Three generational family having fun playing a game of catch

You’ve been moving more, climbing stairs and taking walking breaks at work. But really getting started on a new exercise routine — especially if you’ve been a happy couch potato for years — can seem overwhelming.

You may be disheartened at your level of fitness, or think you haven’t got enough grit to stay on course. Take a deep breath, and let’s break down the ways you can set realistic goals and reach them safely.

Related: Get Up and Go! Tips to Get Started on Your Exercise Journey

Get SMART

Asian woman working out with weights in the gym

One of the biggest mistakes you can make as a newbie is biting off more than you can chew.

This usually involves setting goals that are too big and unrealistic — and often unsafe, for example “I want to place in the Sundown Marathon next month!” or “I want to look like a supermodel in two months!”

Your goals should be SMART:

Specific and Measurable

Use quantifiable numbers like 20 minutes or 5 kg.

Related: What is a Healthy Weight?

Attainable

Set a reachable, safe goal: you know yourself best!

If you work OT most nights, it may not be realistic to commit to a 45-minute gym session daily after work. Split your workouts: 10 minutes in the morning, 15 minutes during lunch, and 20 minutes after work.

Another example: losing 2 kg per month is attainable; aiming to lose 10 kg per month is unsafe.

Related: How to Lose Weight the Healthy Way

Relevant

Work towards something you care about. If you’re happy with your weight, a weight-loss goal wouldn’t be relevant or motivational — an exercise goal might be more inspiring (e.g. run 5 km within three months).

Related: Exercise vs Diet

Time-bound

Set a deadline so you’re motivated to start. What’s your end-point, your grand prize?

An example that gets you the recommended 150 minutes of physical activity per week would be: “Exercise for 45 minutes each day, four days a week by end-December.”

With your end-goal in mind, start working towards the goal.

Related: Stop Wishing, Start Doing

Start so Small You Can’t Fail

Start with a small and easy first step, e.g. do one wall squat every morning. The idea is to get used to moving and gradually work your way up: from one wall squat, to five, to a full 15-minute routine.

Related: Exercise - It's Easier Than You Think!

Mind Your Body

Asian man resting after going for a vigorous run

Pain is Not Gain

Soreness is normal, pain isn’t. Listen to your body, and stop if you feel pain — it could be a sign of injury or muscle exhaustion.

Push yourself, but not to the point of hurting yourself (as your buddy might tell you, “don’t be too keh kiang”).

You might also want to tweak your goals to lower the intensity or impact. For example, instead of jogging, try badminton, tai chi or cycling. And consult your doctor before starting a workout routine!

Related: Move in Your Time

Take Care of Your Body

Warm up before your workout to prepare your muscles and avoid injuries, and cool down post-workout with stretches to minimise aches. Remember to drink water before, during, and after your workout to stay hydrated.

Check out this video for some warm up exercises you can include in your workout routine.

Dynamic Warm Up Exercises 

Related: Water - The Best Refreshment

Dress For Success

Young man going on a backpacking trip

Put on suitable and comfortable clothes and shoes when exercising, use proper equipment, and wear protective gear (e.g. helmets and guards) if needed.

Try to avoid going outdoors between 10.30 am and 3.30 pm — that’s when sun’s rays are the strongest. If you must head out, remember to put on sunblock, and grab a hat and a pair of shades.

Do consult your doctor before starting any exercise regime, and practise caution when exercising. Remember, safety first!


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