Starting physical activity when you haven’t been active

If you’re not used to being active, it can seem tough to get going.

  • Start by setting yourself small, achievable goals.
  • Make sure you protect yourself from pain or injury.

Read on for some tips on getting started and staying safe.

Starting physical activity

Photo of a woman enjoying a swim in the pool.

Being active isn’t just about going for a run or doing a workout at the gym. It is about building activity into your daily routine:

  • take the stairs instead of the lift
  • walk to the shops rather than drive
  • go for a walk at lunch time with a friend
  • get off the bus one stop early and walk the remainder of the way
  • park the car further away from the office and walk
  • wash your car by hand
  • use chores around the garden to work up a sweat
  • play with your children or grandchildren in the park.

Involve your whānau, friends and work colleagues in your activity plan. The more support you have, the more likely you are to enjoy it and stick with it.

You could also try exercising in water. Because it’s low impact, you can be active without putting your joints and muscles under too much stress. It’s fun, flexible and relaxing!

If you want help to be active, talk to your doctor or nurse about getting a Green Prescription – you’ll get personal advice and support to become more physically active.

How much activity?

The aim is to do at least 30 minutes on most days of the week – however, if you’re trying to lose weight, more is better. This may seem daunting if you haven’t been active for a while – but you don’t have to do it all in one go. You can ‘snack’ on activity by doing small amounts at a time.

It is important that your activity stretches you a little and makes you breathe harder and faster. It doesn’t have to be painful, but you should push yourself a bit.

  • Start slowly – begin with 5–10 minutes and build up to 30 minutes a day.
  • Break up the 30 minutes into smaller amounts (eg, 3 lots of 10 minutes, 2 lots of 15 minutes).
  • Increase time and intensity as your fitness improves.
  • Keep a record of your activity to follow your progress.
  • Set yourself a goal or challenge. This should be measurable and achievable.

Sit less, move more!

Breaking up regular sitting time is important – even small breaks from prolonged sitting are good for health. And spending less time in front of a screen gives you more time for physical activity!

  • Change sitting activities for active ones.
  • Spend less time in front of the television or computer.
  • Go to Sit less, move more for suggestions on breaking up long periods of sitting (like at work).

Achieving a healthy weight

Setting realistic goals is important. If you’re overweight, a 5–7% body weight loss will benefit your health. Being overweight and active is better for your health than being underweight and inactive.

Healthy weight is a lifelong commitment to regular physical activity combined with healthy food choices.

Talk to your doctor or nurse about an appointment with a dietician. Eating the right types of food will give you the energy to do plenty of physical activity without gaining more weight or feeling hungry.

Our Healthy eating section has advice to help you eat well.

Get fit, stay safe!

Start slowly

  • Begin with light activities and move on to more intense ones – this helps stop you getting sore later.
  • If you have been inactive for a long time, getting started may be a bit uncomfortable. You may find your muscles get stiff and sore.
  • Start slowly. Each day, increase the time and intensity a little. Most of the discomfort will pass as you get used to being active.
  • If you have any pain or discomfort that lasts for more than a day or you are worried, talk to your doctor or nurse.

Dress appropriately

  • You don’t need the latest trendy clothing to be physically active. All you need is clothes you are comfortable in.
  • Wear flat, comfortable walking shoes with a good pair of socks. Talk to your doctor if your feet get very sore.
  • Lycra cycle shorts can help with chafing – wear them under your pants, shorts or skirt. You can also try barrier creams to prevent chafing between the thighs or between folds of skin.
  • Women should wear a supportive bra – this can also help ease chafing under the breasts.

Stay safe

  • Always wear appropriate safety equipment – helmets on bicycles, a lifejacket if you’re on the water.
  • Ensure your clothes have reflective material on them if you are out and about at night.
  • Use front and rear lights on your bike at night.
  • Use sunscreen, a hat and sunglasses if you are going out in the middle of the day during summer.
  • During summer when it is hot, try to be active early in the morning or later in the afternoon when it is cooler.
  • Try swimming, aqua-jogging or water aerobics as a cooler option in very hot weather.

Visit the AdventureSmart website for advice on staying safe outdoors.

Stay hydrated

  • Drink plenty of fluid when you are physically active in order to stay hydrated – water is best.
  • Remember sports drinks and sweetened soft drinks are not suitable for weight loss.
  • Avoid drinking caffeine before or during physical activity as it can dehydrate you.
  • Avoid drinking alcohol before or during physical activity as it can dehydrate you and impair your judgement.
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