It's no secret that exercise is good for you. But why, and how much do you need? A daily habit — 30 minutes or more — of brisk walking can help you stay healthy. It can help you manage your weight, lower your cholesterol, strengthen your heart, delay or prevent diabetes, and cut the risk of health problems in the future.

Here are some steps to help you get started with an exercise routine:

  • See your doctor — Men over the age of 40 and women over the age of 50 should talk with their doctor before starting a fitness program to make sure you're healthy enough for this workout.
  • Check your fitness level — The American College of Sports Medicine says that you should check your heart and muscle fitness, flexibility and body make-up. You can learn more about your fitness level taking an online health assessment.
  • Design your program — Try to include the four parts of fitness into your program — cardio, strength, flexibility and weight control. Start slowly, vary your routine and rest so that your muscles and joints can recover. Keep in mind that healthy weight depends on regular exercise and healthy eating. Set up your equipment — equipment doesn't have to be expensive. It can be as simple as sneakers and homemade weights made of old socks filled with beans or pennies.
  • Get started — Look for ways to fit exercise into your way of life, such as watching TV while walking on a treadmill or reading while using a stationary bike. Always listen to your body and be flexible, speeding up or slowing down if you need to, or going for shorter or longer lengths of time. Other tips include:

    Get some fresh air. Head outside for a brief walk during your morning and afternoon breaks. Even better, find a walking buddy and help drive each other to make it a routine.

    Put down the phone. Instead of calling a co-worker with a question, walk over to their area and talk face-to-face.

    Walk the dog. When out walking the dog, add an extra 10 minutes onto your walk. Take your kids with you.

    Move between commercial breaks. Instead of reaching for the remote, do some pushups or jumping jacks while waiting for your program to come back.
  • Make your workouts longer — To control weight gain, add more time to your daily workouts as you progress. Try adding an extra 10 to 15 minutes daily each week.
  • Measure your progress — How do you know if your fitness level has gotten better? It's a good idea to retake a personal fitness assessment every few months to see if you need to make changes to your fitness program.

Need Help Staying Inspired?

  • Set simple goals and then work toward longer-range goals.
  • Try different types of activities to help avoid boredom.
  • Get support by exercising with a friend, family member or co-worker.
  • Measure and record your progress on the same day each week to help move you to work toward your goals.
  • Listen to your favorite music while exercising.
  • Reward yourself by sharing feelings of success, or buying something new like a pair of walking shoes or a compact disc.

Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research

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