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The right way to start an exercise program

Dr. Vivek Baliga B. is a consultant physician and cardiologist, and director of Baliga Diagnostics in Bengaluru. He is a keen advocate of patient education and loves to blog about all things health related. Learn more about him at


Have you been wondering what the right way to start an exercise program is? Then this guide should get you going! Taking up exercise is one of the best resolutions to make However, it is the hardest to stick to and achieve.

Why? Because it takes work. Why exactly are you thinking of taking up an exercise routine? Is it to get fitter? To lose weight? To get yourself rid of that back pain?

Whatever the way, it is essential that it is started in the right way and continued in the right manner. This is because exercise is a 'magic pill' that can reverse heart disease, prevent cancer, control blood pressure and reduce blood sugar levels.

There is a common misconception that exercise has to be performed for hours for us to see any benefit from it. But with exercise, it is quality over quantity. For example, a walk for 30 minutes at a slow pace will not be as effective at improving your health compared to a 30 minutes walk at a brisk pace.

Here are some simple tips that will guide you about the right way to start an exercise program.

Don't be a 'weekend warrior'

Have you heard of Weekend Warrior Syndrome? Let's say you have been leading a sedentary life for quite some time. You decide to start a sport, say football. Your friend invites you out a weekend to the local park for a game You play to your heart's content. You probably even score a goal! You feel great! The following day however, you don't

Your muscles are hurting, you are finding it difficult to walk and your joints are all stiff. You attempted to be a warrior on the field, but ended up in bed with aches and pains instead. This is weekend warrior syndrome.

Tip: Your body cannot take the strain of an 'exercise burst' all in one day You need to build it up gradually over a period of weeks. Start with just a a day. few minutes a day. Increase over a few weeks to 45 minutes

Choose the right exercise

Just exercising alone is not enough. You should choose what is right for you. A lot of which exercise you choose depends on what your doctors says, especially if you are older.

  • Those who have knee pains should steer away from impact sports such as running, tennis, badminton, etc. These will twist and bend the joints, making the problem even worse. Instead, if you have joint pains, take up swimming. It is light on the joints, great at burning calories and will make you t in no time.

  • Weight training may not be the right thing for you, especially if you are older. Certain heart conditions do not permit breath holding during weightlifting. However, if your doctor gives you all clear, then make sure vou combine cardiovascular exercise voga and strength training.

  • Cardiovascular exercises include brisk walking, running, cycling, swimming, aerobics, zumba, tennis, basketball, badminton... the list goes on.

  • Strength training includes push ups, pull ups and lifting of weights.

  • Yoga includes various asanas that will enhance flexibility, improve digestion and increase lung capacity.

If you are confused about what exercise you can start, then speak to a certified fitness trainer or even your doctor for that matter.

Get checked out first

These days, running clubs and other sporting associations recommend getting a medical examination done before beginning an exercise program. The right way to start an exercise program is to see your doctor to ensure it is safe to go ahead.

You may be asked to undergo certain preliminary tests first. These may include blood tests, an echocardiogram and a treadmill test.

A blood test can reveal if you have low hemoglobin levels, kidney disease or diabetes. An echocardiogram can determine the structure and function of your heart. A treadmill will determine if you have heart blockages.

A consultation with your doctor will help determine your blood pressure values. Provided these are all okay, it should be fine to start exercising.

Always warm up

When you begin exercise, your muscles might be a little tight and stiff. Warming up can help loosen them. A good warm up is important to prevent injury to the muscles and tendons during exercise.

Warming up is simple-just do some light stretches and a short walk. This will get the blood flowing to your muscles and will prepare your joints for the exercise onslaught.

Benefits of warming up before exercise

  1. Increases the temperature of muscles, preparing them for exercise

  2. Increases body temperature, loosening up joints and tendons

  3. Alters hormone levels, allowing for increased endurance through energy production

  4. Prepares you mentally for exercise

  5. Increases joint mobility during the exercise routine

Do not attempt to stretch your muscles too much before you work out. The muscles are too 'cold' before exercise, and this could lead to injury. Stretching of muscles should be done well after your work out. It forms a part of your 'cool down'. As the muscles are warm, the stretching builds strength and reduces injury.

Choose the right diet

No exercise program is complete without the right diet plan. Follow a health balanced diet. If you keep your calorie intake under control, your exercise program will help you lose weight.

If you increase your calorie and protein intake and are weight training, your exercise will help you gain weight.

Either way, tailor make your diet plan to what you wish to achieve from your exercise routine.

How much exercise is good exercise?

Currently, the American Heart Association recommends 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity every day for at least 5 days a week. But this is not enough to get fit. It is enough just to maintain health.

In India, medical bodies now recommend exercise at least an hour a day. This should either be brisk walking, running, cycling or swimming (or aerobics, Zumba, etc.). Combine this with strength training and yoga for maximum benefit.

The right way to start an exercise program has just been described. Now get yourself out there and get on your feet!

This article originally appeared in the TeacherTribe Magazine August 2021 edition.


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