Aerobic Exercise

  • Medical Author:
    Richard Weil, MEd, CDE

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

View the 7 Most Effective Exercises Slideshow

How do I get started on an aerobic exercise program?

My suggestion for getting started is almost always the same. Keep it simple, keep it practical, keep it convenient, keep it realistic, keep it specific, and don't try to make up for years of inactivity all at once. Select any activity and amount of time where the probability of sticking with it is high. You may not love walking, but if you can do it right outside your door, and it requires no special equipment, and you already know how to do it (you've been walking your entire life!), then walking might be your best bet for getting started because it's so convenient.

What I mean by "be specific" pertains to setting exercise plans. Planning is helpful for behavior change, and I suggest that you set goals each week. I suggest writing down what day(s) of the week you'll exercise, what time of day, minutes of activity, location, and the activity that you'll do. Be as specific and realistic as possible, and remember that it's not how much you do when you get started but that you simply get started (getting started is usually the hardest part).

A sample plan might look like this:

  • Monday: Take a 20-minute brisk walk at 7 a.m. around the block four times.
  • Tuesday: Do the same as on Monday.
  • Wednesday: Take a 20-minute walk at 6:30 p.m. (right before dinner) around the block.
  • Thursday: Take the day off.
  • Friday: Take a 20-minute walk at 7 a.m. around the block.
  • Saturday: Walk with your family at 10 a.m. for 45 minutes in park.
  • Sunday: Bike ride with your spouse for 60 minutes in park at noon. Mom will baby-sit.

Another plan I like is the five-minute out, five-minute back plan. Just like it sounds, you walk for five minutes from your starting point, turn around, and walk back. It's simple and doable for almost everyone. It's a change in your activity behavior even though it's not all that much, and you can increase as you get more used to it. From five minutes you could go to seven and a half out, seven and a half back, a total of 15 minutes just like that. And you can keep your eye on 15 out, 15 back, and there you go meeting the Surgeon General's recommendation of 30 minutes. If you're feeling ambitious, you can add some abdominal crunches and push-ups once you get back. For push-ups, if you can't do a standard one on the floor, modify them by leaning against a wall, leaning against a table, or on your knees on the floor. The lower you go the harder they are. Start with two to three sets of crunches and push-ups, 12-15 repetitions, three to four days a week. As they get easier, you can increase the intensity of crunches by going slower or putting your legs in the air with your knees bent. As push-ups get easier, you can go to the next lower level (for example, from wall to table to on your knees on the floor).

I suggest keeping records of your weekly progress by writing down what happens, or at least checking off that you followed through, and then setting your weekly plan every week for at least three months. Then at three months, you can evaluate your progress and see if any changes need to be made. How will you know if you're ready to stop setting weekly goals each week? Ask yourself if you believe you will be exercising regularly in six months. If the answer is "I'm not sure," or "no," then you ought to continue to set weekly goals. If you are confident that you can maintain the behavior and will be exercising in six months, then you may not need to set weekly goals, but at the first sign of slipping, you ought to go back to it.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 1/26/2015
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