Fitness: Adding More Activity to Your Life

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Fitness: Adding More Activity to Your Life


If you have decided to get more active, congratulations! Making that decision is an important first step in becoming a healthier person.

Keep these key points in mind:

  • Being fit helps you look and feel your best and reduces your risk for a heart attack, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and some cancers.
  • Knowing why you want to get more active can help you make a change.
  • Start with small, short-term goals that you can reach pretty easily. It's easier to stick to something new when you have early, frequent successes.
  • Support from family and friends can go a long way toward helping you find success in becoming more active. Don't be afraid to let them know what you're trying to do—and ask for their help.
  • If you're worried about how more activity might affect your health, have a checkup before you start. Follow any special advice that your doctor gives you for getting a smart start.

Doing an exercise or some other physical activity once isn't so hard. The hard part is making changes in your daily life so that you start moving more—and keep moving more as part of your daily routine.

Jumping in too far too fast doesn't usually work, especially over the long haul.

Starting an exercise program—or any kind of change in the way you live your daily life—is like being on a path. The path leads to success. And there are three steps you have to take first:

  1. Have your own reasons for doing this.
  2. Set goals. Include long-term goals as well as short-term goals that you can measure easily.
  3. Think about what might get in your way, and prepare for slip-ups.

Test Your Knowledge

The hardest part about exercising is making it a permanent part of your life.

  • True
    This answer is correct.

    Anybody can exercise once. The hard part is making regular activity a part of your daily life. By thinking about it ahead of time and planning how you will do it, you can be successful.

  • False
    This answer is incorrect.

    Changing your daily habits is harder than doing something once or twice. But by thinking about it ahead of time and planning how you will do it, you can be successful.


Continue to Why?


Your reason for wanting to become more active is really important. Don't do it just because your spouse or boyfriend or parent wants you to. What makes you want to get more active?

  • You have a specific health concern (your heart, high blood pressure or high cholesterol, diabetes, depression, your bones and muscles, or something else).
  • You want to feel better and have more energy.
  • You want to lose weight or stay at a certain weight.
  • Your doctor told you that it's important for your health.
  • You have another reason for wanting to do this.

It's not easy to make changes. But taking the time now to really think about what will motivate or inspire you will help you stay active for the long term.

Test Your Knowledge

To be successful at making activity a regular part of your life, you have to know why it's important to you.

  • True
    This answer is correct.

    Your motivation for becoming more active is very important to your success.

  • False
    This answer is incorrect.

    Actually, the answer is "true." It's not enough to decide to start exercising just because your spouse or your girlfriend wants you to. You have to have your own reasons for doing it.


Continue to How?


As we said before, you're not as likely to succeed if you jump in too far too fast. In this section, you'll learn about the steps to follow in setting up an exercise plan.

  • Set your goals.
  • Pick an activity, and prepare for it.
  • Think about your barriers.
  • Get support—from others and from yourself.

Set your goals

When you are clear about your reasons for wanting to get active, it's time to set your goals.

What is your long-term goal? A long-term goal is something you want to reach in 6 to 12 months. For example, someone who isn't active at all right now may have a goal of entering an organized 5-kilometer walk in 6 months.

Whatever you choose for your goal, experts recommend doing either of these things to get and stay healthy:1

  • Moderate activity for at least 2½ hours a week. Moderate activity means things like brisk walking, brisk cycling, or shooting baskets. But any activities—including daily chores—that raise your heart rate can be included.
  • Vigorous activity for at least 1¼ hours a week. Vigorous activity means things like jogging, cycling fast, cross-country skiing, or playing a basketball game. You breathe faster and your heart beats much faster with this kind of activity.

It's fine to be active in several blocks of 10 minutes or more throughout your day and week. And you can choose to do one or both types of activity.

If you decide to aim for these recommendations, what are the short-term goals that will help you get there? Short-term goals are things you want to do tomorrow and the day after.

For example, if you want to build up to walking 30 minutes every day, you might start by walking just 10 minutes a day, a few days a week. After a week, you can set a new goal by adding just a few minutes every day or adding another day to your schedule.

Read more about setting goals.

Here are some quick tips about activity goals:

  • Stretch, breathe, and lift. Think about doing things in three areas:
  • Talk, don't sing. If you can talk while you're being active, you're moving at a good pace. If you can sing, you might want to pick up the pace a bit.
  • Don't forget—any activity counts, as long as it makes you breathe harder and gets your heart pumping.

