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Starting an Exercise Program - START - 5 Tips

Carla Birnberg

Posted on January 06 2014

“You need to start an exercise program …”

If you are anything like I was when I heard those seven words emerge from my physician’s mouth, you immediately panic.

For me, it wasn’t so much the fact I didn’t realize I needed to move more (whether they’d escaped friends’ and family’s notice or not, the extra 30+ pounds around my waist hadn’t escaped mine)—I simply had zero idea where to start.

Weight training or group fitness classes?

Cycling or that quirky “walking-with-sticks” I frequently saw my neighbor do?

I was overwhelmed by all the choices and, frankly, my doctor wasn’t much help beyond stating the obvious: I needed to START.

Honestly? I fumbled around for more than a few weeks.  I tried every activity under the sun, and didn’t stick with any one long enough to see results or decide whether I actually enjoyed it or not.

In the spirit of saving you making all the mistakes I made, I’ve created an acronym that contains all the information you need (and which I wish I’d had) to get STARTed on your path to fitness:


  1. Start slowly and set yourself up for success. The biggest mistake I made was exercising full tilt the first few days out there. I ended up so sore that it’s no surprise I soon quit. If I could give one piece of advice to every new exerciser it would be to do less than you think you’re capable of the first week (or three) working out. It may seem counterintuitive, but by leaving your body wanting more you will actually create exercise as a habit you enjoy. The easiest way to start today yet start slowly: WALKING.  Pull on those shoes, open the door, and hit the pavement.
  2. Try new things! Beginning an exercise program is not the time to cling to old notions about yourself. Seize this opportunity to soften your attachment to your self-definition. Ignore the voice in your head that says silly things like “hip-hop cardio class is not for me” or “I’m just not a woman who lifts weights.”  This is your opportunity to create a new you: both inside and out. A great (and inexpensive) way to try new workouts is by renting exercise DVDs, searching for free online videos, or recording free on-demand workout shows on television.
  3. Add in movement everywhere. Park far away from the grocery door and walk! Heck, you could even count lugging the groceries back to the car as resistance training. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Pace around the office as you return that long list of phone calls. Skip the coffee break in favor of a “fitness break” and do some pushups.  (This tip is definitely a well-worn one, yet one which, when I was completely honest with myself, I wasn’t doing.) All this extra activity is called non-exercise activity thermogenesis and it definitely adds up to calories burned.
  4. Realize that you are human and do, indeed, have limitations. Listen to your body over any expert or well-meaning friend. Does an activity feel too difficult? Is the walk you did yesterday feeling far more challenging today? Don’t hesitate to take a day of rest or adjust a planned workout accordingly. This is a lifelong habit we are creating and one with which we will stick only if it is filled with more gain than pain.
  5. Take time to recognize your successes. When I STARTed exercising I spent far too much time focusing on the amount of weight I wanted to lose and not enough time noticing the smaller victories along the way. I love how the weight-loss community has created a separate classification they call non-scale victories (NSVs). Can you finally plop comfortably in a movie theater seat? Celebrate that victory with a night out with friends. Are you far less winded after your 1 mile walk than you were when you STARTed? New socks or shoes might be in order. Celebrate you and your successes, and don’t waste precious time worrying about others or only focusing on your larger overarching goal.

That’s it – all the tips I wish my doctor had told me to help me get STARTed on my path to healthy living.

Still a little perplexed?

Need a few more specifics to START your workout routine?

Hit me up in the comments and I’ll see what I can do!

**Jarmila is wearing Eleven by Venus Return Ace Shorts, on sale in our SHOP!


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