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The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Fitness

graphic with beginners guide to fitness text and iconography

By Mindy Arndt, BS, CHC, CPT, GFI, wellness coordinator at Network Health
Originally published on 7/27/2021 at 9:00 a.m.

If you are looking to begin a fitness routine, you may wonder where to start. This guide will help you begin by covering the benefits, types of exercises, safety precautions and other things you may need to know as you’re beginning.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Why Begin a Fitness Journey?

Chapter 2: Starting a Fitness Routine

Chapter 3: Hazards While Exercising

Chapter 4: Finding Your Groove with Additional Fitness Activities

Chapter 1: Why Begin a Fitness Journey?

Fitness is about feeling great and living your best life. Experts recommend a focus on fitness at every stage of our lives.

Exercise and fitness have many benefits. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists the following benefits of physical activity.

  • Healthy weight maintenance
  • Reduced cardiovascular risk
  • Reduced Type 2 diabetes risk
  • Decreased risk of cancer
  • Stronger bones and muscles
  • Improved mental health and mood
  • Increased longevity and lifetime health benefits

The list doesn’t stop there. Most people report discovering additional benefits when they get regular exercise.

How Much Should I Plan to Exercise?

Before diving into your personal fitness journey, it is helpful to know what to expect and how to fit exercise into an already full schedule.  

For most healthy adults, the Department of Health and Human Services suggests these exercise guidelines.

Aerobic activity

Aerobic activity involves activities that increase your heart rate.

Get at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity a week, or a combination of moderate and vigorous activity. The guidelines suggest spreading your exercise out during the week.

Moderate aerobic exercise includes activities such as brisk walking, swimming and mowing the lawn (or shoveling in the winter). Vigorous aerobic exercise includes activities like running, biking and aerobic dancing.

Strength training

Do strength training exercises for all major muscle groups at least twice a week. Aim to do a single set of each exercise, using a weight- or resistance level heavy enough to tire your muscles after about 12 to 15 repetitions.

Strength training doesn’t have to be intimidating. It can include the use of free weights, weight machines, your own body weight, resistance tubing, resistance paddles in the water or activities such as rock climbing.

How many minutes a day should I exercise?

As a general goal, aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity every day. If you want to lose weight or meet specific fitness goals, you may need to exercise more.

Want to aim even higher? You can achieve more health benefits, including increased weight loss, if you ramp up your exercise to 300 minutes a week (about 45 minutes a day).

Beat the Seat

Enjoying a healthy fitness journey isn’t just about doing the right things, however. It’s also about avoiding the wrong things. Reducing the amount of time you spend sitting is important. The more hours you sit each day, the higher your risk of metabolic problems, even if you achieve the recommended amount of daily physical activity.

This can be difficult if you have a desk job, but not impossible. For example, every 60-90 minutes you work at your desk, step away to stretch or move. Movement, even just five minutes, can help you re-focus and re-energize.

Moreover, the more movements you make throughout the day, the more likely you are to hit your exercise goals. Remember, small bouts of movement matter.

Sitting disease

Bodies are designed for movement. Not moving increases the risk of sitting disease, a term coined by the scientific community which is commonly used when referring to metabolic syndrome and the ill effects of an inactive lifestyle.

With the workforce transitioning from a manufacturing economy to a service-based economy, this disease has been an unexpected health threat that many experts consider extremely concerning. Since the 1950s, the amount of people who spend their work time sitting has increased over 83 percent. Less than 20 percent of the modern workforce has a job that meets the standards to be considered physically active. The average person now sits for up to 12 hours a day.

You don’t need a desk job to be at risk of sitting disease, however. Drivers and those who unwind after work by spending time in front of the TV or computer are also at risk of experiencing the adverse health effects of this sedentary time.

What are the risks of a sedentary lifestyle?

Sitting disease and the prevalence of sedentary lifestyles have become serious worldwide health concerns. Physical inactivity is now the fourth leading risk factor for global mortality, seeing over 3.2-million deaths a year resulting from a lack of movement.

A 2015 study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that—even after adjusting for physical activity—sitting for long periods could lead to life-threatening health issues including heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and cancer.

Even if you are engaging in 30 minutes of physical activity a day, what you do for the other 23.5 hours matters. People with high levels of activity will have an increased risk of cardiovascular issues, for instance, if they sit for ten or more hours a day.

Get up and move

If you have a fitness tracker you’re probably aware that experts recommend you take at least 10,000 steps a day.

The average person takes about 2,000 steps per mile. A person with a sedentary lifestyle may only average between 1,000 to 3,000 steps a day.

Until recently, experts considered formal exercise sessions to be the solution to sitting all day. New research, however, is showing it is better to move more throughout the day than to exercise and then sit the rest of the day.

Finding time to get up and move throughout the day has several benefits including the following.

  • Health – Moving more can lower your risk of serious health issues ranging from cancer to early mortality.
  • Mind – Standing and walking more can increase your energy and productivity levels, lower your stress and improve your mood.
  • Body – Standing and walking more can boost your metabolism, tone muscles and even reduce common aches and pains.

How do I avoid a sedentary lifestyle if I have a sitting job?

