Exercise Plans for the Extremely Out of Shape

Fitness professionals have a technical term for people whose most intense exercise is opening a bag of potato chips: deconditioned. After illness, pregnancy, surgery or any long period of being sedentary, some people get so out of shape they feel faint from the mildest exercise. However, this is not a reason to head back to the couch in defeat. You just have to take a slow and steady approach to developing a healthy exercise habit.

Aerobic Exercise

Aerobic exercise involves repetitive movements of large muscle groups to strengthen the cardiovascular system. For example, running, cycling and taking dance fitness classes are all forms of aerobic exercise. Deconditioned people should start with the easiest aerobic activity, walking. Exercising four to five times per week is optimal, but if that’s too daunting, start with three. Commit to 20 minutes of walking during each exercise session.

The most important thing in your first weeks is to develop your good new habit. So don’t worry if you need to stop and rest every few minutes. Just walk as much as you can in each 20-minute session. Once this gets easier, increase the time a few minutes each week until you’re up to 30 minutes. Later, you can consider upping the intensity or trying different aerobic activities. MayoClinic.com recommends at least 150 minutes per week of moderate aerobic exercise.

Resistance Work

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After a few weeks, once you’ve established a walking routine, supplement your aerobic activity with strength training. You can use weight machines, free weights or resistance tubes or you may do exercises using your own body weight, for example, push-ups and squats. You can improve your fitness significantly by doing two to three weekly sessions, each lasting 20 to 30 minutes, according to MayoClinic.com. Find a weight that you can only lift 12 to 15 times before your muscles are too tired to go on. One set is enough. If possible, hire a personal trainer or ask a gym-savvy friend to show you how to lift properly.

Tips and Considerations

Talk to your doctor about specific medical conditions that might affect your physical activities. If you’re obese, walking will jar your joints less than jogging. Stick with lower impact activities.Drink plenty of water before, during and after your workout. Listen to your body. Obese people need to be especially careful about not overdoing it in the heat and staying hydrated. Chest pains, nausea and major joint or muscle pain are all signs it’s time to rest. Shortness of breath indicates you should slow down. Remember that all your physical activity counts. If you consistently walk a few extra blocks instead of driving or do a few calisthenics during television commercial breaks, it all adds up.

It’s Worth It

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Facing a cold morning in your walking shoes or getting a case of muscle soreness might make you nostalgic for your slothful days. But the benefits of consistent exercise are worth working for. In addition to reducing body fat, regular workouts lower your risk of developing osteoporosis, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers. In the short term, exercise helps you sleep better, decreases depression, energizes you and increases self-confidence.