Set realistic goals and take a few precautions, but stay motivated to break off the sedentary lifestyle

The current guidelines for minimum fitness activity in adults advocate at least 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic exercise (such as brisk walking) or 75 minutes a week of intense aerobic exercise (such as running),and weight training exercises at least twice a week. Spaced out at regular intervals, this should involve around 30 minutes of exercise per day. Unfortunately, most people fail to achieve even this moderate level of activity, and the reasons involve more than just a lack of willpower.

Many people have extremely poor capacity for exercise — brought on by a lifetime of obesity and sedentary lifestyle, and they find it impossible to make a sudden switch to an active lifestyle. It is important to assess one's level of fitness before getting into a regular programme of exercise. The pre-exercise fitness test described in this column a few weeks ago is an excellent tool of assessment for beginners. Take the test and talk with your physician about the results. Those with low scores need help from trained professionals before getting into regular exercise.

Be clear about your exercise goals. Don't say, “I want to lose weight”. Instead, say, “I want to lose a kilogram every month”.

Plan to avoid boredom. If you like being in company of others, going for long solitary walks will eventually sap your motivation for exercise. Try to do things that you normally do for fun: dance, play games. If you love music, get your iPod to the gym.

Don't be tunnel-visioned when it comes to activities. Do cross-training. It reduces the risk of injury by preventing overuse of one specific muscle or joint. Variety is good for your body and mind.

Don't skimp on exercise equipment. Buy the best for your body. Good exercise shoes can be expensive, and they need to be replaced after 500 km of walking, but they are worth the money because they can prevent foot injuries. On the other hand, don't fall for expensive gadgets that do little for your overall health.

Begin slowly and crank up the intensity gradually. Avoid over-enthusiasm when it comes to exercise. Muscles take months, if not years, to bulk up. However, every day you exercise is a step towards better health. So don't fall off the wagon.

(The writer is a specialist in Internal Medicine)