Skip links and keyboard navigation

10 things to know if you're planning to start exercising

Monday 8 January 2018

A middle aged woman sits on a mat wearing exercise clothes, a towel around her neck, holding hand weights.
It's never too early or late to reap the rewards of becoming more physically active.

So it’s the start of a new year and you’ve decided it’s time you did some exercise. But…where do you begin?

If you haven’t exercised much before, or it’s been awhile, it can be daunting to know how to start. We’ve put together this guide to getting active, to help you develop a healthier, happier lifestyle in 2018 and beyond.

1. How much exercise should you actually be doing?

First things first, how much exercise do you really need to be doing? Just like diet and nutrition advice, there are a lot of fitness programs out there claiming to be the ‘one and only’ exercise you need to do to be healthy and fit. Some require 10 minutes a day, others are strict 2 hours per day regimes. So how much exercise should you actually be aiming for?

According to the Australian Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines, adults aged 18-64 should try to be active for at least half an hour on most days, if not every day of the week.

Ideally, an adult should either do between 2 ½ hours and 5 hours of moderate intensity activity each week, 1 ¼ hours to 2 ½ hours of vigorous intensity each week, or a combination of the two.

Moderate intensity activities are defined as those that require physical effort to complete, but still allow you to speak fairly easily while doing them. Examples are brisk walking, riding a bike and dancing.

Vigorous intensity activities require more effort – you’ll know when you’re vigorously exercising because you’ll need to breathe harder and faster than normal, perhaps feeling like you’re puffed. Vigorous exercise might include running, fast cycling or cycling up an incline, or climbing stairs.

As you exercise and become fitter, you might find that exercise that was once raising your breathing rate becomes easier for you, and you need to adjust the amount and type of exercise you do accordingly.

While you think about upping your activity levels, you should also consider cutting down on the amount of time you’re sedentary during the day. Sedentary activities include things like sitting at a computer desk or lying in front of the TV. According to the Guidelines, adults should minimise time spent sitting down for long periods of time, and break up periods of sitting with other activities.

A group of men and women race their bikes down a park path.

2. Start slowly

Doing any physical activity is better than doing none. The Guidelines listed above are a great goal, but not everyone at the beginning of their exercise journey will be able to meet them straight away.

Start slowly; find out what kinds of exercise you enjoy, how you feel when you exercise and how being active can fit into your routine. A 10 minute walk around the block on your lunch break or a following an exercise video at home a couple of times a week might be a simple start. Gradually, you can build up to meeting the recommended guidelines.

3. Make it part of your routine

When exercise is part of your daily routine, getting up and active becomes second nature. Book exercise time on your calendar or use an exercise planner to block out time to be active each week.

You might find linking exercise to a different activity you do regularly helps it easily slot into your schedule. For example, if you meet a friend for coffee each Saturday, suggest the two of you go for a walk together first, or take a class during your lunchbreak at work.

A group of women of different ages take part in a cycling class.

4. Know your goals

There are so many reasons to make being active a priority: improved cardiovascular health, maintaining a healthy weight, decreased risk of some cancers and improved mental health, just to name a few.

You might have a specific goal in mind when you start exercising, like losing a few kilos, improving your balance, or being able to enter a fun run. Or you might just be trying to become more active because you know it’s a good thing to do for your overall health.

Either way, check in from time to time to see how you’re improving and feeling. Make a note of whether you can walk further and faster this month than last, if you’ve lost centimetres off your belly, are feeling happier or sleeping better.

For advice on setting smart goals for exercise, head to Healthier. Happier.

5. Find a form you enjoy

You’ll be more likely to stick with your new activity plan if you find the time you spend moving enjoyable. For you, that might mean attending a class with friends, or it could be pushing yourself to the limit with a personal trainer. Keep in mind that different things motivate different people, and there’s no one right way to be active.

There are so many options when it comes to exercising. From running and cycling, to taking a dance class or stand-up paddle boarding, there are activities for all types of interests and abilities. You don’t have to stick with the first activity you try, or do what everyone else is doing. Have fun exploring what kinds of exercise make you feel good.

A yoga class with an older woman sitting up front, sit on the floor stretching their necks to the side.

6. Mix it up

Different forms of exercise do different things for your body, so it’s important to do a range of types of exercise.

Cardio exercise is exercise that gets your heart rate up. Cardio is good for your heart health and also burns kilojoules at a high rate, which can help you lose excess weight or maintain a healthy weight.

Muscle strengthening exercise does what it says in the name: makes your muscles stronger. It also helps build and maintain bone mass, which is important for preventing diseases like osteoporosis as you age. Muscle strengthening exercise might involve lifting weights, supporting your body weight or resistance exercises. The Physical Activity Guidelines recommend adults should do muscle strengthening activities at least twice a week.

Flexibility is important, especially as you age. Take time to stretch before and after each exercise session to improve flexibility and reduce the risk of injuries. You can also do exercise that primarily focuses on improving flexibility, like some forms of yoga.

For free workout routines that focus on cardio, strength training, toning and improving balance, visit Healthier. Happier.

7. Make your everyday active

Exercise is only one form of physical activity – you do a lot of physical activity throughout the day that you might not “count” as exercise, but that still contributes to your overall activity levels.

Keep in mind that you don’t have to be active only during times you’ve allotted for exercise. Challenge yourself to get moving throughout the day at times you would otherwise be sitting still.

Get off public transport one stop early and walk a little further to your destination, take stairs instead of lifts, volunteer to go on the office coffee run instead of having your drink bought to you, or walk or ride to close-by destinations.

Activities like gardening, shopping or playing with children can also boost your activity level, even while you’re enjoying doing something else.

Two women sit on equipment at a gym doing exercises with hand weights.

8. Input can be as important as output

What you eat and drink can help you achieve results from exercise more easily, and help you to stay healthy and well.

Match your new exercise routine with a well-balanced, nutritious diet, and make sure you drink plenty of water before, during and after exercise to stay hydrated.

9. You don’t need fancy equipment or clothes

The fitness industry makes a lot of money from selling clothes and equipment to people wanting to exercise. But exercise doesn’t have to be expensive, and you don’t need to buy special clothing, equipment or pay for memberships if you don’t want to.

Clothing should be something you feel comfortable in and can move in easily. For high impact exercise, like running or playing tennis, a well-fitting sports shoe is recommended to prevent injuries.

Some types of equipment can be substituted, like cans of food instead of hand weights, or you can buy second hand equipment for a fraction of the cost. You don’t need the flashiest bike on the path to be getting the benefits.

Some people find that dedicating part of their budget to exercise motivates them to stick at it, but if that’s not for you, know that working out for free is totally possible.

A man climbs up a set of stairs two at a time.

10. Remember to seek help when needed

If you’ve been inactive for a long time, have a heart condition or other health condition that might impact your ability to exercise, or you’ve got any concerns about becoming more active, talk to your GP about the best and safest way to begin exercising.

Exercising can feel tough at the time, and you might have a few sore muscles the day after a workout, but if you feel any pain that concerns you or won’t go away, see your GP or a physiotherapist for advice.

Extra information

Excited about getting fit and healthy? Click the below links for more information about building healthy exercising habits.

Four ways to increase your daily cardio without lacing up your jogging shoes

Healthier. Happier. – Get Active library

Health Direct – fitness and exercise articles

My Dr. – Physical activity and exercise: getting started

Last updated: 17 January 2018