Even brief periods of activity offer benefits and can prevent some or all the negative effects of a sedentary lifestyle and sitting disease. Your job may not allow you to take a 30-minute walk, but instead, three 10-minute walks can give your mind and body the breaks it needs.

The most important thing is finding ways to make regular physical activity part of your lifestyle.

Eliminate the Fitness Fighters

Fitness fighters are anything that gets in the way of time for regular activity and exercise. One of the most common fitness fighters is television.

The average American watches five hours of television every day. Using a fraction of this time for exercise instead, however, allows you to work toward your personal fitness goals while helping to prevent sitting disease.

With many homes having DVR or streaming services that allow on-demand viewing, catching up on your favorite shows is easier than ever. You can even watch your favorite shows while you exercise. Most gyms have televisions connected to their cardio machines, allowing you to tune in and schedule your gym time around your favorite shows.

Another fitness fighter is the natural ebb and flow of energy levels everybody experiences throughout the day.

If you’re feeling low on energy at 3 p.m., it’s probably not the best time to try and squeeze in a walk. Keep track of when you feel the most energetic and schedule your fitness times for those periods of higher energy. After a while, you’ll find you have more energy throughout the day, giving you even more flexibility for activities.

Finally, boredom can be a huge fitness fighter. If you are feeling bored, find activities you enjoy and switch between three or five of them throughout the week. Most people find the same activities monotonous after some time. Mix things up to stay invested.

Another strategy to fight boredom and stay on track with your fitness goals is to find an exercise group. Exercising with a group makes it more fun and adds accountability. You’ll find the minutes flying by when you are able to work out with others.

What are the Health Benefits of an Exercise Routine?

Now that we’ve discussed the health benefits of activity, its necessity to overall health and some of the ways to overcome common fitness fighters, we want to share the importance of a fitness routine.

Fitness routines help keep you on track, working toward a goal in a concrete and measurable way. There are several health benefits of a fitness routine, including the following.

Having a fitness routine reduces the risk of cancer

Studies have linked prolonged sitting to a greater risk for colon, breast and endometrial cancers. 

Regular movement also boosts the levels of antioxidants that kill cell-damaging and potentially cancer-causing free radicals.

Fitness routines decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease

By reducing sedentary time, you have a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and death due to heart attack, a leading cause for early death in the United States.

Fitness routines prevent and can even reverse Type 2 diabetes

Breaking up the amount of time you spend seated aids in managing insulin levels and reducing the risk of a misbalance that can cause Type 2 diabetes. Experts see a significant correlation between excessive sitting and diabetes.

A personal fitness program and routine can extend your life

Research has found strong links between sedentary behavior and a variety of serious health problems that can lead to an early death. Preventing these conditions through regular exercise can lead to a healthier and longer life.

Personal fitness programs help prevent osteoporosis

People who are active have a lower risk of osteoporosis than those who sit for prolonged periods of time.

As early as age 30, a non-exerciser’s capacity to pump blood drops as much as 10 percent per decade. By age 40, a non-exerciser's blood vessels begin to stiffen, and blood pressure often creeps up.

Most Americans begin to gain weight in midlife, putting on three to four pounds of body fat a year. Often, this body fat increase coincides with the loss of muscle mass. We can’t stop the clock, but with exercise, we can slow these negative effects.

Regular exercise appears to slow the shriveling of the protective tips on genes inside human cells. This recent research offers a fundamental new clue into how exercise may help slow down the aging process.

Mental benefits of a fitness routine

Exercise is great for your mental health, which is a common issue for many people. Exercise can help with the following.

  • Brainpower – Standing and walking deliver more oxygen and nutrients to the brain through improved blood flow.
  • Energy – Standing and walking are simple but underrated remedies to increase alertness and receive a natural jolt of energy.
  • Increases focus – Standing and walking promote mental awareness, which leads to greater productivity and improved concentration.
  • Mood – Moving your muscles pumps fresh blood and oxygen to the brain, which releases mood-enhancing chemicals.

Physical benefits of a fitness routine

Exercise may also leave you feeling stronger, change the way your clothes fit and more. Here are some of the physical benefits of regular exercise.

  • Bone health – Bones, like muscles, require regular movement to maintain strength.
  • Burning calories – When you’re moving, fat-burning enzymes stay activated, burning far more calories than when you’re sitting.
  • Increases circulation – Blood circulation is crucial to good health but sitting can impede blood flow.
  • Supports heart health – Movement, even just standing, breaks up prolonged sitting and promotes higher HDL (good cholesterol) and lower LDL (bad cholesterol), improving blood pressure and lowering the risk of a heart attack.
  • Boosts metabolism – Alternating between sitting and standing increases the enzymes needed to metabolize food.
  • Tones muscles – Standing activates large muscle groups and the vestibular system, which controls balance.
  • Pain relief – Our bodies are designed to stand, so maintaining a seated position for extended periods of time is physically stressful. This can cause body pain, herniated discs, damaged nerves and degenerated joints.
  • Improves posture – Standing with proper posture puts the spine in a more natural position.

How to Move More at Work

Taking steps or moving at work can be difficult, especially if you have a lot of meetings each day.

