Start Your New Year’s Fitness Routine Safely

Resist the urge to give upAlbert Guarini, PT
Cooper Bone and Joint Institute

When a new year begins, most people put “become healthier” on the top of their resolution list. Often, the way people hope to accomplish this is by starting a new exercise routine. If you’ve never exercised before, haven’t been active in a while, or are recovering from an injury, a new routine can be overwhelming. Whatever your situation, there are ways to start exercising safely.

When starting an exercise program, you’ll want to consider a few things: your current activity level, any recent injuries, and your cardiovascular health. You should always begin by consulting with your primary care physician. If you haven’t had a physical, then this should be at the top of your list. This is especially important for males over age 45 and females over age 55. A physical therapist can also be a great resource, especially if you have a current or pre-existing injury. They can perform an examination to alert you of muscle imbalances and provide you a starting point to get your body ready for exercise.

Know how to monitor your heart rate and calculate your heart rate max. You can check your heart rate manually or you can purchase a device that monitors this for you such as a Fitbit. Find your heart rate max by using a simple calculation, 220 minus your age. For example, if you are 50 years old, then your heart rate max will be 220 minus 50, which equals 170 beats per minute. This information is helpful to ensure that you are getting the full benefit of exercise. You will want to monitor your heart rate throughout your workout.

Consider your goals: are you looking to lose weight; tone up; lower your blood pressure and cholesterol; or, train for a 5K? Your goals will guide the types of exercises on which you should focus. If you are looking to lower your cholesterol/blood pressure, the American Heart Association recommends you perform 40 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic activity three to four times a week. If you are looking to improve your overall cardiovascular health, then performing 150 minutes of moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity is recommended. Moderate intensity is considered to be an activity that can elevate your heart rate 50 percent to 70 percent of your heart rate max and vigorous intensity is considered to be more than 70 percent of your heart rate max.

Two days a week of moderate to intense strength training can provide additional health benefits. When strength training, choose a weight that you can lift ten to twelve times (repetitions) with moderate effort and good form. Perform about three sets of each exercise with a short rest between each set, approximately thirty to sixty seconds. If you are looking to tone muscles, than choose slightly less weight, but perform more repetitions per set, for example, fifteen to twenty repetitions for three sets.

To give yourself the best chance of making your routine a habit, choose things you enjoy doing, start slow, and gradually increase the duration and intensity of the activity. Consider things that are fun like dancing, water aerobics, hiking with your family, or walking with a neighbor. Exercising with a friend or a group is beneficial because it can hold you accountable and provide extra motivation on days when you don’t have the urge to exercise.

Most injuries occur when beginning an exercise routine or when increasing the activity level too quickly. I typically advise to start exercising in ten to fifteen-minute intervals with weekly increases in duration by 10 percent to 15 percent. This will allow your body time to adapt to the new demands. Listen to your body and don’t push through the pain. There is a difference between muscle soreness and muscle pain, with the latter being a sign that you are doing too much. Always remember to properly warm up your body with a light aerobic activity (walking or stationary bike) and some light stretching. Stretching after your workout can also help minimize muscle soreness.

A great resource that I would suggest checking out it is which is sponsored by the American Physical Therapy Association. Under the Health & Prevention tab, there is a Health Centers link which provides physical therapists’ sponsored podcasts, videos, and exercise and wellness tips. Some of the links include how to avoid overtraining, running tips, and learning the difference between soreness and pain.

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