The basics of a healthy exercise routine

Do you want to start exercising regularly, but don’t know where to start? Or maybe your doctor said you should work in some gym time, but didn’t give lots of specifics?

Never fear! Getting into a regular exercise regimen doesn’t have to be hard or time-consuming.

As a registered nurse working in a cardiac rehab, I encounter a lot of people who have never exercised before. They come to us on a doctor’s recommendation, after experiencing some sort of cardiac event/procedure (heart attack, heart valve surgery, coronary artery bypass, heart failure diagnosis, etc…), and often don’t know where to start.

So whether you’re thinking of taking up exercise to lose weight, feel better, or just overall get healthier, here are some of the basics you should know:

Please note: Check with your physician before starting any exercise routine or starting any particular diet. See this Disclaimer for more details. This post may contain affiliate links. For details, please visit my Disclosure page. Thank you!

Healthy Exercise Routine Basics

Start light

There is no better way to injure yourself than beginning with hour-long gym sessions or intense fitness classes like Orange Theory Fitness or SoulCycle. Don’t jump right in with high-intensity interval training (HIIT), even if it is a great way to exercise; give yourself some time. Start with 15-20 minute bouts of whatever exercise you like to do – walking, jogging, biking, rowing, whatever! If you need to take breaks, take breaks. Build yourself up. Set goals! Your body and mind will thank you.

Walking with friends

Aim for 150 minutes per week

Now the recommended amount of cardio is 150 minutes per week (moderate intensity). This is what’s been shown to provide a reduced risk for cardiovascular disease and many other problems. If you’re looking to lose weight try to aim for more, up to 300 minutes. The 150 minutes can be divided into 30 min. 5 days/week, 50 min. 3 days/week, or however you like.

This time is devoted to PURPOSEFUL exercise. On many occasions I have patients tell me they did house chores for 30 minutes yesterday or walked the dog for 15 minutes (but they have stop and sniff pups). Now these are great – they are activity and activity promotes blood-flow and is good for you. But it’s NOT exercise.

Exercise needs to be purposeful, i.e. I’m going on a continuous walk for 20 minutes. This gets your heart rate and blood pressure up for a prolonged amount of time, strengthens your heart, and is where the benefits come from. You may have to slowly work up to 150+ minutes per week and that’s okay. It can feel like a lot at first. But it IS possible.

Find an exercise you like

If you HATE exercise classes, don’t do them! If you’re not a fan of exercising alone, go join a group for motivation and support. I took me a long time to find a routine I love. Having a truly healthy exercise routine means it’s something you at least semi-look forward to. It shouldn’t be another dreaded chore.

Misery loves company

Along the same lines, if you enjoy having people around you to motivate and push you, then classes are a great way to go.

If you don’t want to pay for fitness classes, you could also rope in an exercise buddy. Whether human or canine, having someone else to exercise with can give you that extra motivation on the days you’re just not feeling it.

But remember: if your exercise buddy bails on a particular day, that doesn’t let you off the hook! You need to hold yourself accountable. Still get out and move!

Incorporate cardio AND strength training

Aim for at least 2 days of strength training per week. I used to only run and lemme tell you, when I started lifting weights I saw wayyy more of a change in my body.

Both have so many benefits. With cardio, you strengthen your heart and improve your endurance. With strength training, you become capable of doing more things and put less work on your heart/require less endurance.

Think about it like this: if you’re carrying in the groceries it will be beneficial to have the endurance to walk in from the car, and will require less endurance if you have strong arms and legs to carry them. Double win!

Switch it up

If you tend to get bored doing the same exercises, try different things! Walk 30 minutes on the treadmill, altering the incline and speed every couple minutes. Use the stationary bike one day and the elliptical the next.

Changing up your exercise routine also helps prevent plateauing because it keeps your body guessing.

Stay consistent

And no, I’m not contradicting myself. While you are switching up your chosen mode of exercise, stay consistent with your exercise schedule and you will see results. If you can only exercise M, W, F, hold yourself to it! This tip is probably the most difficult thing to do, but it’s the one that will produce results and keep you healthy long-term.

Get extra motivation

I recently came across a program called HealthyWage where you can make a commitment to losing a certain amount of weight in a certain amount of time. You pledge at least $100 and will make back more if you meet your weight loss goal. The top amount you can win is $10,000. The Today Show, Fox News, CNN – these programs have all featured HealthyWage participants, all of whom were ecstatic about their results.

According to a recent Mayo Clinic study on weight loss, participants who received cash incentives were more likely to stick with the weight-loss program and lost more weight than participants who received no incentives.

It makes sense! Money is a big motivator in our lives, and essentially getting paid to get healthy sounds like a pretty good deal to me.

If this is something you may be interested in, you can see some testimonials here: These Women Won Serious Money For Losing Weight!

Healthy exercise routine

I hope all of this information helps! If you’re looking to start your healthy exercise routine, these tips are a great beginning. I suppose the most important thing is just to start!

And of course, always talk with your physician before beginning a new exercise regimen, and stay within their parameters. If you’ve had a recent procedure or new diagnosis, you may need trained professionals to supervise you first before taking to the streets yourself. Whatever you do, take time to enjoy the fact that you can exercise, as many people are incapable and wish they could!

Happy exercising!