Exercise Basics

The decision to start exercising—or get more serious about it—is an important one. It can have many positive effects on your life; helping you to feel healthier, look better, and feel better. It is a great way to burn off energy or frustration after a long day of work. Even if you have a busy schedule, exercise is time well spent.

Before we go any farther, lets review the health benefits of exercise. Remembering these facts can keep you going when you are sweating away in the gym.

Some of the benefits of exercise include: [1],[2]

  • Weight loss as well as maintaining a healthy weight.
  • Lowering blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels.
  • Increasing your energy.
  • Reducing stress and improving your mood.
  • Maintaining bone mass.
  • Improving the quality of your sleep.
  • Giving you a better quality of life through improved strength, endurance, and flexibility.
  • Promoting healthy aging.

As you probably know, there are many different types of exercise. Here is some information to help you get started on the right foot.

Aerobic Exercise

Cardio, (also called aerobic exercise), is designed to get your blood pumping, build endurance, and help you loose weight/maintain a healthy weight. Types of cardio include, walking, running, cycling, and swimming. Cardio is generally performed continuously for a set amount of time; studies have shown the most effective amount of time is around 30 minutes. It strengthens the heart and lungs and burns calories.

Each week, healthy adults should try to include 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity, or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity, in their exercise regimens.[3] Exercising several days a week will maximize the benefit of the time you spend. Even if you have to break your exercise into short sessions, continue exercising. Even ten-minute sessions have been demonstrated to improve health.[4]

Interval training is a type of aerobic exercise that has been generating a lot of interest lately. The benefits include burning more calories in less time, while increasing your aerobic capacity.[5] Essentially, you alternate between segments of vigorous exercise and segments at a slower, more relaxed pace. Depending on your fitness needs, interval training may be a good option to consider alongside traditional methods of cardio.

To get started, hop on a bike or put on your running shoes. Remember to warm up for a few minutes before you start. Begin with a pace that challenges you but one you can maintain. Do the best you can. Don’t be discouraged if you can only walk, even walking is considered a great aerobic exercise. Set easy goals for yourself so you can see the progress you are making and do not get overwhelmed. When you look back over time, you will be very pleased with the results.

Strength Training

Another common type of exercise is strength training. Besides developing stronger muscles, strength training increases your metabolism, helps you lose weight, and maintains strong bones. Strength training doesn’t need to take too much time either. Although some people spend hours in the gym every day, 2 to 3, hour-long sessions a week is enough for most people.

Although many people associate strength training with the gym, there are many exercises you can do at home. You can buy many types of equipment, such as free weights, small machines, exercise bands, or kettle bells. There are even some exercises that require little to no equipment, like Pilates or bodyweight exercises. While many gyms offer classes for these types of exercises, you can easily purchases videos and follow along at home. The internet is a great resource as well.

If you are using weights, do several different exercises focusing on a major muscle group. Try to do 3 sets of 8-12 repetitions for each exercise, with short rests between sets. Don’t hurt yourself, but make sure you feel the ‘burn’ in your muscles. This will show you that you are giving your muscles a good workout.[6] After lifting weights, you should skip a day to let your muscles recover. If you want to train again the next day, be sure to target a different muscle group.

To get started, get to know the equipment you will be using. Read the equipment’s instructions, ask a gym employee, or follow along with a video. Remember, you can learn a lot from the people around you and most will be more than happy to share their knowledge.


Stretching is an important component to exercise that tends to be overlooked by many people. However, it is important for many reasons. Stretching improves and maintains your range of motion; this is important because strength and aerobic training cause your muscles to tighten up. While it is no longer recommended to stretch before a workout, stretching after a workout will help maintain flexibility.[7] Stretching will keep you flexible and agile as you age. As a bonus, it also boosts circulation and can promote better posture and relieve stress.[8]

When stretching, do not bounce or extend a stretch so far that it hurts. Stay still and keep breathing freely as you hold the stretch. It is recommended to stretch 3 times a week, but more frequently is even better. You can learn more about how to stretch from websites or fitness books. Most gyms also have posters demonstrating different types of stretches. Or better yet, you could ask someone who knows.

The best way to get started stretching is simple: remember to do it after your workout. The extra time you take to stretch after exercising will be a great benefit to you. It will give your body a chance to cool down and will help you relax. Remembering to do it will pay off, as you will maintain better flexibility, movement, and balance.

Nutrition and Rest

With all this being said, one thing is important for us to remember. We need to take a holistic approach to our health. There is no cure-all in living a healthy life, but there are several healthy practices that are connected and affect each other. Beginning an exercise regimen is a big step, but there are other pieces to the puzzle.

Diet is very important. Besides being a major part of weight loss process, the nutrition you receive from a balanced diet will give you the energy and strength you need for a successful workout. A proper diet will also help you feel and perform your best, every day.

Rest is another issue that is often overlooked. It sounds simple, but some of us get so focused on exercising that we forget to let our bodies recover. We need to remember to schedule a day or two for rest in our exercise schedules. It gives your body a chance to repair itself and build muscle.

The Bottom Line

Find something you can do and do it. Over time, try to add different exercises to your regimen. Work all parts of your body through a combination of different exercises. If you can get a good mix of aerobic exercise, strength training, and stretching you will be well on your way to improving your health and feeling better about yourself.

Think about this: it’s been shown that for every minute you exercise, you gain two minutes of longevity. So get started today, you don’t have to dive off the deep end, but start at a level you can handle. That way, you’ll avoid burning out after a few weeks. It’s also good to remember that household chores, yard work, home repairs, cleaning, or playing with children count as exercise too. Remember, starting anything new is difficult at first, but it will get easier, and your improvements will continue to motivate you.

[1] “Exercise 101.” About.com Exercise.

[2] “Exercise Basics.” Cleveland Clinic, 2011.

[3] “Fitness Basics.” Mayo Clinic, March 19, 2011.

[4] “Fitness Basics.” Mayo Clinic, March 19, 2011.

[5] “Rev up Your Workout With Interval Training.” Mayo, June 7, 2012.

[6] “Exercise Basics.” Cleveland Clinic, 2011.

[7] “Exercise Basics.” Cleveland Clinic, 2011.

[8] “Fitness Basics.” Mayo Clinic, March 19, 2011.

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Jon Ewald, MD

Jon Ewald grew up in Minnesota and has a love for the outdoors. He obtained his medical degree at Loma Linda University, graduating in 2020. He is currently completing his residency in Radiology at University of Pittsburgh.

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