An easy way to avoid getting lost in your task-list is to set a reminder to get up at least once per hour, then stand for a couple of minutes or take a quick lap around the office. If you’re working remotely, try taking a quick lap around the inside of your home. During the warm months, take it outside.

You can also stand up when someone comes to your desk or when you’re on a long call discussing a project. Incorporate stretching or simple exercises throughout the day. Consider standing or walking meetings when you have a meeting and using your lunch break as an opportunity to get outside for extra steps and fresh air.  

Chapter 2: Starting a Fitness Routine

Now that we’ve discussed the wide-ranging health benefits you’ll experience by starting your own fitness routine, let’s talk about how to put one together.

Building a personalized fitness routine that engages you and allows you to hit and exceed your goals takes several steps. The best place to start is understanding the three building blocks of a comprehensive routine.

Cardiovascular training

Also known as cardio, cardiovascular training is an aerobic exercise that focuses on increasing your heart rate to help your blood pump more efficiently throughout your body.

Including cardio in your fitness routine helps with various daily activities like walking and climbing stairs. The more efficiently your body can take in and use oxygen, the better you’ll feel throughout your daily activities.

Beyond simply feeling better and being able to climb the stairs to your parking garage without getting winded, cardiovascular training can also prevent heart disease and other chronic illnesses.

Cardio is arguably the most versatile component of your fitness routine, with exercises that can be done in short bouts or in long sessions. Experts recommend at least 30 minutes of cardio activity every day. Some of our favorites at Network Health include walking, cycling and jogging.

Group exercise classes do a great job of including cardio and helping you stay motivated by providing a social element and accountability to keep you on track.

Resistance training

Also known as strength training, resistance training places external stress on your muscles and joints which helps increase your bone density and lean muscle mass.

Strength training is important to help build lean muscles, which helps increase your metabolism during the workout and while resting. While many people think the best way to lose excess body fat is simply cardio but building lean muscle with resistance training speeds up the metabolism and can often have more immediate and dramatic weight-loss results.

Looking for a place to start? Experts recommend the squat for its low-impact, body-weight foundation. The squat also works large muscles and includes engaging multiple joints.

As far as frequency goes, adults should do strength training two or more days per week with moderate or greater intensity that involves all major muscle groups of the body.

Bodyweight exercises (like the squat mentioned earlier, planks, pushups and leg lifts) are a great place to start as they require nothing other than a comfortable spot on the floor.

As you progress, you can include weights and resistance bands that will level-up your exercises. Strength training can help with your daily life because it will help you become stronger, making certain tasks like lifting, pushing and pulling things easier.

Flexibility training

Flexibility training is the most commonly-omitted element for beginners. But, it’s an incredibly important aspect of your overall physical fitness.

Flexibility training helps keep you limber, mobile and dexterous. If you lack mobility, you may have poor posture and consistent pain which makes it difficult to perform everyday tasks.

Chances are you’ve already done some flexibility training in the form of stretching. Stretching should be performed at a minimum of two to three days per week but experts recommend doing some form of stretching daily, if possible.

Additionally, pre- and post-workout stretching should be done following cardio or strength training to target the muscles and muscle groups you’ve used. This will make exercising feel easier in subsequent workouts and will prevent dangerous sports injuries.

When stretching, you should focus on large muscle groups—such as your hamstrings (back of your upper thigh), hips, lower back and chest—which all help with the daily impact of sitting or walking.

Balance training also falls under this category and includes popular exercises like yoga. Beyond the physical health benefits, yoga also relieves stress and keeps you calm and focused, which everyone could use in our current technology-driven world.

Putting Your Fitness Routine Together

There are endless possibilities to different fitness regimens or routines. It is important to find one you enjoy doing to help keep yourself motivated and stick to your goals.

If you’re new on your personal fitness journey, starting a routine can be intimidating. Remember, everything can be modified to your capabilities in the moment. Always listen to your body to help prevent injuries.

If you are over 40 years old, not accustomed to excising and/or more than 20 pounds overweight, you should consult with your personal doctor before starting any workout program.

Follow these tips to build and maintain a realistic fitness routine.

Schedule your workouts

Add your workouts to your calendar. Don’t let the time be taken up by anything else. Saying yes to your fitness often means saying no to other opportunities and distractions.

Expect bad days

Everyone has a bad run or exercise day now and then. It may mean you can’t get your full workout in or you feel tired earlier than your final stretch/set. Remember, even a fraction of your typical workout is better than nothing. Stick with the program.

Don’t rush

Give yourself the space to enjoy the process of working toward your personal fitness goals. Rushing to get to the next exercise or trying to level-up too quickly leads to injuries and can be discouraging. Be patient. Go slowly. It’s a journey—enjoy it.

Start low and go slow

Avoid starting out too aggressively. Pick a slower pace and ramp up gradually. Not only will that help train your body for more advanced and intense distances/reps/etc., but it will allow you to work out more often, giving you inspiration and encouragement through frequent and early wins.

Where do I start when it comes to exercising?

