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Six principles for beginners

For the uninitiated, or those returning after a long break, exploring physical activity can be an empowering experience that unearths a new way of life. Learn to relish physical activity with some tried-and-tested tips.

1. Manage expectations

How long? How hard? Is it over yet? Promises of instant results are short-lived, and a fad diet, workout or latest gadget is no match for old-fashioned commitment.

Routines become habits over time, so taking the time to establish good practices will set you up for ultimate success in whatever health-related goal you seek.

Small changes, rather than many at once, will nurture this process, help avoid injury and the dreaded DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness), which has taught many avid exercisers to refocus on their long game.

Start slowly, at a low intensity for up to around 10 minutes on day one. Steadily increase your time and/or intensity with each session, adding a few minutes and building from light to moderate effort, where your breathing increases, and eventually adding some vigorous movement. The ‘talk test’ is a good guide: Can you sustain your level of activity and hold a conversation at the same time?

2. Something is better than nothing

Choices add up. Take the stairs instead of the lift, carry boxes to the car, walk the kids home from school, and play fetch with your dog instead of sitting down as they run around the park. Movement is free and doesn’t demand special time or clothing to count.

3. Set a SMART goal

You can’t manage what you can’t measure, so get SMART:

Specific: What target am I setting? What do I want to happen?

Measurable: How will I know when I have achieved my goal? How will I track my progress?

Attainable: Is the goal realistic? How will I accomplish it? Aim for challenging but achievable.

Relevant: What purpose is my goal serving? Why is it important to me?

Timely: What is my deadline? How can I monitor progress and re-evaluate?

Finding your driving purpose – more energy, better sleep, healthier weight range, social interaction, or mental wellbeing – provides a yard stick for progress and personalises your goal.

4. Spice it up

Cardio, strength, mobility, balance…there are plenty of options for spicing up a physical activity routine, and the benefits are just as plentiful. Adopting a variety of activities not only maintains interest and prevents boredom, but also continues to challenge your body. Conversely, sticking to a single type of activity is mentally dull and diminishes results over time because your body no longer needs to adapt. Target different movement through the week and add challenges as you progress to maintain your momentum.

5. Nutrition

The quality of our hydration, food and oxygen affects our performance and recovery. Supporting activity levels with good nutrition will maintain energy and the systems needed to move well. It’s likely that a focus on better fitness will entice some healthy swaps – water instead of soft drink, natural foods over sugar- and preservative-laden convenience options. When hunger strikes, put some premium fuel in your engine.

6. Recover well

Recovery is as important as physical activity, so build some into your week. Rest and relaxation are also supportive ways to reward yourself for a job well done. Run a bath with some muscle-soothing Epsom salts and essential oils like lavender, rosemary or eucalyptus. Treat yourself to a massage, a sleep-in or some yoga or meditation time to stretch and recharge on your ‘off’ days.

If you have doubts or concerns about physical activity, a visit to your doctor can help alleviate these and give you confidence to begin at a level to suit your fitness. Start slow and take it from there. Remember: the best physical activity is the kind you will adopt as a way of life.

Last updated: April 27, 2022 at: 8:30 am