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Fitness 101: The Absolute Beginner's Guide to Exercise

How to get started with an exercise program.
By
WebMD Feature

You've decided it's time to start exercising. Congratulations! You've taken the first step on your way to a new and improved body and mind

"Exercise is the magic pill," says Michael R. Bracko, EdD, FACSM, chairman of the American College of Sports Medicine's Consumer Information Committee. "Exercise can literally cure diseases like some forms of heart disease. Exercise has been implicated in helping people prevent or recover from some forms of cancer. Exercise helps people with arthritis. Exercise helps people prevent and reverse depression."

trainer blowing a whistle

And there's no arguing that exercise can help most people lose weight, as well as look more toned and trim.

Of course, there's a catch. You need to get -- and keep -- moving if you want to cash in on the benefits. This doesn't necessarily mean following a strict, time-consuming regimen at the gym -- although that can certainly reap benefits. The truth is you can get rewards from many different types and levels of exercise.

"Any little increment of physical activity is going to be a great boost to weight loss and feeling better," says Rita Redberg, MSc, chairwoman of the American Heart Association's Scientific Advisory Board for the Choose to Move program.

Your exercise options are numerous, including walking, dancing, gardening, biking -- even doing household chores, says Redberg. The important thing is to choose activities you enjoy, she says. That will increase your chances of making it a habit.

And how much exercise should you do? For heart health, the AHA recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity, such as walking, on most days of the week.

Yet "if you're getting less than that, you're still going to see benefits," says Redberg. "It's not like if you can't do 30 minutes, you shouldn't do anything, because you're definitely going to see benefits even at 5 or 10 minutes of moving around."

Ready to get started? Health and fitness experts helped WebMD compile this beginner's guide to exercise, including definitions of some common exercise terms, sample workouts, and recommendations on home exercise equipment.

A way to measure the intensity of your exercise is to check you heart rate or pulse during physical activity. These should be within a target range during different levels of intensity.

For example, according to the CDC, for moderate-intensity physical activity, a person's target heart rate should be 50% to 70% of his or her maximum heart rate.

Get Ready

The first step to any workout routine is to evaluate how fit you are for your chosen physical activity. Whenever you begin an exercise program, it's wise to consult a doctor. Anyone with major health risks, males aged 45 and older, and women aged 55 and older should get medical clearance, says Cedric Bryant, PhD, chief exercise physiologist for the American Council on Exercise.

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