If you’re not quite sure exactly where to start, experts recommend committing to quantifiable amounts of exercise every week. As you go on your fitness journey, you’ll find your exercising becomes more intuitive, but at the beginning, it’s good to have some solid standards.

  • Choose how much and how often you want to exercise. For example, you may elect to run three to four days per week.
  • Sign up for a race. Choose one in a comfortable range. (If you’ve never run a race before, a 5K race that is two or three months away is a good starting point.)
  • Break up your aerobic exercise between walking, jogging and running. You may give yourself five blocks to walk, three blocks to jog and one block to run and then repeat the process.

If you’re still not quite sure where to start, you can find plenty of workout plans and fitness routines online to use. Apps like Couch to 5K give you a plan that ramps you up from not running at all to being able to run a five-kilometer race (3.2 miles). You can advance to an even longer run if you’re interested.

Don’t ignore your local gym/resources. Many walking/running online programs and group exercise classes let you enjoy a social workout experience.

How to set personal fitness goals

One of the most recommended approaches to setting workout and fitness goals is the SMART goal framework. SMART is an acronym.






When setting a SMART goal, the first step is to be specific. So, be intentional. Make sure your goal is a goal that you want and not just something that sounds good. Measurable means you’re holding yourself to a standard that can be measured.

Achievable is something you can realistically do. Realistic takes that a step further by considering the timeframe and results you want so you can accomplish your goals without getting yourself down. Finally, timely means the goal has a time limit on it and afterward you can take your measurements and compare them to the original SMART goal.

An example of a SMART goal is “I will run Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings for 30 minutes, leading up to a 5k race in 12 weeks.”

Writing out your goals is powerful and makes you more likely to put it into action. To help with your accomplishments, set incremental goals. One of the best ways to do this is to set daily, weekly and monthly goals.

Here’s an example.

  • Daily – Organize gear, set a route and stick to the same time of day for consistency.
  • Weekly – Establish a routine and run three days a week. Make runs purposeful to improve your fitness.
  • Monthly – Hit a new target, extend distance or length and/or run an organized race. This will help you stay motivated.

Setting a goal increases your chance for success because it takes thought and gives it direction. SMART goals add even more accountability which will help you meet and exceed your biggest exercise goals.

Create an exercise log

An exercise log keeps track of your progress and tracks external factors that may be affecting your physical fitness routine. Keeping your goals in an exercise log helps you see how much you’ve progressed as you hit certain milestones. And, an exercise log will help you keep track of any pain or discomfort you may have felt, so you can adjust your workout for the future. 

Your workout log doesn’t have to be a notebook. You can use a notes folder on your computer or your phone if you prefer.

Invest in proper gear

If you’re going to be running or power walking, a good pair of running shoes is essential to protect your joints. You can visit a specialty running or shoe store and the employees can help you find the ideal shoes for your foot.

Make sure you replace your shoes every 300 – 400 miles. For active runners/walkers, this will be about every six months. As you put on more miles, you lose cushioning and support which leads to an increased risk of injury.

Can I work out without going to the gym?

Fitness centers and gyms are great resources that allow you to systematically approach your fitness routine, but it’s not everybody’s preferred way to exercise. If you can’t go to a gym, consider using items around your home in your fitness routine.

If your workout needs dumbbells, you can grab items that have weight, such as canned goods, water bottles, tennis shoes or hardcovered books.

If you normally use heavy sets of weight, this may seem like a setback, but there are many low-impact small movement exercises that you can incorporate into your routine that focus on a specific muscle group. You’ll still get a great workout even with a lower weight.

If your workout needs resistance bands, you could roll a towel and use the resistance to pull away or you can use women’s/kid’s tights which may feel more like a resistance band.

Using your body weight is also another opportunity to get a great workout. Lunges, pushups or squats are great bodyweight exercises which don’t require any external equipment.

A yoga mat (or big towel if you don’t have one) makes a hardwood floor a more comfortable place to do bodyweight exercises. No longer a specialized item, yoga mats can be found at most big stores for under $20.

Starting a running routine

If you’re wondering where to start on the aerobic exercise part of your routine, running is a popular activity, and for good reason.

Running is one of the best exercises you can do for both your physical and mental health. Being a successful runner requires building physical endurance. This takes time, patience and persistence, which adds psychological benefits in the form of goal setting and goal completion.

Apps like Couch-to-5K, which we mentioned earlier, have made fun runs a popular goal among those beginning their fitness journeys. Fun runs are typically themed in a fun, and sometimes goofy, way, preventing participants from taking them too seriously. They may include color runs, mud runs, night light runs or holiday runs.

You’ll most often find these runs at community centers, YMCAs, gyms, churches, running clubs or online. Most fun runs are either two miles or five kilometers, making them great targets for individuals who are just starting. Many are used for charity, with proceeds and registration fees going to support local and national organizations. Additionally, these are typically family and kid-friendly with a mix of walkers and runners.

What are the benefits of running?

If you don’t currently have a fitness routine that includes running, it is best to take a slow and gradual approach. Running has many health benefits.

  • Improves heart and lung function
  • Aids weight management or loss
  • Strengthens bones
  • Assists in lowering blood pressure and blood lipids
  • Regulates blood sugar
  • Relieves stress
  • Enhances sleep quality
  • Boosts self-confidence
  • Increases energy
  • Motivates you to eat healthier foods
  • Sets positive role modeling for family and friends.

