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Taking the First Step Toward Fitness.

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June 12, 2000 -- With her wedding quickly approaching, Julie, a 30-year-old New York advertising executive, is eager to maintain a regular exercise routine so she can look as good as possible on her special day.

"I am trying to walk or run four times a week, averaging about three or four miles per session, and I try to use the free weights for my arms on occasion," she tells WebMD. While she is making strides, it's not easy, she says.

"My problem is motivation, because I don't find exercise to be particularly inspiring," says Julie, who spoke on condition that her full name not be used. "Exercise is ultimately a routine. Routines are boring."

In addition to the boost it can give your looks, the health benefits of regular exercise include protection against heart disease, diabetes, certain types of cancer, and the brittle-bone disease osteoporosis, as well as increases in mood and self-esteem. Yet more than 60% of American adults do not get the recommended amount: 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on most days of the week.

The reason? It may be as simple as taking that first step. Most experts agree that getting started is the hardest part of establishing a regular exercise routine.

"All of America can do some exercise if all of America wants to do it," Gerald F. Fletcher, MD, a cardiologist at Mayo Medical School at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla., tells WebMD. "You've got to make up your mind to do it and overcome all the inconveniences and all of your rationalizations."

Here's how most inactive Americans can start getting physical, says Fletcher, who is also a spokesman for the American Heart Association: "Most of America - meaning most adults age 18 and older - should start by walking properly. Thirty minutes a day, six days a week, is ideal."

Those 30 minutes don't have to be all at once, either. "You can get up in the morning and walk 15 minutes, then walk a little at lunch, and then a little in the afternoon," Fletcher says. He advises walkers to buy quality, brand-name shoes, not discount brands.

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