« Exercise: The to do list when you havent done it for a while

Added March 18, 2017

This article originally appears on ABC Health & Wellbeing

So it's been a while since you've done any exercise?

OK, maybe it was so long ago that the last time you worked up a sweat, canvas sandshoes were the active footwear of choice and mobile music players weren't even invented?

If so, chances are it's more than the best workout playlists and the dizzy array of psychedelic sports shoe options troubling your mind.

There are more fundamental questions like, just how does someone who hasn't exercised for years get moving in a way that's enjoyable, sustainable, and dare you mention, safe?

The good news is almost always, however long you've been inactive, and whatever your age or health status, some type of exercise will be possible.

You may need to get advice that's tailored to your particular needs, but it's never too late to start, says exercise physiologist Carly Ryan, spokeswoman for Exercise and Sports Science Australia.

Even so, if you're new to exercise or coming back to it after a period of inactivity, there are a few things you should do before you sprint out the door.

Getting started

Safety first

First up, it's recommended you take a few minutes to test yourself for any red flags that might suggest exercise could pose some health risks.

You can do this by filling out a seven-point questionnaire that makes up the first stage of the Adult Pre-Exercise Screening System. The purpose of this is to work out if seeing a doctor before you get active is likely to be necessary or useful.

Should you see a doctor first?

While exercise is one of the best things for your mind and body, there are certain health conditions that can make being active more risky.

The questionnaire relates to symptoms suggesting heart conditions, asthma, diabetes, and problems with muscles, joints and bones.

If your answers to the seven questions in the first stage give you the all clear, then you're good to go.

But you can always see your GP if you prefer, and some experts suggest anyone over 40 should.

If you don't get the all clear from the questionnaire, don't give up.

Ms Ryan says with tailored advice, those who can exercise include people in their 80s and 90s, those who are obese, those with cancer, diabetes, heart disease, kidney problems, arthritis and pretty much any other health condition you can think of.

Yikes. No excuses.

Setting goals

It's a good idea to set some goals for what you want to achieve to help motivate you, keep you on track and help you monitor your progress.

If you want to get fit or lose weight, you'll probably want to emphasise cardio workouts that is exercise that gets your heart and breathing rate up.

But if you're more concerned with getting stronger, you might focus more on training involving weights, machines or working against the resistance of your own body by doing lunges, push-ups and so on.

Most exercise professionals suggest you aim for a mix of both strength training and cardio components, but the balance depends on your goals.

You should also think about what kind of exercise you'll enjoy (and try different things to find out), because if you don't enjoy it, you'll almost certainly not stick at it, Ms Ryan says.

For ideas, check out ABC Health & Wellbeing's Exercise Guide.

Ms Ryan adds you're more likely to succeed if you take the time beforehand to ask yourself what you want to get out of being active, what benefits you can look forward to, and what barriers you're likely to encounter (with backup plans for when you meet the road blocks).

Start slow

Despite all those boot camps you see with trainers yelling, "Harder! Faster!", the most important thing to keep in mind when you're starting out is to go slow and gradually step it up, Ms Ryan says.

"It's definitely better to err on the side of being a bit conservative. If you do too much too soon, it's pretty hard to recover from.

"The body takes a solid six-to-eight weeks to get used to activity. It also takes six-to-eight weeks to form a habit. So those two things tie together quite nicely."

While walking is a good starting activity most people can do, you can also swim, cycle, kick a ball around with your kids, or do gardening or housework.

The key is to aim to use major muscles like your legs and arms and to get your heart and breathing rate up for blocks of ideally 10 minutes at a time. But anything is better than nothing.

Getting help

If you'd like some expert input, you could get help from your doctor, a physiotherapist, a registered personal trainer or an accredited exercise scientist or exercise physiologist.

Physiotherapists are especially good if you've had any niggling injuries you're concerned about.

You can search for an exercise scientist or exercise physiologist in your area both are university trained in prescribing exercise for individuals, but exercise physiologists specialise in people with health conditions.

The average cost of a first consultation is $60 to $100 for between 30 and 60 minutes, Ms Ryan says. This may include ideas for exercise you could then go and try on your own.

If you have a chronic health condition, you may be eligible for five sessions per calendar year with an exercise physiologist at a reduced rate subsidised by Medicare. See your GP for more information.

A word on gyms

Research has shown while new gym memberships often peak in January, attendance rates drop off significantly by as early as February.

Paying a large amount of money up front is not a good way of ensuring you will commit to regular exercise.

Gyms, however, can be great because they're air-conditioned, have a good range of exercise machines (with staff to ask for help) and usually offer a variety of group classes, which can be fun and motivating.

Shorter gym memberships (say a few months), or paying to visit casually, can also be good options, Ms Ryan says.

The ultimate goal is to find activities you can enjoy, and to do them regularly not just to meet your immediate goal, but for your whole life.

Heck, it might even be worth buying a pair of psychedelic sports shoes.