How to start exercising: A beginner’s guide to working out

Fitness & Sports Health

by Eric Bilder, CHES®

Nov 8, 2022

We all know the benefits associated with regular physical activity—lower blood pressure, lower risk of chronic disease, better mood, to name a few—yet many of us struggle to find the motivation to fit exercise into our daily routine.

For many, it’s simply a matter of not knowing where to start. It can be overwhelming choosing from all the different types of exercise routines available. Should you try pilates or HIIT? Running or yoga? Weight lifting or cardio?

If you struggle to begin a workout routine because you’re unsure where to start, let this be your guide. Sometimes, re-thinking how we approach exercise can make all the difference.

How much exercise should I be getting?

First, let us begin by reviewing the recommended amount of weekly physical activity for the average adult. Most folks should aim to get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity per week, with at least two days thrown in for muscle-strengthening exercise. This is a great general guideline, but your unique needs may be different based on your personal health goals.

What counts as moderate-intensity activity? Simply any activity that gets your heart beating faster. These can be more traditional light exercise like walking, but it can also be things that don’t feel like exercise such as yard work, vigorous cleaning around the house, gardening, playing catch with your kids or dancing.

Since the goal of any exercise is to increase heart rate, it is important to speak with your doctor before starting any new exercise routine. This is especially important if you have a history of heart disease, as many heart medications will alter how your heart rate responds to exercise.

Types of exercise

To figure out which exercise routine is best for you, it helps to have a basic understanding of what certain exercises do for us, how they affect our body and which muscle groups are used in each type of exercise. Let’s break down the two main categories of exercise: aerobic and anaerobic exercise.

There are more nuances to the exercise discussion—like high-intensity interval training, or HIIT—but if you’re new to exercise, we’ll keep it simple for now. As you get more comfortable with exercise, you can start to explore different types of more advanced workouts.

Aerobic exercise

The human body produces energy in two ways: with oxygen and without. Aerobic exercise uses oxygen in the blood to supply the body with the energy needed to carry out the activity at hand.

When you engage in aerobic activity, you are activating Type I muscle fibers, also known as slow-twitch fibers that support endurance-type activity such as long-distance running or swimming. This is why you are able to sustain aerobic activity for longer periods for time (>two minutes).

Examples of aerobic exercises include

  • Jogging
  • Cycling
  • Walking
  • Gardening
  • Dancing
  • Hiking
  • Kickboxing

Aerobic activity is great for building cardiovascular strength and endurance, so if a healthy heart is what you’re after, be sure to fit aerobic activity into your routine.

Remember, the guidelines from the US Department of Health and Human Services suggest 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise. Pick your favorite activities from the list above and get started working your way up to that amount!

Related: How exercise can improve your blood pressure

Anaerobic exercise

Anaerobic exercise, on the other hand, does not require the presence of oxygen to be able to perform. This type of activity recruits the use of Type II, or fast-twitch, muscle fibers.

Since oxygen is not needed, the human body performs anaerobic activity faster, with more power and at shorter intervals. Think activities like:

  • Weightlifting
  • Using resistance bands
  • Sprinting
  • Jumping
  • Throwing

Because of the inefficiency of Type II muscle groups to produce energy continuously, these activities cannot be sustained for long periods. Building strength, power and resiliency in the musculoskeletal system of the body—your muscles, ligaments, joints and bones—is more so the purpose of anaerobic exercise.

You should aim to fit in an anaerobic exercise that challenges your muscles at least two days a week. Again, you can start with short workouts and work your way up as you progress.

Starting your new workout routine

It’s easy to become overwhelmed when starting a new exercise routine, but I promise it’s easier than you might think. Start simple, start slow and you’ll find your exercise groove in no time.

Even short bouts of movement (about 10 minutes) spread out over the course of the day provide numerous health benefits. Simply starting to move your body, even if it is a 20-30 minute walk per day, can help build momentum—the momentum you’ll need to build new habits and achieve your health goals.

Ready to get started? Check out this helpful guide to help kickstart your fitness routine today.

About the Author

Eric Bilder, CHES®, is a wellness advisor and certified wellness coach at Baylor Scott & White Health. He received his degree in Health Studies in 2016 and has since been working in the corporate wellness world. Eric is passionate about health and wellness and believes preventive care is a powerful tool to staying productive, active and healthy throughout life. Eric loves the outdoors and in his free time, you can find him hiking or camping. He is an avid believer that with the right mindset and some hard work, anything is possible.

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