With warmer weather finally making an appearance and thoughts of bathing suits and shorts not far behind, many people are motivated to try and get in shape and lose weight.
For individuals who are just starting out, whether they are de-conditioned from taking the winter off or have never had a consistent exercise regimen, it is essential to begin slowly.

“Starting out slowly is one of the keys to avoid injury and get the maximum results,” explains Shana Weiss, MD, a NorthShore University HealthSystem (NorthShore) affiliated physician with a practice in Vernon Hills.

An internist, Dr. Weiss has an interest and specialized training in bariatric medicine and expertise in working with patients on weight loss and a return to healthy lifestyle. “In the beginning the amount of time people spend exercising is more important than the intensity,” she says.

Even five or ten minutes a day of brisk walking or other cardio-respiratory activity is a good place to start, particularly for busy people who may feel they have a hard time trying to fit exercise into their day, says Dr. Weiss. “The real goal is to build exercise into your daily lifestyle in a way that it will become a lasting habit.”

Setting your alarm just 10 minutes early for the first week may seem less daunting than thinking you need to get up an hour earlier to exercise. Dr. Weiss encourages patients to gradually increase their activity session, maybe to 15 minutes a day the second week and ultimately up to a recommended 45-60 minutes five to six times a week.

For patients looking to lose weight, interval training is a good way to get the heart rate up and burn calories, says Dr. Weiss. For those just starting to exercise, they can walk for two minutes and then jog or run for one and repeat the interval pattern, she adds. When using cardio machines like an elliptical trainer or stair master, Dr. Weiss says it is important to make sure the difference in resistance is enough to vary the intensity for a successful interval workout.

Once new exercisers do get up to a 45-60 minute session most days of the week, then it is also important to divide the time between aerobic and weight training activity, according to Dr. Weiss. She emphasizes that people do not have to join an expensive health club, which can be another barrier to sticking with an exercise program. From park district or YMCA classes to videos from the library that show beginners how to use soup cans or other household items as weights, there are many inexpensive options.

It’s a good idea to vary your exercise routines so that your muscles don’t get complacent doing the same thing day after day, says Dr. Weiss. Adding swimming or trying a new sport can be a viable way to change up an exercise plan.

Setting reasonable, measurable goals is helpful, but it’s also important to realize that weight loss and fitness goals can take time—from three to six months and more—to accomplish.

“People have a natural ebb and flow to their energy levels, and sometimes you may need to take a day off. It’s essential not to get down on yourself and to just keep going,” Dr. Weiss says. “Anything you do any day is better than nothing. You can also break up your exercise time into two or more sessions, fitting in a half hour in the morning and another in the evening.”

Dr. Weiss offers one other important caveat; for people who are severely de-conditioned or overweight it is important to see a physician and potentially get a stress test before beginning to exercise.