Pick an activity and prepare for it

For ideas on fitting more activity into your day, see the topic Fitness.

Think about barriers

Take the time to think about what things could get in the way of your success. We call these things barriers. And by thinking about them now, you can plan ahead for how to deal with them if they happen. Read more about common barriers and what you can do about them.

Here are some tips for dealing with barriers:

  • It's perfectly normal to try something, stop it, and then get mad at yourself. Lots of people try and try again before they reach their goals.
  • If you feel like giving up, don't waste energy feeling bad about yourself. Remember your reason for wanting to change, think about the progress you've made, and give yourself a pep talk and a pat on the back. Then you may feel like going for a walk.
  • When you hit a barrier—and most people do—get support. Talk to your family members and friends to see if someone wants to be active with you or cheer you on. If you have concerns about your health, talk to your doctor to make sure that you're doing your activities safely.
  • Don't forget little rewards. Something to look forward to can keep you moving right along.

It might help you to write down your goals and your barriers(What is a PDF document?).

Get support—from others and from yourself

The more support you have, the easier it is to exercise.

If your family members tell you that they love how you're getting healthier, you'll probably be motivated to bound up the stairs at work or walk an extra 10 minutes.

And there's more support out there. You can even ask for encouragement. Here are a few things to look for:

  • Walk or do your activities with a partner. It's motivating to know that someone is counting on you. That person can remind you how good it feels to exercise or how far you've come. And that person can even motivate you with what he or she has accomplished.
  • Friends and family may be a great resource. They can exercise with you or encourage you by saying how they admire you. Friends can tell you how good you look because you're exercising. Don't be afraid to tell family and friends that their encouragement makes a big difference to you.
  • You might join a class or workout group. People in these groups often have some of the same barriers you have. They can give you support when you don't feel like exercising. They can boost your morale when you need a lift.
  • Give yourself positive reinforcement. Reward yourself! Buy new workout clothes, take yourself to the movies, or treat yourself to a new DVD. Do whatever it takes to remind yourself that you've been meeting your goals. You're successful!
  • Your doctor or a fitness professional can help you plan a routine and learn proper form and technique. He or she can help you track progress toward your health goals.

You might find a fitness professional at a local health club or in phone listings. When deciding on fitness professionals, ask about how they were trained and what certifications they have. Check into experience and ask for a few references.

Support is everywhere. You just have to look for it.

Test Your Knowledge

Setting your goals is an important first step in forming your exercise plan.

  • True
    This answer is correct.

    You're more likely to be successful if you sit down and figure out what your long-term goals are and what small steps you can take to reach those goals.

  • False
    This answer is incorrect.

    It may seem like a waste of time to sit down and figure out what your goals are, but you're more likely to be successful if you do.


Before you start an exercise program, you need to identify your barriers. This means:

Continue to Where?


Now that you have read this information, you are ready to plan your exercise program.

Talk with your doctor

If you have questions about this information, print it out and take it with you when you visit your doctor. You may want to mark areas or make notes in the margins where you have questions.

If you would like more information on exercising and fitness, the following resources are available:


U.S. Department of Health and Human Services—Be Active Your Way: A Guide for Adults
P.O. Box 1133
Washington, DC 20013-1133
Phone: 1-800-336-4797
(301) 565-4167
Web Address:

The Department of Health and Human Services is the United States government's main agency for protecting the health of all Americans and providing essential human services. On this National Health Information website you will find a link to "Be Active Your Way: A Guide for Adults." This guide provides the basic information in the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. And it gives examples of physical activity to help you get started.

American College of Sports Medicine: Exercise Is Medicine Public Action Guide
American College of Sports Medicine
401 West Michigan Street
Indianapolis, IN 46202-3233
Phone: (317) 637-9200, ext. 127 or 133
Web Address:

On this American College of Sports Medicine website you will find a link to the "Public Action Guide," a tool for using exercise to help prevent or manage many health problems. The goal of Exercise Is Medicine is to make physical activity and exercise a standard part of disease prevention and treatment in the United States.

America on the Move: Steps to a Healthier Life
Phone: 1-800-807-0077
Web Address:

America On the Move offers free, personalized online resources, interactive tools, community support, and events. This program helps you build eating and activity habits that positively affect your weight and health.

Return to topic:



  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2008). 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans (ODPHP Publication No. U0036). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. Available online:


ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerE. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerHeather Chambliss, PhD - Exercise Science
Last RevisedOctober 25, 2011

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