How You Can Start a Fitness Program for Life

Puerto Rico National Guardsmen participate in the Mountain Bicycle Ride.
Citizen soldiers with the 101st Troop Command, Puerto Rico National Guard, participate May 28 in the Mountain Bicycle Ride during annual training 2015 at Camp Santiago Joint Maneuver Training Center, Salinas, Puerto Rico. (Pfc. Agustin Montañez/U.S. National Guard photo)

If you are a true beginner to exercise or have not exercised in decades, starting a health and fitness program is a daunting task.

During your quest for longevity, try not to change too much in your life too quickly. In their search for health, many people make broad resolutions that require several different lifestyle changes. Quitting smoking, starting an exercise program and dieting all in the same week can be extremely challenging. Tackling any one of the above is challenging enough.

If you have any of the above vices or others, you may want to try one step at a time rather than trying "cold turkey -- and all at once." Here is a plan that will get you started on the right track for the long term.

Months 1-4

Start exercising and drinking water now. You may find that you do not have to alter your diet at all, as long as you are burning calories by exercise. By drinking anywhere from two quarts to a gallon of water a day and cutting back on soft drinks, you can lose up to 25-50 pounds this year.

Start walking, biking, doing some basic calisthenics and/or swimming for 20-30 minutes 4-5 times a week.

Months 5-8

Now you can pick up the physical fitness training a bit by lifting weights or starting a more rigorous calisthenics program. Exercises like push-ups, pull-ups, crunches and squats, mixed with more walking or occasional running, can boost your fitness level to new heights.

If your fitness program is not working for you, you should take a look at your diet and what you are consuming daily. If you are not losing weight by walking 4-5 times a week and drinking nearly a gallon of water a day, consume fewer calories. This does not mean to starve yourself; it simply means eating foods with fewer calories, such as fruits, vegetables and lean meats (not fried).

Months 9-12

By this time, you should feel great about your physical progress and have more energy than you have had in years. Running, biking and swimming several times a week should be a habit by now, and you should feel refreshed after each workout.

If you have not quit smoking cigarettes by now or at least tapered off, it is time to start trying a little more aggressively. Usually, however, if you have maintained a fitness program this long, quitting smoking has already occurred. But if you have not quit, now is the time to try either the "cold turkey" method or some type of patch method.

Start exercising now. Do not change your diet too much but increase your water intake and decrease your calories from sugar. Try to taper the smoking when you get into the groove of exercising regularly. Do not try all three at once.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you're looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to

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