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Health Hub

A new beginning: How to start exercising when you're out of shape

With the right planning and education, you can build habits that you stick with long term.

How to Start Exercising When You're Out of Shape | Juniper

We all know that regular exercise, along with eating a balanced diet, is one of the key elements of a healthy life.

For many of us though, when life gets busy, an exercise routine is one of the first things that goes out the window.

When you have a busy schedule, don't have a daily routine, or haven't done a workout in a while, establishing a new routine can feel almost impossible, and the longer you go without it, the harder it feels to get back into shape.

But with the right planning and education, it doesn't need to be complicated at all, and you can build habits that you stick with long term.

Here's everything you need to know about how to start exercising when you're out of shape, how to stick to a new routine, and how much exercise — and what kind — you really need to be doing to reach healthy physical fitness.

Why exercising when you're out of shape can feel hard

If you haven't done regular exercise in a while — or ever — establishing a new weekly routine can feel hard both physically and mentally.

For one thing, our fitness levels gradually build and decrease depending on how regularly we exercise.

If you haven't done a workout in a while, your current fitness level might be quite low — so if you used to run 5 kilometres easily but now live a sedentary lifestyle and haven't run in years, chances are you will struggle to perform the way you used to.

In fact, one study also found that exercising less could deactivate a protein in the body, meaning blood flow could be restricted and activity could be more difficult [1].

It is also important to note that if you are pregnant or postpartum, have any chronic medical conditions, or have previously been inactive, it is best to speak to a doctor and get a health check before embarking on a new routine [2].

Overcoming barriers to exercise

Of course, we have to acknowledge that there are many barriers when it comes to establishing an exercise routine and reaching fitness goals.

Common barriers to exercise can include feeling intimidated or embarrassed, being short on time, not being fit enough, bad weather, affordability, and not knowing what to do, but most of these can be solved:

  • If you feel that you're not fit enough to go to the gym, go running or join an exercise class, you can start small. Begin with simple stretches and more walking, or grab some light weights and start with simple strength movements or cardio exercises from the comfort of your own home.
  • If you're short on time, try to figure out a way to fit exercise into your daily routine. For example, if you usually watch TV in the morning or evening, could you cycle on a stationary bike or use a rowing machine while you do it? If you usually catch up with friends over coffee or meals, could you instead catch up for a quick walk at a local park?
  • If you feel intimidated or embarrassed by working out and are not sure how to start, you don't have to do it alone. Fitness apps, following an exercise program or taking group classes will all give you clear instructions and can help you stay motivated and consistent.
  • If you can afford it, personal training is a great way to learn the basics, find out the best exercises to suit your body, age, and goals, and make sure you avoid pain or injury.
  • If you're concerned about affordability, exercise doesn't have to be expensive. You don't need a personal trainer, special equipment, or boutique classes to get fit and move your body. Running, walking, swimming, and working out at home or in a park are all free forms of physical activity and can give you great results.

Benefits of working out when you're out of shape

There are so many benefits to working out and improving your fitness for both your physical and mental health [3].

It can support weight loss (if that is your goal), raise energy levels, reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and some types of cancer, and boost your overall health and well-being.

Regular exercise can aid mental health, help you sleep better, reduce stress, and release endorphins and serotonin into your body, which help boost your mood [4].

If you are out of shape, aerobic exercises like cycling, walking, swimming, and running give your heart, blood vessels and lungs a workout, help you develop a strong cardiovascular system, and lower your blood pressure and heart rate [5][6].

Strength training is also incredibly beneficial for our bodies [7]. Not only does it increase anaerobic endurance and bone health, but it can actually help you lose weight by increasing your muscle mass and speeding up your metabolism [8]. Having a higher muscle mass means your body has a higher total daily energy expenditure and burns more energy through simple everyday functions.

As an added bonus, strength training can also help develop better posture, improve confidence, and aid in everyday activities.

How much should you exercise?

