What do you want from a fitness program? A healthy heart … an amazing core … some fun … and a routine that keeps you motivated?

That’s a lot to expect from one fitness program. But it is possible, especially if you follow the advice of Jill Potter, RN, ACSM-CEP, AACVPR, CRP, Outpatient Cardiac Rehabilitation Nurse at Yavapai Regional Medical Center (YRMC).

Goodbye Old Exercise Ideas
Creating your best fitness program means shaking off old ideas you may have about exercise. “No pain, no gain,” is one popular fitness philosophy that’s ready for retirement.

“I say, ‘start low and go slow,’” said Potter. “If you start at the level you hope to achieve, you’ll probably experience extreme muscle soreness or an actual injury. A good rule of thumb is to increase your exercise by a couple of minutes each week.”

People also tend to gravitate toward exercise routines they did years ago. Jazzercise may have been your thing a decade ago, but as Potter gently reminds people, “that was then, this is now.”

Building Your Workout Plan
Before beginning a fitness program, people of every age should make sure they have no underlying health conditions—diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure or osteoporosis, for example. If you have a health condition, you’ll just need some extra guidance from your healthcare provider before diving in.

Every fitness plan should include:

  • Stretching –This increases flexibility, improves balance and decreases the chances of back injury.
  • Aerobic Exercise – Tone your muscles and keep your heart healthy with aerobic exercise.
  • Resistance Training – Also called strength training, this builds muscles, strengthens bones and helps manage weight.

Put Your Heart Into It
Potter, an American College of Sports Medicine certified exercise physiologist, believes fitness should be fun. Aerobic activities like biking, hiking, jogging, kayaking, swimming and walking increase your heart rate and are enjoyable.

A good first goal is to gradually get your heart rate up to 30 beats above its normal resting rate for at least 30 minutes. Potter recommends steadily increasing this to between 45 and 60 minutes of aerobic exercise, three to five times a week.

“Your heart is just another muscle in your body,” she said. “And how do you tone a muscle? You use it.”

Resistance Makes You Strong
In addition to aerobic exercise, your workout should include resistance training, weightlifting and muscle-strengthening exercises. You can build this into every workout or at least two times a week, as long as you focus on different muscle groups. For example, your resistance routine could look like this:

  • Day 1 – Exercises for the chest, shoulders and triceps.
  • Day 2 – Exercises for the back, biceps and legs.

Using Potter’s “start low and go slow” philosophy, forego weights and use your body weight when you first start resistance training. Lunges and shoulder presses, for example, can be done with or without weights, depending on your fitness level. And remember, yoga is excellent for resistance training and stretching.

Don’t Give Up!
“The most difficult part of any exercise program is sticking to it, making it part of your daily life,” Potter said.

How can you keep yourself motivated? Potter recommends:

  • Telling family and friends about your fitness plans and keeping them up-to-date on your progress.
  • Finding an exercise buddy who will keep you motivated on days you don’t want to workout.
  • Using an app to track your exercise activity or starting a fitness journal.

“Make yourself accountable to yourself,” said Potter. “Of course, keep a positive attitude and have fun.”