How to Start Exercising

Chad Birt

Written by Chad Birt on Fri Aug 18 2023.

Women hula hooping.

Regular exercise is a key component of healthy living. But if it's been a while since you’ve worked out, or you have a medical condition that affects your mobility, staying physically active can be a challenge. Thankfully, exercising is possible, even if you have special needs.

Below, we provide a step-by-step guide for getting started. It covers everything from warming up and cooling down to reducing the risk of injury and what type of gear you’ll need. 

What You’ll Need:

Before you start exercising, make sure that you have comfortable, breathable clothing. You also need a pair of athletic shoes that fit properly, support your feet, and reduce the risk of injury. 

Depending on the type of exercise you want to do, you might need some basic equipment, like resistance bands, a jump rope, or dumbbells, But you don’t need to splurge on expensive gear right away. 

Why You Should Ease Into Exercise

Rushing back into exercise increases your risk of accidents and injuries. Rather than pushing yourself to the limit, take things nice and slow.

“The most important thing is to start with simple exercises,” explains Adrian Todd, MSOT, OTR/L, a licensed occupational therapist and the founder and CEO of GreatMindsThinkHike

“Listen to your body and gradually progress as your fitness level improves. Consistency and patience are key, and it’s always beneficial to seek guidance from a licensed professional or certified trainer if you’re unsure where to begin.” 

Steps to Start Exercising Again

Step 1: Visit Your Doctor

If you want to get the most out of exercise, prioritizing your safety is essential. After all, the more you prepare, the greater your chances of success.

“Before beginning any new exercise regimen, visit your doctor, especially if you have any pre-existing medical conditions or concerns about your health,” Todd says. “Your primary care physician can provide valuable guidance and tailor recommendations to suit your needs.”

Step 2: Set Reasonable Goals

Once you’re cleared to exercise, it’s time to set goals that align with your current abilities and fitness level.

“It’s crucial to find a balance that suits your capabilities and goals,” Todd explains. “For beginners, a general guideline is to aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, spread throughout the week.”

That breaks down to about 30 minutes of exercise five days a week or about 20 minutes of exercise seven days a week.

“Remember, these recommendations can be adjusted based on your capabilities and any underlying health conditions you may have,” Todd adds. “Starting with shorter sessions and gradually increasing the duration and intensity of your workouts is a smart approach.”

Step 3: Warmup

Always warmup before starting any type of exercise. A good warmup increases blood flow to your muscles and helps prep them for activity. 

“There are several senior-friendly ways to warmup before exercise,” Todd says. “I recommend starting with gentle mobility exercises and dynamic stretching to improve range of motion and reduce the risk of muscle strains. For example, gentle neck rolls, shoulder circles, and leg swings can help loosen up the joints.”

“Walking is another excellent warm-up. Walking at a comfortable pace for a few minutes is a great low-impact way to increase blood flow and prepare your body for more strenuous activity. You can also try seated exercises like ankle circles, wrist curls, or arm raises to gently engage different muscle groups.”

Step 4: Begin With Simple Exercises That Are Easy On The Body

It can be tempting to push yourself to the limit if you used to be an athlete. But after a long period of inactivity, it’s better to do simple exercises that are easy on your body. According to Todd, this lets you build a solid foundation for more intense activities in the future.

There are four exercises that Todd recommends for all beginners:

Walking. Walking is one of the easiest exercises. It doesn't require any special equipment and you can do it almost anywhere.

“Walking at a comfortable pace helps improve cardiovascular health, strengthens the leg muscles, and enhances overall endurance,” Todd explains. “It’s low impact, reducing the risk of joint strain, and is an excellent choice for those easing back into physical activity.”

As you get better at walking, consider hiking. “This adds difficulty to the terrain and works more of your muscles,” Todd says. “You can even add trekking poles to get your upper body engaged.”

Bodyweight Squats. Bodyweight squats are an easy and effective way to work several different muscle groups. They build lower body strength and improve balance and coordination.

“To perform a squat, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart,” says Todd. “Lower your body by bending your knees and pushing your hips back as if you are sitting in an imaginary chair. Keep your back straight and chest up, then return to a standing position. Squats target the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glute muscles.”