What are some resources and apps for running?

There are many online resources as well as smartphone apps that make it easy and fun to plan, track and get the most out of your runs.

MapMyFitness – Maps your route, tracks your activity and logs your food.

Endomondo – Tracks your route, records stats and shares your workout

Runtastic – Uses GPS to map and track fitness activities.

Runkeeper – Tracks your runs and goals, while offering special sweepstakes for motivation

Fitness trackers – Many offer step counts, calories burned, mileage, heart rate stats and more. Curious about which fitness tracker to choose? Check out our roundup here.

Running groups: bridging the gap between group exercise and cardio

To keep yourself accountable and to make your workouts more enjoyable, join a running group.

Running groups are a great way to have friends, neighbors and family join you in your quest to meet your fitness ambitions. Local running clubs offer a social network that supports you and your goals, providing accountability and fun. Most have activities you can join, like the following.

  • Group or training running for all levels of experience
  • Distance training
  • Organized racing teams
  • Local events and races

Groups, in general, provide you with benefits that aren’t available for those who choose to exercise solo.

Research shows the more people you share your goals with, the greater your success. The more they know, the more you will hold yourself accountable.

Odds are at some point you will miss a few days in a row, perhaps even a week. These are called lapses. Lapses are common. However, when people stop exercising even for a few days, they may feel discouraged and decide they might as well give up. Having a support group to remind you that everybody lapses and to encourage you to get back into your fitness routine is crucial for staying on track.

Preventing relapses in exercise

Lapses and relapses are can negatively affect your ability to reach your goals. Here are some ways to avoid lapses and relapses.

  • Examine what’s happening when you lapse.
    • Determine what is stopping you from exercising. Is it a lack of energy in the morning because you stayed up late the night before? Is it a family engagement that somebody scheduled during your workout time? Is it a failure to communicate the importance of your routine to a friend group?
  • Remember your motivation
    • Reconnect with the reason you started exercising. A night out with friends is fun, but you’re working toward something that will last for the rest of your life and bring countless benefits both physically and mentally.
  • Revise your goals.
    • Sometimes we miss our goals, not because of a lack of mental fortitude, but simply because the goals didn’t meet the achievable and realistic parts of the SMART goal formula. If your goals are too aggressive, reexamine and adjust them.

Chapter 3: Hazards While Exercising

Safety is a crucial concern when working out. Staying safe means paying attention to hazards that can threaten your health and safety.

Here in Wisconsin, we must worry about the cold during the winter and the heat in the summer. Heat can make overdoing a workout a life-threatening event, so it is important to pay attention to the temperature, especially during the hot summer months.

Working out in the heat

Take the following tips to make the most out of your run or exercise regimen if you do them outside in the summer sun.

  • Beat the heat. Avoid exercise between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. when the sun is at its peak and it is the hottest.
  • Stay hydrated. This is important. Make sure you are drinking plenty of water – before, after and even during your run.
  • Wear light, loose-fitted fabrics that wick away sweat. Try and avoid clothing such as cotton which doesn’t dry very quickly. This can lead to chafing.
  • Wear protective gear, including sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat/visor to keep the sun off your face.
  • Expect to run slower and/or take more walking breaks, especially when it is humid. Humidity can be dangerous because you sweat a lot, which can cause you to become very dehydrated.
  • Select a course or side of the road with more shade to avoid running directly in the sun.
  • Wear DEET to protect against mosquito bites in the evening and morning.
  • Listen to your body. If you feel unnaturally exhausted or like you’re experiencing unfamiliar symptoms, lower your activity level immediately and take a break to reset.

Minding the temperature is crucial because heat exhaustion can be a very serious ailment. Heatstroke is an escalated and life-threatening condition that requires immediate medical attention.

Symptoms of heat exhaustion

  • Headaches
  • Heavy sweating
  • Cold, moist skin
  • Chills
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Weak or rapid pulse
  • Muscle cramps
  • Fast, shallow breathing
  • Nausea, vomiting or both

Symptoms of heatstroke – If you experience these symptoms, call 911

  • Warm, dry skin with no sweating
  • Strong and rapid pulse
  • Confusion and/or unconsciousness
  • High fever
  • Throbbing headache
  • Nausea, vomiting or both

Working out in the cold

With the extremely low temperatures that can pop up any time outside the summer months in Wisconsin, exercising in cold weather can also be dangerous. The following are important tips to consider while exercising in the cold.

  • Stay hydrated. It may not be as hot, but hydration is still important. You’re still losing water through your breath.
  • Start running into the wind and finish with it at your back. By finishing with the wind, it will help push you toward home when your energy levels are lower.
  • Avoid getting too hot when you get further into your run by dressing as if the temperature was 20 degrees warmer.
    • Think about wearing layers of fabric that wick away sweat.
    • Wear a hat, gloves and facemask/scarf to protect extremities.
    • Wear reflective gear in the early morning and evenings because it gets dark earlier.
    • Buy grippers for your shoes to prevent slipping on any ice.
  • Change clothes immediately after your run to avoid chills.

