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How to Begin an Exercise Programme

By Beth Greenaway

In the New Year, and with the excesses of Christmas just a memory, many turn their attention to weight loss and fitness goals. New exercisers fill gyms for the first weeks of January, but for many their resolutions are quickly broken. So how do you start an exercise programme which you can stick to, especially if you have previously been sedentary?

First talk to your GUCH consultant about any restrictions or limitations which you have. There are a few conditions where exercise is not advised, but more likely you will be encouraged and receive advice regarding duration and intensity. You may need a treadmill test to determine your exercise capacity and suitability to begin a programme, or you may be told that you can exercise without restriction.

Many people feel that they need to join a gym, or buy expensive equipment to begin exercising, but this is not the case. Choose an exercise that you enjoy, and fits into your life. Walking is one of the best because it is easy, cheap, relaxing, safe on the joints and good for your heart. You may prefer swimming, dancing or tennis. All are good, providing they can be done at moderate intensity.

A great way to gain motivation is to identify achievable fitness goals. Many people break their resolutions because their expectations or goals are too challenging. Twenty minutes of moderate exercise accumulated over the day is preferable to more strenuous exercise done less frequently. Incorporate bouts of activity into your daily routine. Even household chores such as vacuuming or mopping count. Try going on a bike ride with a friend, or park your car further from the shops. If you are wheelchair bound, there are still exercises you can do if you check with your doctor or cardiac nurse. If you would like to start a more formal exercise programme such as jogging, cycling or swimming, you MUST check with your cardiologist first, but then bear the following points in mind:

Start Easily, and Build Up Gradually

When you start out, it's important to take it slowly and listen to your body. You did not become unfit and overweight overnight, so do not expect instant results. If you have previously been inactive, it will take many weeks to see improvements. Depending upon your current activity level, you could begin by walking for 5 minutes and resting for 1, repeating this several times. Gradually build up the number of repetitions and duration of the walks. When you are starting out, it is advisable to choose a shorter route and repeat it, rather than going far and feeling too tired to get back.

Current guidelines say you should aim to be able to complete 30 minutes of moderate exercise four or five times per week, but it may take you some time to reach that level. To see real improvements in cardiovascular fitness, you should increase the intensity of at least three of these sessions to include 20 minutes at 60-85% maximum heart rate. (We will be providing more information on monitoring exercise intensity in the next issue of GUCH news).

Drink Plenty Of Fluids

Both before and during exercise. Do not allow yourself to get thirsty before you drink, as this is a sign of dehydration. As a guide, you should aim to drink a large cup of water every 15 minutes, and more when hot or humid.

Wear Appropriate Clothing

I am often horrified by the kind of footwear I see people exercising in: They are setting themselves up for discomfort and injury. The pair of trainers which you have owned for years is unlikely to be suitable for serious walking or jogging. Go to a specialist sports store and buy something appropriate for your chosen activity.

Warm Up And Cool Down

The warm up enables your heart rate and blood pressure to increase gradually, and your heart and lungs prepare for the work. Spend five or ten minutes slowly raising the intensity of activity to a level you can sustain for the workout. Do the same in reverse to cool down, returning your body to its pre-exercise levels. This will distribute heat and prevent blood pooling in your legs, which can lead to cardiac symptoms, dizziness or nausea.

Stretch Before And After Workouts

To increase flexibility and prevent injury or soreness. Most fitness books will show you how to stretch the major muscle groups in the body. Dynamic stretches with movement, such as arm swings or leg raises, can easily be incorporated into the warmup routine. Static stretches, where you stretch to the furthest point and hold the stretch for 30 seconds, are best used after the cool down.

Use A Variety Of Activities

It is a good idea to have a variety of exercise options, for example an outdoor exercise such as walking or bicycling, and an indoor exercise such as swimming or stationary rowing. Not only can you still exercise during inclement weather, but also combat boredom. Different activities will work a variety of muscle groups and reduce the risk of injury.

Keep An Exercise Diary

It is helpful to have a method of measuring your improvement: For instance by keeping an exercise diary to show your weekly and monthly achievements. Consistency is the key. When you look back you will be amazed how far you have come. Take a long term view so you don't get dispirited if you are not well and unable to exercise for a few days.

Make Exercise Fun!

Tips to stay motivated include finding a 'buddy' or family member to exercise with. If indoors then use music or watch television. Write an exercise journal, set goals, keep a regular schedule, and reward your achievements. You must enjoy the path to fitness. If you have problems with pain or abnormal exhaustion during exercise then consult your doctor, or an exercise specialist, about adjusting the program to your current abilities.

Please email me if you have any questions and I will do my best to answer them: beth@merlinfitness.com

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