If you’re just starting an exercise plan or coming back after a hiatus, you’ll want to assess your fitness levels so you’ll know where to begin. Having a baseline of information can help you figure out where to start. Of course, get medical clearance from your doctor before embarking on any exercise plan.
If you’re recently back from illness, injury or vacation, start slow and build up. Don’t be too hard on yourself for losing ground, just get back to your activities starting at a comfortable level. Believe in your abilities!
First up, answer the following three questions to see where you stack up right now:
1. How many hours a day do you spend sitting?
2. How much time and how often are you active?
3. When you’re active, what kinds of activities do you do?
Next, let’s assess your fitness levels.
Test your endurance. Pick a fixed course—one lap around the block, down to the corner and back, or from one end of the mall to the other. Time how long it takes you to walk it and jot it down.
Test your upper body strength with arm curls. Holding comfortable hand weights at your sides, palms forward, bend your elbows and lift the weights toward your chest. Hold for one second, then lower. Count how many you can do in two minutes.
Test your lower body strength with chair stands. Sitting toward the front of a sturdy, armless chair with your knees bent and feet flat on floor, lean back with your hands crossed over your chest. Keep your back and shoulders straight. Bring your upper body forward until you’re sitting upright, extend your arms parallel to the floor, and slowly stand up, exhaling. Breathe in and sit down. That’s one chair stand. Count how many you can do in two minutes. Record your number.
Check your balance. How long can you safely stand on each foot while standing next to a sturdy object, like a chair, to grab in case you lose your balance? Write it down.
Test your flexibility. Sit toward the front of a sturdy chair, and stretch one leg straight out in front of you with your heel on the floor and your toes pointing up. Bend the other leg and place that foot flat on the floor. Slowly bend from your hips and reach as far as you can toward the toes of your outstretched leg. Note how far you can reach before you feel a stretch.
Keep a log of your results. If the exercises were difficult, start slowly and build up over time. If they were easy, your fitness level is higher and you can challenge yourself with more repetition and longer distances. Recheck your numbers every two weeks to note improvement.
Make a Plan to Exercise
Writing down your plan or making a contract with yourself to begin an exercise program is a great idea to keep on track.
• Select activities you like to do so you’ll be apt to stick with them at first. If you love the outdoors, plan hikes, walking, swimming and gardening. If you like to exercise with friends, plan tennis time or a walk together or take a yoga class. Prefer the gym? Schedule in firm gym times three days per week.
• Update your plan as you become fitter. Add more activities and increase the time you currently exercise as it becomes easier.
• Write down short-term goals, such as: add more weight, increase walks, practice more reps, and add more physical activities you enjoy each week.
• If you can stick with physical activity for six months, it’s likely you can keep it up long term. The best way to make it happen is to practice physical pursuits you like and that give you pleasure. Make it fun and social.
• Focus on the benefits of exercise. You should enjoy more energy, be able to complete daily tasks with ease, feel more youthful, and have an improved mood and outlook on life. These are no small feats.
• Keep monitoring your achievements and setting new goals. Writing them down makes them seem more concrete.
• The best way to stay with it is to celebrate each accomplishment. You played tennis twice and walked three times this week? That’s amazing. Treat yourself to a frozen yogurt or a movie with a friend.