Best Exercises for Beginners to Get Active

Content brought to you by Detroit Medical Center

or those who live a mostly inactive lifestyle, it can be difficult, painful and even damaging in some cases to jump right into a gym routine or an intense fitness DVD. Whether the goal is to drop pounds, improve your health or build muscle, you have to begin at the same place-the beginning.

According to Craig DeLeon, the Corporate Director of Wellness at Detroit Medical Center, it isn't uncommon for people who are sedentary to start a fitness routine, then stop. DeLeon blames this on a lack of planning and feeling overwhelmed by the abundance of exercise information on the Internet. "When you walk into a gym, that in itself can be overwhelming," he adds.

For those interested in starting an exercise routine, DeLeon recommends talking to a physician first to "make sure they are ready and capable of exercising on their own."

If you got the green light to get moving, start off slow. Beginners should work out at their own pace and gradually increase intensity once they get the hang of a routine. 


Here are seven exercises that will get you moving on to a healthier lifestyle:

Walking exercise tips for beginners

According to DeLeon, walking increases your heart rate and helps with fat loss and calorie burning. It also helps with oxygen consumption, lung capacity and cardiovascular endurance. 

Interval walking, which is walking at a lower intensity for a few minutes, followed by a higher intensity-then going back down-has become very popular. "It doesn't allow your body to adjust to what you're doing," he says, because you're varying the speed and intensity.

If you're walking outside, DeLeon suggests speed walking for four houses and then slowing down for four houses-and repeating.

The best part about walking is you can do it pretty much anywhere. Don't have a treadmill? No problem. Some great choices are a local park, a local school track or even the mall. It's free.

The Healthy Environments Partnership, a partnership among Detroit community organizations, health organizations and agencies, academic organizations and community members, started the Walk Your Heart to Health walking group program for Detroiters to become active and improve their heart health. There are several walking groups throughout Detroit. Visit for locations and times.

Swimming and water aerobics tips for beginners

Swimming and water fitness is a great way to exercise for those obese or overweight, the elderly and people with joint problems.

"The water provides some buoyancy," DeLeon says. "It's great for those who have arthritis and previous injuries."

But anyone can benefit from these activities. Exercises performed in water relieve stress on the joints and can be really enjoyable. It's a full-body workout, too. "With water aerobics, you're using your upper body and lower body," he says.

If you enjoy swimming, try committing to it weekly to help build endurance.

Detroit's Boll Family YMCA offers water fitness classes and has scheduled times for open wim in lap and family pools.

Yoga and chair yoga tips for beginners

Yoga helps with flexibility, core strengthening, improving breathing and relieving stress. It deals with a lot of stretching and isometric holds that can help strengthen your muscles.

If yoga is a bit difficult for you, the Boll Family YMCA offers chair yoga classes.

"All of the poses are modified to be done in the chair," DeLeon says. "You may be standing and using the back of the chair as support or for balance. You might be propping a foot onto the seat and getting into a pose that way."

Yoga classes are also held at the House of Bastet at 6 p.m. every Wednesday. The classes, taught by Tené Dismuke, yoga instructor and owner of the House of Bastet, are free of charge but donations are accepted.

Planking tips for beginners

Planking is an isometric-holds exercise, which means that it builds strength by having you hold up your own body or hold a position for a certain amount of time. In planking, the person holds a position similar to a plank of wood, hence the name. It's performed on the floor, holding your body off the ground and straight using your forearms and toes while engaging your core by tightening the abdominal muscles.

"The plank exercise is a great stability exercise for the upper back/shoulder area," DeLeon says. To avoid injury, he suggests that people start by doing them vertically, standing up against the wall and gently leaning into the wall. Or, start on your knees and progress to a full plank over time.

DeLeon recommends starting with a 5-10 second hold and working your way up to 45-60 second repetitions.

Squat exercises for beginners

Squats strengthen glutes, hamstrings, calves, quadriceps and even your core. DeLeon says that to perform a squat properly feet must be shoulder-width apart, toes facing forward and heels flat on the ground.

Your knees and thighs should go down to a 90-degree angle. Be careful, however. "If your knees are crossing over your toes, that's a bad sign," he says. It means you're putting too much pressure on your knees or the balls of your feet.

If a regular squat is too difficult, DeLeon suggests placing a chair behind you for support. With this squat you're squatting over the chair, but never touching it. Beginners should do 1-3 sets of 10-15 repetitions.

Bike riding as exercise

Once you learn, you'll never forget. So how about putting those cycling skills to good use? DeLeon suggests riding for at least 30 minutes per day, three to seven days per week, to see maximum results. Cycling reduces stress, improves lung capacity, strengthens leg muscles, improves endurance and reduces body fat.

Try biking the Detroit RiverWalk, where you can even rent a bike if you don't have one. Or head out on an adventure along the Dequindre Cut Greenway. This 1.35-mile trail runs parallel to St. Aubin Street. Hop on the cut at Lafayette Street, Gratiot Avenue and Woodbridge Street.

Dancing as exercise

If you already dance for pleasure, then dancing may not even feel like an exercise. DeLeon says at Detroit Medical Center, they "usually recommend dancing as a leisure activity to do for fun."

And when it comes to fun, there's no time limit. "If you like dancing, do it for as much as you can," he says. 

Aside from the fun, dancing is a total body workout.

The Boll Family YMCA offers Zumba classes. The House of Bastet's beginner dance classes include Zumba for $7 at 6 p.m. Mondays and 7:30 p.m. Thursdays and a low-impact belly dancing class called Cardio Shimmy for $15 at 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays.

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