Modified Push-Ups. Push-ups are a great way to build upper body strength without hand weights, but they can be challenging for beginners. A modified version makes them easier and more manageable. 

“Perform push-ups against a wall or an elevated surface like a countertop, focusing on maintaining proper form,” Todd says. “This exercise engages the chest, shoulders, and triceps, promoting upper body strength and stability.”

Chair Dips. For this exercise, all you need is a sturdy chair.

“Sit on the edge of the chair, place your hands beside your hips, and slide your bottom off the seat,” Todd explains. “Lower yourself towards the floor by bending your elbows and then push back up. Chair dips target the triceps and help build strength in the arms and shoulders.”

Todd says that these four exercises are ideal for beginners because they don’t require any special equipment or skills. They can be adjusted to suit individual fitness levels and lay the groundwork for more challenging exercises as your fitness improves.

Step 5: Pay Attention to Form

Correct exercise form is key to avoiding injuries. 

“Maintain proper alignment and posture during each exercise to reduce stress on your joints and muscles,” says Todd. “If you’re unsure about the right technique, seek guidance from a qualified professional, like an athletic trainer or an occupational therapist.”

Step 6: Progress Gradually and Listen to Your Body

Exercise can be a lot of fun, but it’s important you don’t push yourself too hard. Even if your body feels good, take things nice and easy.

“Gradually increase the intensity, duration, and frequency of your workouts,” Todd says. “This allows your body to adapt and build strength, reducing the risk of overuse injuries.”

At the same time, pay attention to any pain that you experience during exercise. Any sharp or persistent discomfort indicates an injury. Pushing through the pain will only make things worse. Rather than sidelining yourself indefinitely, stop the activity immediately and seek medical advice. 

Step 7: Cool Down After Every Workout

After you finish working out, take at least five minutes to cool down. Cooling down brings your heart rate back to its resting state. It takes stress off your joints and muscles and reduces the build-up of lactic acid, which makes your muscles sore. 

During cooldowns, take deep breaths and do some static stretching. Yoga or light walking can also slow your breathing and reduce the risk of muscle cramps and dizziness. 

How to Start Exercising - Commonly Asked Questions

1) Should I stop exercising if I have chronic health problems?

No. It’s important to exercise even if you have underlying medical issues, like diabetes or arthritis. You might have to avoid certain types of exercise, but there are plenty of activities that suit your current fitness level.

“With the right approach and medical advice, you can enjoy the benefits of exercise while ensuring your safety and well-being,” Todd says.

2) Should I eat before exercising?

Yes. Eating prior to exercise can help you get the most out of your workout. Have a small meal or snack about 30-60 minutes before. This will provide an energy boost and help you feel less sluggish. 

Avoid fast food and drinks with carbonation. The best pre-workout snacks are high in carbs and low in fat. For example, try a fruit smoothie, whole wheat toast, and peanut butter, or a bowl of low-fat yogurt and berries.

3) Do I need to make exercise a habit?

Yes. Making exercise a habit is the only way to reap the long-term rewards. Admittedly, getting into a regular exercise routine can be difficult. To make it easier, try exercising at the same time every day. Like after breakfast, for example. You might also benefit from an accountability buddy. A personal trainer or fitness coach can provide the encouragement you need to stay on track.

Contact Us If You Have Questions About Fitness or Exercise Equipment

Are you trying to get back into exercise after months or years away? Whether you’re recovering from orthopedic surgery or trying to prevent arthritis from worsening, physical activity can help. 

Here at Carewell, we regularly assist family caregivers and their loved ones with physical fitness and exercise-related inquiries. Our friendly Care Specialists can recommend products and help you get the most out of your shopping experience. 

Call (800) 696-CARE or send an email to We’re available 24/7 and here to assist. Don’t wait to get in touch! 

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Chad Birt
Chad Birt

Chad Birt is a freelance medical writer who resides in Astoria, Oregon. When he isn't behind a keyboard, you can find him hiking, camping, or birdwatching with his wife Ella and their two dogs, Diane and Thoreau.