Expert Q&A

Extremely out of shape: How can you start a routine?

I'm 27, 5’ 3” and 145 pounds.  This time last year, I weighed 129. Right now, and I’m trying to get back down to that weight, but I’m having a hard time. I am really out of shape, and have no exercise routines at all. It seems that when I do exercise, though, it only takes a few minutes and I have to stop because my heart feels like its going to beat out of my chest.  Maybe I'm just being paranoid. After all I am REALLY out of shape.  Do you have any suggestions for exercises that will help get my body get used to everyday exercise?

-Tara from Rhode Island

First, start with a visit to your doctor to rule out any underlying pathology. True, you might just be out of shape, but especially where the cardiovascular system is involved, it never hurts to get a clean bill of health before proceeding. 

Second, start with the most basic of the basics: walking. Walking is something you can do anywhere. You don’t need any fancy equipment besides a decent pair of shoes; you can do it as briskly or moderately as you like; and you can break it up into little “chunks” throughout the day. Plus it helps you get places! 

Then, think about your daily routine, and where you can fit in little five-minute walking breaks. For instance: 

  • Park your car farther away from your destination, or get off the bus one stop early.
  • Walk to the corner store.
  • Walk around the block.
  • Walk up one flight of stairs at work.
  • Take the long way round on your regular errands.

Research shows that exercise is cumulative. You don’t have to do 15 minutes all at once; you’ll get the same benefits from three five-minute “workouts” done throughout the day. Start with little mini walking trips as many times a day as possible—at least two or three. Work on this every day. It’s important to be consistent, so even if you can only do a few minutes, do it. 

After the first week, start adding a minute here or there, or another mini walking trip in the day. Over the subsequent weeks, try walking a little faster, or taking on another flight of stairs every now and again. Work your way up to 10 or 15 minute walks. Once you can comfortably walk 15 minutes at a brisk pace, then you should be ready to take on more difficult activities.

Krista Scott-Dixon, PhD
Contributing Expert

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