Long exposure to the cold can be dangerous and could cause serious conditions if you fail to mind the temperature.

Symptoms of frostbite – Go to the emergency room

  • Early signs – Skin turns pale yellow/white and may itch or feel like pins and needles
  • Intermediate signs – Skin hardens, looks shiny or waxy and blisters form
  • Advanced signs – Skin is very hard and cold, may look blue and later turn black

Symptoms of hypothermia – Call 911

  • Lack of coordination
  • Mental confusion
  • Slowed reactions
  • Slurred speech
  • Cold feet and hands
  • Shivering
  • Sleepiness

Dehydration: A serious, year-round workout risk

Whatever the season, adequate hydration is important before, during and after a workout. Water, after all, makes up 60 percent of our bodies when we’re functioning at our best. Lacking water can mean a range of negative effects on our organs and organ systems that can be life-threatening.

Dehydration occurs when you lose more fluids than what you take in. If you don’t replace the lost fluids, your body can’t carry out its normal functions.

How much water should I drink?

The Institute of Medicine suggests that everyone’s needs are different. The eight-glasses per day rule of thumb isn’t necessarily accurate but should be used as a guide. Exceptions include anyone with certain medical conditions, athletes and those participating in prolonged physical activities or who live in extreme heat.

Symptoms of dehydration

  • Not urinating very often
  • Dark yellow urine
  • Dry, cool skin
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Rapid heartbeat and/or breathing
  • Fainting or feeling faint

Can I get dehydrated in the winter?

Many people don’t realize that dehydration can happen as easily in the winter as it can in the summer. In fact, it can happen more often in the winter since it is more difficult to detect. Cold weather also means dryer air which dehydrates you faster while you exercise.

When you breathe in cold, dry air your body warms and humidifies the air. As you exhale, you lose significant amounts of water.

The more layers you wear, the more you can sweat without realizing it. Cold weather shields our thirst-making mechanism, so you will feel less thirsty even when there is significant water loss through sweat.

Another factor that can make dehydration especially concerning in the winter is the fact that it’s harder to take off layers to urinate. Athletes who exercise in winter may find themselves drinking less because of the inconvenience.

How do I know if I’m dehydrated?

A good indicator that you may be dehydrated is the color of your urine. You want to aim for it to be pale yellow or even clear with urination frequency being about once every two hours.

What are the health risks of dehydration?

Beyond simply hindering your performance, dehydration significantly increases your risk for physical injury and those risks increase the more dehydrated you get. To stay hydrated more easily, keep your water at room temperature during the winter months and somewhere nearby to remind you to take a sip throughout the day.

Be aware that if you are not sweating during vigorous physical activity, especially while outdoors, it may be a red flag that you are already dehydrated, and heat exhaustion could be the next stage.


As stated above, after working out, dehydration can occur very easily. While we exercise, we lose electrolytes as we sweat. If your electrolytes are low, you can have decreased exercise performance and be more susceptible to injury.

According to the American Heart Association, if you want to know exactly how much fluid you need, weigh yourself before and after exercise to see how much fluid you lose during perspiration. For every pound of sweat you lose during exercise, you will need to replenish one pint of water. This is a good guide for athletes who are training during the hot summer months.

Water, milk and sports drinks are great sources of post-workout hydration. You should avoid excessive alcohol consumption during the post-exercise recovery period because it can impair your muscle energy stores.

Along with drinking enough fluids post-workout, replenishing energy stores is important within four hours of exercise. This helps with recovery and your metabolism. Foods with a high glycemic index are best to eat post-workout. Some examples include ripe bananas, brown rice and watermelon.

Stretching: Staying limber and avoiding injury

Stretching after a workout is important to help ease pressure and strain that was put on the muscles, tendons and joints.

Stretching should begin within 10 minutes of finishing your exercise.

While stretching, stretch until you feel tension. Muscles should not feel strained or be in pain. Stretch slowly and hold the stretch for at least 30 seconds. Make sure you breathe out as you ease into the stretch.

Hold the following stretches for 30 seconds, then repeat on the other side.

  • Calf stretch
  • Quad stretch
  • Hamstring stretch
  • Lower back and gluteal (butt) stretch

Overtraining: Too much of a good thing

Make sure you are not being overambitious with your goals and timeline.

Overtraining can happen easily once in a groove. If you are running, for instance, think about increasing your mileage gradually. If you increase your weekly mileage more than 10 percent week-over-week, you may injure yourself.

Also, don’t forget to rest. Rest days are critical for recovery, performance and mental health. When warming up, walk two to three minutes before a workout and another two to three minutes as a cooldown afterward.

When exercising, it is key to allow time for recovery. Exercise recovery helps repair tissues and provides muscle recovery.

It is important to have a cool-down session after you’ve completed your main exercise. This cool down session should be low-intensity, allowing your heart rate to decrease gradually. This will help prevent the stiffness, aches and pains that come as a result of not giving yourself adequate recovery time.

Chapter 4: Finding Your Groove with Additional Fitness Activities

This guide has illustrated just how personal and individualized successful fitness plans can and should be. If running isn’t your thing, there are hundreds of ways to get active in Wisconsin with our tragically short summer season.

