Fitness: Ready, steady, exercise

Your new guide to getting in shape

By Laurel Alper, January 3, 2013

January is traditionally the time when we set goals and many of us will have decided to begin an exercise programme. That’s the easy bit. Actually starting, and sustaining it, is much tougher. So here are a few facts to bolster your resolve.

We all know that exercise can help us burn extra calories, but there is also irrefutable medical evidence that it brings a collection of other benefits. People who exercise for just 30 minutes a day, three times a week, lower their risk of heart disease and strokes, Type 2 diabetes, osteoarthritis and some types of cancers. Endorphins or “happy hormones” are released when you exercise and your body rewards you by boosting your mood, energy levels and enhancing quality of sleep.

Muscle mass is more metabolically active than fat so your body burns more calories every day the fitter you become.

So what should be your first steps along the road to better fitness? If you haven’t exercised before, or if it’s been a while, it’s always advisable to consult your doctor before you start.

To kick off, you should be concentrating on gently raising your heart rate. Your exercise should leave you perspiring and feeling slightly out of breath, but still able to hold a conversation.

Warm up for five-10 minutes to ensure adequate blood flow to your muscles. Try a maximum of three sets of 12 star jumps, walk/run up and down stairs or simply march on the spot.

Then start your main workout with a brisk walk, water aerobics or ride a bike on level ground, challenging yourself, if you feel able, to tackle the odd hill. Initially, you should to work out for 20 minutes. This can be increased as you get fitter.

For a home alternative, just 10 minutes of moderate intensity skipping can burn up to 100 calories.
It’s also important to spend five-10 minutes cooling down at the end of your workout. Decrease activity until your heart beat returns to the pre-exercise rate. End with some tummy exercises and finally relax with some stretches which will improve your flexibility.

Fitness has many components — cardiovascular, strength, speed, power, muscle endurance, balance and agility — and is an evolving process of which consistency is the key. Try putting your exercise time-slots in your calendar until working out becomes part of your routine.

Laurel Alper is a personal trainer based in north-west London. Visit her website at and follow her on Twitter @laurelfittips

Last updated: 3:15pm, January 3 2013