Maybe you're not the next Michael Phelps or Hope Solo. But you can still set an Olympic-size fitness goal for yourself, even if you've never tried a sport before. Examples of fitness goals could be a century ride -- (a 100-mile bike ride in less than a day). Or you could train for a triathlon (a series of three endurance events, often swimming, cycling, and running) or join a sports league.
Find Your Inner Child
If you're not sure what sport to try, pick something that fits your personality or what you liked to do as a kid. If you loved swimming, hit the pool again. If you love the outdoors, try hiking. If you really want to play like a kid, check out race events like Warrior Dash and Tough Mudder. They're rugged obstacle courses where you slog through mud and water, scale walls, and combat crawl through tunnels.
Start With Small Goals
Start by setting small goals first. Small goals are easier to meet than one big goal that seems huge and hard to reach. For example, you probably can't finish a marathon until you've run a few 5Ks first. Some of the fitness apps for your smartphone can help you keep track of each great thing you do on your way to your big goal.
A Variety of Exercises
You may get bored with the exact same workout routine every day. And when you do the same activity all the time, your muscles adapt to it after six to eight weeks. You burn fewer calories and build less muscle. Keep boredom at bay with interval training (run really fast for one minute, then at a moderate speed for two) and strength training and cardio activities like swimming, spinning, and kickboxing.
Get a Doctor's OK
If it's been a while since you've revved your heart rate, talk to your doctor before you start exercising if you're over 45 (men) or 55 (women). It's also a good idea to get a doctor's OK if you have a health problem or take regular medication. Keep in mind that slow and steady wins the race. Doing too much too soon can lead to injuries and burnout. Start working out slowly: three days a week for 30 minutes. Then gradually increase your time and intensity.
Fuel Up Properly
Exercise burns extra calories and raises your metabolism. So eat every couple of hours -- three meals plus healthy snacks. Before a workout, snack on carbs (juice, fruit, or yogurt) for fast energy. After a long, tough workout, replenish with a carb/protein mix, like a peanut butter sandwich or a smoothie. Otherwise keep your meals and snacks light: Try an apple and peanut butter, yogurt and nuts, or an egg on whole-wheat toast.
Drink Lots of Water
Unless your workout is really long or tough, you don't need a special sports drink with electrolytes. Water works just fine. Drink plenty: If you're dehydrated, your muscles may cramp, and you raise your risk of heat exhaustion and heatstroke. Two hours before you exercise, drink about 2 to 3 cups of water, and about 1 cup every 10-20 minutes during your routine. Keep drinking after you're done exercising, too.
Even though your goal -- a marathon, for example -- might center on cardio, you should practice strength or resistance training, too. Strong muscles burn more calories, help prevent injuries, and build stronger bones. Work muscles on weight machines, with handheld equipment like free weights, kettlebells, or resistance bands, or by doing exercises like push-ups. Make sure to rest each muscle group, such as biceps and triceps, at least two days between strength workouts.
Dress for Exercise Success
You need the right clothes and shoes when you work out. It's not about looking good (although that can't hurt) -- it's about feeling comfortable. It's no fun to walk, run, or bike if you have flapping sleeves or flimsy shoes. Ask the experts at a sporting goods store for help. Look for fabrics that draw moisture away from your body -- not sweat-absorbing cotton. In cool temperatures, wear layers that you can peel off as you warm up.
Learn Proper Form
Whether you're running or weightlifting, it's easy to get hurt if your form or technique is wrong. Don't assume you're exercising the right way. If your gym has trainers or fitness staff, they may be able to watch you exercise and give you advice on improving your technique. Or you can read fitness magazines or find online videos that show correct techniques.
American College of Sports Medicine: "Off the Couch and Active: When to see a Physician Before Exercising."
American Council on Exercise: "Strength Training 101," "Why is it important to vary my workout routines?," "What should I eat before and after my morning, afternoon or evening workout?," "Eat Well to Stay Motivated and Energized," "Healthy Hydration."
Harvard Health Publications: "Keeping your strength training routine fresh, from Harvard's Strength and Power Training Special Health Report," "10 Tips for Exercising Safely."
Kansas State University: "Should you Eat Before or After Exercise?"
Pete McCall, exercise physiologist, American Council on Exercise
Dori Ricci, exercise specialist, Atlanta.
University of Arizona: "Strength Training with Elastic Bands."
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.