Exercise in every season

With the short season, make sure to take advantage of the nice days when they come. You may find you enjoy things like golfing (Wisconsin has over 500 public golf courses), kayaking (Wisconsin has more than 15,000 inland lakes), rafting (Wisconsin has over 42,000 miles of streams and rivers) and swimming/fishing/boating on the bordering Great Lakes – Superior and Michigan.

Other fun warm-weather activities include swimming laps or taking a water aerobics class, playing pool games (like volleyball or tag), gardening (which increases strength and flexibility), joining a sports league like softball or volleyball and bringing your yoga mat outside.

The end of the warm summer months doesn’t mean you have to hit the pause button on your fitness journey. Fall is the perfect time of year to go on a bike ride or hike one of Wisconsin’s 2,500 miles of trails.

Finally, even the cold winter weather isn’t enough to derail those who are seeking the numerous benefits of a fitness journey. Winter means access to over 25,000 miles of snowmobile trails (surprise – you can burn calories with this sport), 700 miles of cross-country ski/snowshoe trails and 445 runs at 30 downhill ski and snowboard areas.

There are also family-friendly activities you can do, such as ice skating and ice hockey, sledding or tubing. Although it’s not the most enjoyable winter activity, shoveling is a great workout that contains elements of cardio, strength training and flexibility training.

As far as year-round activities go, here are some of our favorites that you may enjoy as you begin your own personalized fitness plan.

Group exercise classes

With several great benefits, group exercise classes are great for beginners.

These classes provide a fun and social environment which helps you stay motivated.

Also, you don’t need to worry about holding yourself to your own schedule because group exercise classes have a consistent workout schedule that typically engages multiple muscle groups in a way that has been optimized by fitness experts.

As we mentioned earlier, group exercise classes also have something many fitness beginners struggle to find—accountability. Whether it’s a friend or the class instructor, someone expects you to show up regularly to participate in the class. When you lapse, you are missed, and people will likely check up on you to make sure everything is okay.

The presence of an experienced fitness instructor also makes group exercise classes one of the safest ways to begin your fitness journey. It’s fun. It’s safe. It’s effective. It’s social. What’s not to be excited about?

There are many types of group exercise. Learning more about a class before you go can help you determine if the class is something you are interested in trying and if it fits your fitness goals.

Here are some popular classes you may want to try.

Tai Chi

With its foundations in martial arts, Tai Chi allows you to move your body gently and slowly making it a low impact workout. It is cardio and flexibility in one exercise and has elements of meditation and mindfulness—making it a full body and mind experience. Because of this, Tai Chi is a great stress reliever that will help you feel more flexible and balanced.


Yoga provides mental clarity while increasing your strength and flexibility. Depending on the type of yoga and the instructor, the class can be considered a low- to moderate-intensity. Like Tai Chi, it is a stress reliever.

Some of the popular types of yoga include Hatha, vinyasa, restorative and hot yoga.


Pilates helps you develop strength through the core (back, abdomen and hips). It focuses on strength, flexibility and coordination. A low- to moderate-intensity workout that is great for beginners, Pilates helps improve your posture so you feel better throughout the day.

Water exercise classes

Water exercises provide water resistance to boost your strength, but without the extra impact strain on your joints and muscles that are common to other cardio and strength exercises. Still, those looking for a range of intensities can find it in water exercise classes.

Water exercise is a great option for individuals with arthritis pain or for those who may be recovering from surgery. It’s also a great way to work out during those long, hot summer days.


Barre is a total body workout that incorporates ballet, yoga and Pilates techniques. The main equipment used is the ballet barre, but instructors will sometimes incorporate light dumbbells, medicine balls, kettlebells, etc. A misconception about barre is that it’s only for those with ballet or dance experience. On the contrary, barre is a great workout for those at any fitness level and with any – or no – dance experience.

A low impact exercise, barre offers intensity levels ranging from moderate to high.

Group cycling/spinning

Cycling is a low-impact cardio workout and allows you to work at your own pace while controlling the resistance of your bike. When you start off, go a few minutes early so the instructor can fit you to the bike and give you a few pointers.

These classes typically offer moderate- to high-intensity workouts.

As an added bonus, you’ll find riding your bike down the street to the store feels more natural and easier than ever.

Group circuit training

A blend of cardio and strength-training exercises, group circuit classes work every major muscle group in a single class. As you might expect, this total-body workout falls in the moderate- to high-intensity category.


Experts recommend kettlebell workouts for moderate to advanced exercisers. This workout consists of ballistic (explosive) swinging movements and using traditional press and squat exercises at a high intensity.


Combining cardio, boxing and martial arts techniques to provide a total body workout, kickboxing is a popular full-body activity. It improves strength, speed, flexibility, coordination, balance and endurance at a high intensity.


TRX increases strength, speed, agility, flexibility, core stability and coordination. It is suspension training that uses gravity and your own body weight to perform exercises at a high intensity. 


