? Good for you!

Here are five steps to take for a healthier lifestyle.

1. Assess your fitness level
Know where you are now to track your progress. Maybe you have been lying on a couch all day for months… or maybe you have walked every day but want to step it up a notch. You probably have some idea of how fit you are. But knowing where you are on the fitness spectrum can better help you get where you want to be.

Have a baseline. Assessing and recording baseline fitness scores can give you benchmarks against which to measure your progress.

To assess your aerobic and muscular fitness, flexibility, and body composition, consider recording:
-Your pulse rate before and immediately after walking 1 mile (1.6 kilometers)
-How long it takes to walk 1 mile (1.6km) or how long it takes to run 1.5 miles (2.41 kilometers)
-How many standard or modified pushups you can do at a time
-How far you can reach forward while seated on the floor with your legs in front of you
-Your waist circumference, just above your hipbones
-Your body mass index

2. Design your fitness program
It’s easy to say that you’ll exercise every day. But failing to plan is planning to fail. You need a plan or you may not follow through. As you design your fitness program, keep this in mind:
Consider your fitness goals. Are you starting a fitness program to feel healthier? Or do you have another motivation, such as preparing for a marathon? Having clear goals can help you gauge your progress and stay motivated.
For example if you wish to build general fitness for health and wellbeing, start by planning brisk walks 3 to 4 times a week, then gradually increase intensity and duration. You can also build in some aerobic exercise like swimming or dancing once a week.

Here are some points to consider when you build your fitness plan:

-For most healthy adults, the recommendation is getting at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity a week, or a combination of moderate and vigorous activity. Spread out this exercise during the course of a week.
Greater amounts of exercise will provide even greater health benefits. But even small amounts of physical activity are helpful. Being active for short periods of time throughout the day can add up to provide health benefits.

-Do strength training exercises for all major muscle groups at least two times a week. Aim to do a single set of each exercise, using a weight or resistance level heavy enough to tire your muscles after about 12 to 15 repetitions.

Start low and progress slowly. If you’re just beginning to exercise, start cautiously and progress slowly. If you have an injury or a medical condition, consult your doctor or an exercise therapist for help designing a fitness program that gradually improves your range of motion, strength and endurance.

-Build activity into your daily routine. Finding time to exercise can be a challenge. Schedule time to exercise as you would any other appointment.

-Plan to include different activities. Different activities (cross-training) can keep exercise boredom at bay. Cross-training using low-impact forms of activity, such as biking or water exercise, also reduces your chances of injuring or overusing one specific muscle or joint. Plan to alternate among activities that emphasize different parts of your body, such as walking, swimming and strength training.

-Try high-interval intensity training. In high-interval intensity training, you perform short bursts of high-intensity activity separated by recovery periods of low-intensity activity.

-Allow time for recovery. Working out too long or too intensely can cause injury or exhaustion and make you give up. Plan time between sessions for your body to rest and recover.

-Put it on paper. A written plan may encourage you to stay on track. Diarise and schedule!

3. Assemble your equipment
Figure out what you will need…. Running shoes, work-out clothes, skipping rope, fitness apps?

If you’re planning to invest in exercise equipment, choose something that’s practical, enjoyable and easy to use. You may want to try out certain types of equipment at a fitness center before investing in your own equipment.

4. Get started
As you begin your fitness program, keep these tips in mind:

-Start slowly and build up gradually. Give yourself plenty of time to warm up and cool down with easy walking or gentle stretching. Then speed up to a pace you can continue for five to 10 minutes without getting overly tired. Work your way up to 30 to 60 minutes of exercise most days of the week.
-Break things up if you have to. You don’t have to do all your exercise at one time. Exercising in short sessions a few times a day may fit into your schedule better than a single 30-minute session. Any amount of activity is better than none at all.
-Be creative. Maybe your workout routine includes various activities, such as walking, bicycling or swimming. But don’t stop there. Take a weekend hike with your family or spend an evening dancing. Find activities you enjoy to add to your fitness routine.
-Listen to your body. If you feel pain, shortness of breath, dizziness or nausea, take a break. You may be pushing yourself too hard.
-Be flexible. If you’re not feeling good, give yourself permission to take a day or two off. But don’t let it go on too long.

5. Monitor your progress
Retake your personal fitness assessment six weeks after you start your program and then again every few months. You may notice that you need to increase the amount of time you exercise in order to continue improving. Or you may be pleasantly surprised to find that you’re exercising just the right amount to meet your fitness goals.

Keep going… If you lose motivation, set new goals or try a new activity. Exercising with a friend or joining a weekly class may help, too.

So in summary, as you design your fitness program, keep these points in mind:
Consider your fitness goals. …
Create a balanced routine. …
Start low and progress slowly. …
Build activity into your daily routine. …
Plan to include different activities. …
Try high-interval intensity training. …
Allow time for recovery. …
Put it on paper…
Take a break when you need it but do not give up…
If boredom sets in or motivation fails, change it up.

Starting an exercise program is an important step in your wellbeing journey. But it doesn’t have to be an overwhelming one. Plan carefully and pace yourself, and you can establish a healthy habit that lasts a lifetime.