Your motivation soars when you first commit to a healthy lifestyle, but jumping into challenging workouts without training can put you at risk for burnout and injury. It’s important to gradually increase your physical activity so you stick with your workouts. There are a variety of ways that you can slowly build your fitness to reach your long term goals.
Tracking your exercise time makes it easy to gradually add more physical activity. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per week, or 30 minutes 5 times per week. The 30 minutes can be broken into segments of at least 10 minutes spread throughout the day.
If you are new to exercise, 10 minutes at a time may be all you can handle. Don’t get discouraged if you can’t complete a 30-minute walk right away. Start with an amount of time that is challenging, but that does not leave you exhausted. After two weeks, try adding 1 minute to each session. If that is too much, add 30 seconds. If it’s too little, try adding 2 minutes. Stick with that time for 1 to 2 weeks and then use the same process to add more time.
If your goal is to compete in a road race, distance is likely your top priority. Whether you are walking, running, or biking, begin with a distance that is comfortable, but that also lasts at least the recommended 10 minutes. You might start with a 1-mile walk or run. Each week gradually increase your total distance by about 10 percent. This is the amount recommended for a safe and gradual increase as your fitness improves.
The intensity of exercise can make significant changes in your fitness level. Intensity applies to all types of exercise and it can be adjusted in many ways. With strength training, it may involve the amount of weight lifted, the speed of the repetition, or the rest time between sets. During cardiovascular exercise, the intensity can be varied by speed, inclines, and resistance on machines, like elliptical trainers or recumbent bikes.
Begin with an intensity that is comfortable until you become familiar with an exercise. Then begin to adjust the intensity so that the exercise challenges you more. Increase the weight of your dumbbells, or add intervals to a treadmill walk by increasing your speed or incline. These changes will give you the ability to exercise harder and longer.