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Fitness 101: The Absolute Beginner's Guide to Exercise

How to get started with an exercise program.
(continued)

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.

But no matter what your medical condition, you can usually work out in some way.

"I can't think of any medical issue that would get worse from the right kind of exercise," says Stephanie Siegrist, MD, an orthopedic surgeon in private practice in Rochester, N.Y.

After assessing your fitness, it helps to set workout goals. For example, do you want to prepare to run a 5K? Hit the gym five times a week? Or just walk around the block without getting winded?

"Make sure the goals are clear, realistic, and concise," says Sal Fichera, an exercise physiologist and owner of New York-based Forza Fitness.

Whatever your goals and medical condition, approach any new exercise regimen with caution.

"Start low and go slow," advises Bryant. Many beginners make the mistake of starting out too aggressively, only to give up when they end up tired, sore, or injured, he says. Some get discouraged because they think an aggressive workout will produce instant results.

"Generally speaking, when people go about it too aggressively early in the program, they tend not to stick with it over the long haul," says Bryant. "What you really want to do is to develop some new habits that you can stick with for a lifetime."

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