How to Start Exercising

Let's be real: Exercising is intimidating. You see the ads, commercials — heck, even neighbors doing their daily run — and you want to join people like them, but question where to begin. 

Whether you're a newbie committed to lifestyle changes or a previous athlete a bit lost on how to dive back into things, we're outlining tips and guidance on how to work out to safely lose weight. 

More importantly, we've got the motivation to help you accept where you are along your body's journey — a journey that's so much larger than a number on a scale.  

Tips to Start Exercising 

The health benefits of exercise are profound. Moderate workouts for 30 minutes only three to five times a week can:

  • Promote a healthy, stable body weight
  • Reduce chronic disease risks
  • Boost serotonin, aka the "happy hormone"
  • Regulate other hormones — adrenal, thyroid, etc.
  • Enhance cognitive functions such as memory
  • Improve bone density, which is especially crucial for women over 50

Despite knowing about all these advantages, jumping into exercising can be extremely challenging — mentally and physically — without the proper mindset.

1. Remind Yourself Being Overweight Does Not Mean Being Flawed

Repeat after us: Being overweight does not mean something is wrong with you. 

While media depictions have come a long way in reconciling their unrealistic representation of body standards, everything from magazine covers to social media continues to pressure women and men to look a specific way for acceptance.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Poor self-esteem can impede exercising regularly, while self-acceptance improves workout frequency and results. 

2. See Exercise as More Than Losing Weight

Shedding pounds to reach a healthier body weight and body mass index is essential, yes. However, genuine motivation comes from integrating exercise into your broader sense of your happiest self, similar to how you make room for hobbies and passion projects. 

Like that hobby or project, exercise brings so much more to the table than a lower number on the scale. It will:

  • Increase your energy
  • Improve your sleep quality
  • Benefit your mental health
  • Enhance your flexibility and functional mobility
  • Boost your strength
  • Improve overall longevity


woman doing plank


3. Be Compassionate 

Be gentle on yourself. It's so easy to compare yourself to the toned and defined people you see in the gym or the fitness influencers splattered online. But chances are you would never say the things you think about your body to a loved one. Go ahead and extend yourself the same courtesy, compassion and care! 

Find ways to practice self-acceptance, including:

  • Catching yourself in negative criticisms or moments of comparison.
  • Rephrasing negative self-thoughts.
  • Understanding you can love and accept yourself while still maintaining wellness goals. 


4. Move Your Body in Ways You Love

Exercise is movement, plain and simple. Choose workout routines that move your body in ways you find fun, entertaining and engaging, but challenging. 

This mix is different for everyone — and the reason for today's buffet of fitness classes and workout regimens. Experiment with different exercises, then opt for the two or three types you truly enjoy. Science says you'll stick with them longer if you do. 

Science-Backed Best Exercises for Weight Loss

After a balanced diet and getting enough sleep, exercise is the most crucial factor contributing to healthy and sustained weight loss.

So what types of exercise has science proven will burn the most calories? See for yourself below. 

1. Jogging

Forrest Gump may have been onto something, after all. 

Researchers at Harvard calculated the average person burns between 298 and 400 calories per 30 minutes of uninterrupted jogging, so long as their pace remains between five and six mph, or roughly a 10- to 12-minute mile. 

Additional research shows running is a form of aerobic exercise that's particularly potent at combating visceral fat. Visceral fat is a type of stored fat that wraps itself around your vital organs, namely around your midsection or belly region. Higher percentages of visceral fat link with today's top chronic diseases, including diabetes, heart disease and others. 

2. Walking 

Good news: The same Harvard jogging research discovered significant benefits of walking when it comes to weight loss and weight maintenance.

Over 12 weeks, researchers tasked 20 women whose BMIs placed them in overweight and obese categories with walking between 50 and 70 minutes three times a week. The results? The women averaged body fat loss of 1.5% and a waist circumference loss of 1.1 inches from just three leisurely paced strolls each week. Imagine what four to five identically paced walks could do, or three walks at a faster pace! 


man doing hiit



HIIT, or high-intensity interval training, is one of the most effective methods to burn visceral belly fat. It's also the most efficient form of burning calories, requiring the least amount of time, yet capable of burning hundreds of calories per session.  

The format of HIIT relies on quick, extreme bursts of physical activity followed by brief rest periods. What's more, you can turn any form of exercise into a HIIT workout by breaking it into this format.

  • Cycle at full speed for 45 seconds, followed by a one- to two-minute break: Repeat until you reach the 10-minute mark, gradually working your way to 15-, 20- and even 30-minute routines total. 
  • Sprint at your maximum speed for 30 seconds, then drop down to a modest walk for one minute: Do this as many times as possible in a 10 to 20-minute workout. 
  • HIIT calisthenics: Rotate between 30-second sets of moves like lunges, squats, push-ups, crunches, planks, pull-ups and other popular calisthenics, with 10- to 15-second breaks between each. 





4. Plyo

If you were a fan of jumping rope as a kid during recess, plyo just might be for you. 

Plyometrics, or plyo for short, is like HIIT with a twist: It consists almost exclusively of jumping. 

Plyo workouts incorporate a series of fast, jumping-based exercises designed for explosive muscle movements. Think moves like box jumps, lateral jumps, skater jumps, full burpees, plyo push-ups and more. You'll then take short rest periods before jumping back into the workout again — literally.

If your goal is to increase your overall range of explosive/speed-strength power, plyometrics is an excellent total-body workout, more so than walking and running. Like HIIT, it also ramps up your heart rate in a minimal amount of time. That means a fast-paced workout burns the same amount of calories as popular forms of cardio, but in a fraction of the time. 

Find Beginners' Weight-Loss Programs Offered at Gateway Region YMCAs

The YMCA is proud to welcome all bodies, ages, shapes and sizes through our doors. We know weight loss is a difficult, sensitive topic. It's our mission to make you feel as comfortable as possible while you knock out your health goals and teach you to appreciate all your body can do. 

One way we do this is through MyFitness, a 30-minute appointment with a member of our fitness staff, customized to your health goals. When you arrive for your MyFitness appointment, we'll work one-on-one with you to kickstart your journey and help you achieve a healthier, sustainable lifestyle through setting and tracking goals, class and exercise recommendations and endless support and encouragement. MyFitness is included with your YMCA membership.

The Y is here to help people like you make small, manageable lifestyle changes that turn into long-term results — and to actually have some fun while doing so.