Like the aerobics workout classes of the 1980s, Zumba is a fun and high-energy class that lets you break a sweat while you bust a move. It combines motivating, fast and slow rhythm music with unique dancing and strength exercises at a high intensity.


High-Intensity Interval Training (or H.I.T.T.) works to alternate between two activities, typically requiring different rates of speed, degrees of effort, etc. By confusing your body’s muscle groups and systems, you can do more work than if you had attempted the individual exercises separately.

H.I.T.T. helps improve athletic performance and the ability of muscles to burn fat at a high intensity.


Tabata is 20 seconds of high intensity followed by a 10-second recovery, repeated eight times, totaling four minutes each exercise cycle. Tabata burns calories and strengthens your entire body while relying on minimal equipment. Tabata is one of the most efficient exercise classes you take, seeing up to 15 calories burned every minute (depending on the class, instructor and individual).

This class is performed at a very high intensity.

Working out in your home with body-weight exercises

Even if you’re not into the idea of a group exercise class, you don’t need a gym to get into shape. Many exercises can be done from the comfort of your home. This is a great option if you are constantly on the go and traveling for work. It may also be good if you have young kids and getting out of the house isn’t always an option.

Earlier, we discussed how body-weight exercises rely on your own body to provide resistance for your workout. Exercises like pushups, chin-ups, squats, lunges, planking, etc. are some of the most popular body-weight exercises.

How to do the perfect push-up

A safe and effective push-up is all about form. To have good form in a push-up, you should place your hands shoulder-width apart or a little bit wider.

As you bend and lower your elbows toward the ground, your elbows should aim to be at a 45-degree angle to your body. You want to make sure you are pulling your abs toward your spine, creating a flat back. Your gaze should be slightly forward to protect your neck and spine.

Another option is to engage your arms more by placing them underneath your shoulders, forming a narrower push-up. In this form, pay attention so that as you bend, your arms glide along the side of your body staying nice and close to your midline.

If you have knee pain, another modification is to take the push-up to a wall or countertop, take your body to a slight diagonal and bend your elbows from there. The further away you angle your body, the more difficult it will be due to using more of your body weight to bend and press away.

How to do the perfect lunge

Like the push-up, your form is the key to a safe and effective lunge. To do a proper lunge, keep your upper body straight, with your shoulders back and relaxed and your chin up.

Like the push-up as well, stay focused on your core by pulling your abdominals to be as close as possible to your spine.

Step forward with one leg, lowering your hips until both knees are bent at about a 90-degree angle. Don’t let your knees go past your toes. If this range of motion is hard on your knees, you can always decrease the range by coming up a little higher as you step forward with your leg.

Challenge yourself to do 10 or more on each leg before switching to a new activity.

How to do the perfect squat

For proper squat form, you will want to stand your feet a little wider than hip-width, toes facing forward.

As you lower down, drive your hips back bending at your knees and ankles and pressing your knees slightly open. Sit into a squat position while keeping your heels and toes on the ground. Your chest should be up and shoulders back away from your ears. To protect your joints, ensure that your knees are not going past your toes.

As a beginner, you may need to adjust the range of motion or use a chair for a guide (with the initial goal being to sit down on the chair.

To work more of your inner and outer thighs you can do the same as mentioned above, but first try squatting with your toes turned outward and your feet set further apart than your hips (shoulder-width should be good for most people).

How to do the perfect plank

A plank is an extremely effective core exercise that can make 30 seconds feel like 10 minutes. In a plank you come down to your forearms, keeping your arms parallel to one another with palms pressing into the floor or mat.

Your feet are hip-width apart and parallel. Draw your abs in and tuck your hips to create a flat back. Your gaze should be past your fingertips to create a neutral spine and protect your neck and back. Hold that position for 20-30 seconds.

As a modification for this exercise, take the weight off your toes and use your knees as your foundation, lowering yourself to the knees. This will take pressure off you until you are feeling stronger to do a plank on your toes. You can always hold it for longer to increase the intensity.

How to do the perfect wall sit

A wall sit is just like it sounds, you are sitting, as if on a chair, with only the wall at your back. For the perfect wall sit, find an open space in your home where you can slide down the wall to a 90-degree angle. (Make sure to draw your abs in toward the wall, removing the gap between the wall and your back.)

A wall sit can be a great challenge opportunity between you and friends or family members to see who can hold it the longest. Like the plank, 20-30 seconds is a great starting point with intervals of 10-second increases recommended for advancement.

Your Fitness Journey: The Journey of a Lifetime

Getting started with fitness is a big and bold step toward many incredible benefits and goals, many of which you won’t even discover until you start.

Putting together a training program and sticking to it is hard work, but ultimately it challenges and leads us to accomplish things we may have never thought were possible.

As you begin this journey, remember no exercise advice is a substitute or overrules advice from your personal doctor. Also, be sure to always listen to your body and not view lapses as endpoints, but as learning experiences. There may be days we fail, but that is part of the journey toward achieving and exceeding our goals.

With all exercise, it is important to talk to your personal doctor before starting anything new. If you want to try group exercise, contact your local fitness center and ask about programs and classes that are open to beginners.

As always, if you have any questions about how your Network Health insurance plan can help you reach your goals, please contact us today.

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