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Get Fit & Lean

Physical activity and Exercise, the keys to fitness

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First published: 11.Nov.2018

Excercise to be in better shape

Obesity is the modern scourge, it affects people all over the world. In America, one out of three adults is obese (30 years ago it only affected 15% of Americans).

Being overweight or obese increases your health risk and increases the chances of suffering from serious health conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and even cancer.

Getting in shape by losing weight and shedding visceral fat, will build up your muscles' resistance and strength and also improve your blood pressure, reduce "bad" cholesterol, enhance "good" cholesterol, and triglycerides levels in your bloodstream. It will also improve your blood sugar and ward off insulin resistance.

Your joints will benefit from not having to support the extra weight, and you overall will feel more energetic and vigorous.

Getting into shape and feeling fit is not as complicated as it sounds. This article gives some tips, advice, and links to resources that can help you improve your fitness.

Add activity to your life: ride your bike.

How do I become physically fit?

If you feel that you should shape up, lose some pounds, and exercise more, you are on the right track. These are the steps you should follow:

1. Find out how "unfit" you are

Learn if you are overweight or obese. Our BMI (Body Mass Index) Calculator will help you to do just that.

Having defined your weight you can set a goal and a realistic time frame to achieve it, for instance: "lose 20 pounds over the next year by reducing my caloric intake by 20% and increase my level of physical activity as per the following program."

2. Adopt a Two-Pronged approach

You can lose weight by:

  1. Reducing your calorie intake: with a diet.
  2. Increase your energy expenditure: by increasing your levels of physical activity.

Not only will you lose weight, but you will also get into shape and feel much better as you do so.

2. Get started with diet and exercise programs

Our Tips and Advice for Weight Loss page has plenty of tips on diet and lifestyle changes such as eating a healthy and balanced diet to lose weight safely and keeping it off.

But dieting and food is only one aspect. The other is increasing your levels of physical activity.

Our Getting Started page shows you how to prepare your exercise program in a gradual step-by-step plan with clear goals. It also has tips on how to stick to your training program, keep motivated, and stay on track.

This page deals with the physical activities that you could include in your program and also links to different resources that will help you learn more about the risks of being overweight and also, how to lose weight.

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How do I start exercising?

Simple, just prepare your plan and start. How much physical activity you need, depends on your age, the guidelines published by the US Department of Health and Human Services can help you define your physical activity goals in your personal fitness program:

Read this before you start

Before participating in any diet or exercise program or using any diet or fitness products or services that may be described on or through, we strongly recommend that you consult with a physician or other healthcare provider.

Our Fitness and Wellness Content should not be used instead of professional advice given by qualified medical professionals such as your doctor or registered dietitian, or other Professional Care Provider.

Our Fitness and Wellness Content should only be used under qualified medical guidance. If you know or suspect that you may be pregnant, have an eating disorder, have diabetes, or have any other physical, psychological, emotional, or medical condition, seek the immediate advice of your doctor or before using our Fitness or Wellness Content.

Should you experience any discomfort or pain during an activity suggested in our Fitness or Wellness Content: such as a diet or an exercise routine, you must immediately cease the activity and seek the assistance of a physician or other applicable Professional Care Provider.

Physical Activity Guidelines

These are the recommended levels to "maintain health", they are the minimum. You should aim at doing much more than this. Learn more: Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans defined by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Adults: age 18 to 64

  • Any physical activity (PA) is better than none. Avoid inactivity. Any amount of PA will provide health benefits.
  • For "substantial" health benefits: Do at least 150 minutes per week (2 hours and 30 minutes) of moderate-intensity activity or 75 minutes (1 hour and 15 minutes) of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity each week. Or a combination of both.
  • Aerobic activity should last at least 10 minutes and be spread out throughout the week.
  • For even more health benefits increase the moderate-intensity aerobic activity to 5 hour &frasl week or the vigorous-intensity to 150 minutes⁄week.
  • You should also include muscle-strengthening activities involving all major muscle groups on 2 or more days a week.

Older Adults: +65 years

  • Try to follow the adult guidelines above; if you can't, then try to keep as physically active as possible.
  • Exercise to maintain and improve balance -to avoid the risk of falling.
  • Your level of physical activity (PA) should be in line with your level of fitness.
  • Those suffering from chronic health conditions should understand whether and how their conditions affect their ability to do regular PA safely.

Some exercise definitions

In case you are wondering, these definitions explain what "moderate" or "vigorous" means:

  • Moderate-intensity physical activity is an aerobic activity that increases your heart rate and breathing somewhat. This is 5 or 6 on a 0 to 10 scale.
  • Vigorous-intensity physical activity is an aerobic activity that greatly increases your heart rate and breathing. This is 7 or 8 on a 0 to 10 scale.
  • Muscle-strengthening activity is a physical activity that builds muscle power, mass, and endurance. It includes strength training, resistance training, muscular strength, and endurance exercises.
fitness: woman in red gym tights tying her sports shoe laces
All set, getting ready to exercise.

Knowing how much you need is the first step. The second is to work this physical activity into your daily and weekly routine.

Choose activities that you like and enjoy. Do something that you can realistically fit into your daily schedule.

Try to be more active

Take breaks from long periods of inactivity -for example, sitting at your desk at your job- by standing up, walking, and doing some light activity.

