19 June 12 Just Getting Back into Exercising? Think FIT!

Congratulations if you have just decided to start an exercise program, or if you are returning to exercise after a long hiatus! To help you ease into improved fitness with a low risk of injury, think "FIT" to create a plan that helps you get there safely.


FIT is an acronym for "Frequency," "Intensity," and "Time." The idea is to gradually increase only one component at a time so that your heart, lungs, muscles, joints, and supporting tissues are given a chance to adequately support the increased activity. Our brains lead the way but we need to give our body a chance to catch up otherwise we can get injured.
As a general rule, increase frequency or time first as your progress through your exercise program, and then work on increasing intensity.


For you dyed-in-the-wool couch potatoes, start by simply increasing activities of daily living. That means using the stairs more frequently, parking further away from your destination, walking or bicycling instead of driving, less TV or computer viewing during leisure time, and simply moving more during the day. Work towards increasing your activities of daily living for about a month or so to help you prepare for starting an exercise program.

The next step is to consider starting an exercise program with a frequency of about 3 days per week. Try to space out exercise days throughout the week instead of just exercising during the weekend. Be sure to keep up your activities of daily living too. Consider wearing a pedometer to ensure that you meet some minimum number of steps. For instance, on my planned exercise days, I aim to get at least 10,000 steps or more. During my "off days," I aim for about 5000 steps (about 21/2 miles – see my last blog post for more information about step counting).

Work up to 6 days per week of activity over the course of 6 months.


Window shopping, cooking, and strolling are lower intensity activities that can be performed while singing or talking without effort. If you are just starting to increase your activities of daily living, then this intensity level might be appropriate for you. However, to gain more health benefits from exercise, aim to work up to a moderate intensity level. At this level, it should be a little hard to carry on a conversation and singing would be difficult.

You can also use your heart rate as a measure of exercise intensity. If you have taken a stress test or exercise test, then use your measured maximal heart rate for determining a moderate intensity range (about 50% - 70% of maximal heart rate). If you cannot measure your true maximal heart rate, then you can use an old rule of thumb to estimate it: 220 – your age in years. For instance, a 50 year old would use 170 beats per minute (BPM) as their estimated maximal heart rate, with a goal exercising at 85 – 120 BPM for moderate intensity.

If you take medication that affects your heart rate or if your heart rate does not respond appropriately to exercise, then please ask your doctor for an appropriate exercise prescription. Also, if you are over the age of 40 years and have a history of heart disease or diabetes, or if you are at any age and have cardiovascular disease, autonomic neuropathy, or peripheral vascular disease, then please ask your doctor about a diagnostic exercise stress test before starting a moderate or high intensity exercise program.


Time refers to duration of activity. Start with a duration that works for you – do not try to keep up with someone much more fit than you if you are just getting started. Even 10 minute chunks of time can provide health benefits. For instance, if you are very out of shape, perhaps you start with 10 minutes of walking, 3 days a week. Over the course of a few weeks, you can increase your frequency to 5 days a week. Perhaps you find that over time, you can manage to get two, 10-minute walks completed in a day. Hopefully, over the course of six months, you can work up to three, 10-minute walks, at least 5 days a week. Moderate intensity exercise performed for 150 minutes per week (30 minutes/day x 5 days/week) is the goal for reduced risk of diabetes and heart disease as well as improved management of those diseases.

As a general rule, increase time by about 5 minute increments to help reduce risk of injury.

If you are able to tolerate a longer duration and are using exercise for weight control, then eventually work up to about 60 minutes of activity, most days of the week. If you calories track, then you can more precisely fine tune calories burned from exercise to meet your weight control goals.

Additional Resources

Centers for Disease Control & Prevention: How Much Physical Activity Do Adults Need?
Jason Gilbert. The Huffington Post: C25K: Couch to 5K App Plans Your Runs For You.
Kaiser Permanente: Move More for Life: Add Movement to Your Day!
MyNetDiary: Physical Activity.
Katherine Isacks, MPS, RD, CDE
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Disclaimer: The information provided here does not constitute medical advice. If you are seeking medical advice, please visit your healthcare provider or medical professional.



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