We all know that exercise is beneficial for our health, but when you are starting an exercise program for the first time it is important to do things right, or risk doing yourself more damage than good.

People who launch into an exercise program that is too intense or start to exercise without professional help often do themselves an injury and are put off physical activity due to this negative experience.

Here are some useful tips to consider when starting to exercise for the first time or when returning to working out after a long break.

Consult with your health professional
When starting a new exercise program it is important to consider any health problems and conditions you have that may be worsened by physical activity.

This is especially important if you are an older adult, have a medical condition such as diabetes, are more than 20 pounds overweight, are on medication, are a smoker, have an injury or have any symptoms such as difficulty breathing or chest pain when you are active.

The best way to safely start a program is to consult with your doctor, who can advise you as to what level and types of physical activity are most suited and least risky for you. 

Get help from a trainer
To reduce risk of injury when starting to exercise, it is important that whatever type of activity you choose, you are doing it correctly.  Incorrect technique can damage your body and gives less benefits than when done properly.

An accredited personal trainer at a gym can help you to learn to use the equipment correctly and give you a program to help you achieve your exercise goals.  They can also gradually change the program as you become fitter, adapting your work out to make sure you continue to progress.
Other activities such as team sports, swimming, running and group fitness classes where an instructor teaches technique as also a good option, particularly if you are completely new to the sport.  Starting a new sport on your own can be overwhelming and learning to do it properly with support can make a big difference to your enjoyment and how long you stick with the sport.

Start small
Do not be tempted to hit the gym for the first time and try to lift the heaviest weights or run huge distances your first time.  No matter how motivated you are, or how much the people next to you that are twice your age are doing, you need to respect your body and realize that it is not conditioned to perform these types of activities yet.

Starting out too big is a sure fire way to injure yourself and put yourself off exercise forever, so always start from the bottom and give yourself room to increase time, speed or weight when your body is ready.

When first starting out it may be a good idea to begin with a low impact exercise at a steady pace, such as walking, cycling or swimming.  In time you can gradually pick up the pace or do the activity for longer when your base fitness is higher.

Know when to stop
Over exercising can not only lead to injury but can also be very dangerous.  Symptoms such as left or middle chest, arm or neck pain, dizziness or nausea, cold sweating, cramps, irregular heart beat or sharp pains in muscles or joints are all good reasons to stop exercising immediately.

It is a good idea to consult a doctor if you experience any of these symptoms.

Muscle aches and pains are to be expected when starting a new form of physical activity and if they are mild are no reason to stop working out. It is still a good idea to give yourself a few rest days per week when starting and alternating between cardio and resistance training to give your body time to recover.  If the pain is more intense consult a physiotherapist or doctor.

Invest in appropriate equipment
For most sports you do not need to spend a fortune on the best kit available when starting for the first time, but it is worthwhile investing in some good quality basics.

For most sports a good pair of shoes is an item that will make a big difference.  Comfortable clothes that breathe well and do not chafe are also important, as are accessories such as goggles for swimming or a good helmet bike riding.

The right equipment will reduce your risk of injury and make your exercise experience much more pleasant and enjoyable.

Look after your body
Many people who start to exercise for the first time do not realize that working out means they need to look after their body in a different way.  When you exercise you may need to increase your food intake a little to fuel your workout, especially as you get fitter and do longer distances or more intense activity.

Fluid is also very important as exercise, particularly in hot climates will lead to increased water loss which needs to be replaced either during or after a workout.

Warm up and cool down
Stretching and doing a slow warm up and cool down are one of the most important ways to avoid injury and also to perform better during your workout and aid recovery.

Try a variety of types of exercise.
When starting to exercise for the first time, don’t limit yourself to only one type of activity.  A variety of different sports or workouts can help to increase you cardiovascular fitness, build different muscles and aid flexibility.

A combination of activities such as running, resistance training and yoga will not only make your body more balanced, but also keep you from getting bored with working out.  Trying new activities is also important in order to find one you really enjoy and are likely to stick to.

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