Sitting on your backside is bad for your health. Couch potatoes have higher health risks. So get up and move about.

Mix Moderate and Vigorous Aerobic activities

As a rule of thumb, 1 minute of vigorous activity is equal to 2 minutes of moderate activity.

For instance, jogging for 15-minute or riding a bike fast or uphill for 15 minutes are each equivalent to 30 minutes of moderate activity.

Examples of Moderate Aerobic Activity

You need at least 150 minutes per week of this type of physical activity:

  • Brisk walking
  • Water aerobics
  • Hiking
  • Playing volleyball or basketball
  • Playing touch football
  • Playing doubles tennis
  • Riding a bike on level ground
  • Pushing a lawnmower, light gardening (raking)
  • Dancing
  • Washing and waxing your car, washing windows or floors
  • Shoveling snow
  • Skating, rollerblading, and skateboarding

It is better to spread it out along the week (not 150 minutes in one go! try 30 minutes on 5 days, every week).

Moderate activity will make your heart beat faster, and you'll breathe faster.

How to tell if it's Moderate activity?

It's moderate if you can still talk, but you can't sing the words to a song

Vigorous Activity, some examples

You will be breathing hard and fast, you will notice the effort. These are some activities that require vigorous effort:

  • Jogging, running
  • Swimming fast
  • Riding a bicycle fast or on hilly terrain
  • Playing soccer, singles tennis, or hockey
  • Gymnastics, martial arts, or aerobics
  • Skipping rope

How to tell if its Vigorous activity

During vigorous activity, you won't be able to say more than a few words without pausing for breath.

Muscle Strengthening Activities

Keeping muscle mass is important as you age. Strong muscles help you keep mobile, regulate blood sugar, and blood pressure, contribute to joint and bone health. You should do strength exercises to keep your muscles in shape.

Strength activities are not aerobic, so you must do them in addition to your minimum of 150 minutes per week of aerobic activity.

Examples of muscle-strengthening activities:

  • Lifting weights
  • Workout with resistance bands
  • Using your body weight as you exercise (sit-ups, abs, push-ups, squats).
  • Heavy chores at home (digging in the garden).
  • Yoga, pilates, Tai Chi

You don't need to go to the gym to strengthen your muscles, you can do it at home

Your Muscle Strength Sessions

Aim at least at one set.

With 8 to 12 repetitions in each set.

Do them to the point where you struggle to complete another rep.

woman's feet in sports shoes climbing up the steps of a metal staircase
Keep active, take the stairs.

How long does it take to become fit?

It all depends on your "baseline" fitness, are you really out of shape, or only slightly? And also on the intensity and frequency of your physical activity. See the following examples:

Pearn (1980) (1) studied a group of 50 young university undergraduates who volunteered for a fitness program in a military training camp. "All the subjects became fit within 14 days of starting training, with objective improvement in both absolute strength and pulse recovery times."

Of course, military training is very intense, so we can assume that two weeks is the minimum time to get fit. For a more sedate approach to getting fit, German researchers (Scharhag-Rosenberger, F., Meyer, T., Walitzek, S. and Kindremann, W., 2009) (2) studied 18 untrained subjects, men and women with an average age of 42 years and a BMI of 24.3 (normal weight).

The group completed a one-year-long jogging-walking program consisting of 3 weekly sessions of 45 minutes each.

The benefits of training (heart rate, maximal oxygen intake, and running speed) showed up very quickly and improved at a constant rate until roughly 6 months into the program when a plateau phase began.

After six months you will have to raise the bar and increase the effort to keep on improving your fitness.

Take-home point

The benefits of training will show up immediately and increase with time.

More Fitness resources

Each of the following pages provides information, tips, and advice on getting into shape, fitness, and losing weight:

young woman's bare tummy and slim waist

Why Waist Size Matters

Waist circumference is a good indicator of fat stored in your midsection, and will give you a clear picture of the health risks involved.


toned six-pack male abdomen

Tips for a Flat Stomach

Tips and the science behind them: flatten your belly, lose visceral fat and reduce health risk. Tone your abdominal muscles.


a glass of water, tomato and weight loss

Drinking Water to Lose Weight

Several studies have shown that there is a positive correlation between drinking more water than one usually drinks, and weight loss. In other words: drink more water and you will lose weight.


References and Further Reading

(1) J Pearn, (1980). How long does it take to become fit? Br Med J. 1980 Dec 6; 281(6254): 1522-1524

(2) Scharhag-Rosenberger, F., Meyer, T., Walitzek, S and Kindremann, W., (2009). Time Course of Changes in Endurance Capacity: A 1-yr Training Study, Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: May 2009 - Vol 41:5 p 1130-1137, doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e3181935a11

NHS, (2018). Physical activity guidelines for adults, last reviewed: 30.05.2018, accessed: 01 Nov 2018

Dietary Guidelines 2015-2020 - Appendix 1. Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, accessed: 01 Nov 2018.

About this Article

Get Fit and Lean, A. Whittall

©2018, 15 Nov. 2018. Updated. 21 Nov. 2020.

Tags: getting fit, fitness, get fit, getting into shape, lean, exercise, physical activity.

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Subject: How to get fit and lean. The two-pronged approach to getting into shape: (1) diet and (2) exercise. Tips for getting into shape, feel fitter, and healthier.

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