The good news is that you don't need to spend hours in the gym every day to reach a healthy level of fitness.

Experts recommend adults should aim to do physical activity most days, or 150 minutes per week [9]. Some days, this can be things that might already be part of your everyday life such as walking the dog, cleaning, doing yard work or playing golf.

On other days, your exercise routine should include more vigorous activities such as playing soccer or netball, running, fast cycling, or taking a fitness class at the gym.

You should aim to include strength training exercises in your fitness routine 2 days per week, including movements such as push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups, squats or lunges, and lifting weights.

It is also important to take at least 1 rest day each week to give yourself a break and your sore muscles plenty of time to recover.

How long does it take to get into shape?

There is not one clear amount of time it takes to get into shape; it depends on a number of variables including your goals, age, your current fitness level, and the regularity of your physical activity.

You may see some results and progress within a couple of weeks, but for most people, it will take about 8-12 weeks to see significant changes [4].

However, it can take longer depending on other medical and lifestyle factors, so make sure to have self-compassion and be patient.

If you are new to working out or getting back into shape after a long time, it is important to go at your own pace, set achievable goals, and listen to your body.

If your exercise plan is not working for you, it also might help to speak to a professional and consider personal training, and even get a health check from your doctor to make sure you don't have any underlying medical issues you don't know about.

A simple exercise routine for beginners

If you want to start exercising but don't know how, we recommend keeping things simple to start.

Complicated workouts, a strict diet, and a rigid structure can be a shock to your body, lead to injury, and actually create too much stress, so it is important to set realistic goals when it comes to your new exercise routine.

To start with, that can be as simple as introducing a brisk walk into your morning or evening routine, and then adding in some lightweight training to improve your muscle strength.

For a detailed plan and to find out the best workouts for you and your body, it is best to speak to a professional.

And remember, the best type of exercise program is the one you enjoy and can actually stick to.

Easy ways to sneak more movement into your daily life

As we've touched on above, one of the main barriers to following an exercise program is lack of time. And we get it — sometimes, life truly is busy.

But even if you don't have time in the day to fit in a scheduled workout, there are still plenty of ways to move your body and sneak more movement into your daily life [10].

Incidental exercise can include things like taking the stairs instead of the lifts, getting off the bus or parking your car earlier and walking the rest of the way, walking around the room while you're on the phone, and even dancing around the house to your favourite song.

Over time, these small things can add up to make a big difference.

Tips to stay consistent and motivated

When you are embarking on a fitness journey and trying to establish exercise as part of your ongoing routine, it is important to know that motivation will come and go.

Things like new workout clothes, or wanting to look a certain way in time for a certain event, or having a particular performance goal can be great motivators, but they will also not work in the long term.

Consistency and following a maintainable, evidence-backed approach are key to achieving long-term results, maintaining physical fitness, and supporting your mental health.

This is where an option like Juniper's Weight Reset Programme might come in handy.

The Weight Reset Programme helps you lose weight with science on your side and offers evidence-based treatments to help you find a weight loss strategy that suits you. Eligible patients have the option of using GLP-1 medications which have been approved for use in the UK and are scientifically backed.

There is also an option to follow a non-medication plan and take high-protein, low-calorie meal replacement shakes to support your weight reset journey.

You will have access to health tracking, a supportive online community, and health coaching including specialist advice from qualified professionals.

Juniper is used by over 15,000 patients around the world, and 92% of participants have seen results in the first month.

If the Weight Reset Programme isn't quite right for you, you could also consider the health coaching programme, which involves a monthly consultation with a qualified health coach who can create a personalised plan to help you meet your individual goals.

Not only do coaches provide you with professional advice, but they can also keep you accountable and motivated. In fact, clinical trials have shown that their support can make a big difference, with patients seeing a health coach having excess weight loss of 15.7% compared to 2.5% in the control group [11].

Most importantly, they will provide you with support. Getting into shape when you haven't exercised in a while is not easy, and the journey might not be linear — but it will be worth it.