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Find your perfect exercise: tips for every fitness level

Exercise is essential for a healthy lifestyle and has multiple benefits. It’s good for your physical and mental health and can help you live longer. But if you’re a complete beginner, it can be difficult to know where to start.

Luckily, there is something for everyone. Whether you’re a complete beginner, have a particular goal or just want to squeeze some activity into your busy schedule, there is an exercise that will fit your needs. Read our complete guide to find your perfect exercise.

Medically reviewed by Dr. Caroline Fontana Written by our editorial team Last reviewed 07-05-2024

Exercise for beginners

If you’re a complete beginner when it comes to exercise, there are many simple but effective exercises to get you started.

It’s also the perfect time to explore, try things out and learn what exercises you like best when building your exercise routine.

Below are some tips for beginners.

Start easy

When you’re just starting, it’s important to not dive right into the deep end. Picking something too difficult can be disheartening and frustrating. You’re more likely to not make progress.

Walking is a good exercise for beginners. Set a goal to do a short brisk walk when you start once a week. Then, gradually increase the distance and the times a week as you improve your stamina.

You could also try picking up a sport you used to play.

Try something new

It’s a good opportunity to try new activities. You may find a new type of exercise that you love and will motivate you to keep fit.

Try looking at local classes or sports centres to see their activities or sports. You can also make new friends and socialise.

Finding an activity you enjoy is the key to staying consistent and reaching your fitness goals.

Join a gym

Gyms are an efficient way to get into fitness. They will have all the equipment you need for many types of exercise, from strength training to cardio.

Many gyms also offer classes or one-to-one sessions with a trainer. This will help you learn the ropes, get familiar with the equipment, and try new activities.

Young women exercising with a personal trainer.

It can be daunting to join a gym. However, a good way to tackle gym phobia is to take someone with you. You’re more likely to commit if you’re planning to meet a friend there. It will also be more enjoyable and will reduce any anxiety.

Joining a gym also needn't be expensive. There are local council and authority leisure centres and gyms in many cities that offer a very good monthly charge to use the facilities, or often use a “pay as you go” service.

Exercises for certain fitness goals

It’s also important to consider what your fitness goals are. Whether you’re looking to lose weight or gain strength, you will need to choose exercises that will help you reach your goals.

Lose weight

Exercise is a crucial part of weight loss. To lose weight, you need to burn more calories than you consume.

Alongside a reduced-calorie and balanced diet, physical activity will help burn extra calories. This is because your body needs more fuel during exercise. Consistent exercise means your body gets more efficient at burning fat over time.

Weight scale and fitness equipment.

The best exercises to lose weight are ones that rapidly increase your heart rate. These exercises burn more calories because the body has to work harder, therefore requiring more fuel.

Some good cardio exercises include:

  • long and brisk walks
  • jogging or running
  • interval training (e.g. HIIT or Tabata)
  • sprints
  • cycling
  • skipping
  • standing cardio (e.g. star jumps, burpees or jump squats)
  • stair climbing

If you are on weight loss medication like Wegovy, Saxenda or Mounjaro, you should also include some resistance training. This is to prevent patients from losing lean muscle mass whilst burning calories.

Resistance training is any exercise that involves lifting or pulling against resistance. This could be through lifting weights or bodyweight exercises.

Tone or sculpt

Toning or sculpting your body are terms for shifting the fat and muscle balance. Usually, this involves burning fat while increasing muscle mass so your muscles look more defined.

The best way to tone or sculpt your muscles is through strength training. These can be through doing bodyweight exercises and weight training. Full-body exercises are the best unless you’re looking to target a specific muscle.

Body conditioning classes are also good ways to tone and sculpt your body. Exercising in a class will push you, and motivate you and you will gradually see results if you stay consistent.

However, it is important to remember you will need to be in a calorie deficit or eating your maintenance calories to see muscle growth or ‘tone’. You can use our online calorie calculator tool to find out how many calories you should consume.

Gain strength

To gain strength, you will need to stimulate your muscles often and with a greater intensity. This will require resistance training.

The best exercise for building strength is to lift weights or use resistance bands. There are many different exercises to increase strength. Some target one specific muscle (isolation exercises) whilst others target multiple muscles (compound exercises).

Close-up of a man lifting dumbbells.

You should start with a manageable weight for each exercise, that may be just using your body weight if possible or no weight at all. Once you can comfortably do 12-16 reps, you should increase the weight by 1-2 kg.

Age-friendly exercises

As you get older, exercising becomes more and more important.

This is because as you age, you lose muscle mass, a phenomenon called sarcopenia. One study Trusted source National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) Government Source Biomedical Research and Literature Go to source found that after the age of 30, you lose up to 3-8% of your muscle mass each decade. This rate increases even more after the age of 60.

You lose 3-8% of your muscle mass every 10 years once you reach 30 years.

If you are less physically active, your muscles, bones and joints will get weaker over time. It also means older people are at greater risk of injury, immobility and developing conditions like osteoarthritis.

A combination of resistance training and aerobic exercise (cardio) effectively reduces muscle wasting. However, you should choose low-impact exercises like walking that don’t hurt your joints and muscles.

Elderly couple exercising together.

Swimming is a great exercise as it still stimulates the muscles and allows you to move in a good range of joint movement without hurting your joints. There are also many classes for older people to increase mobility and help with muscle or joint pain.

Ask your doctor before starting a new exercise to ensure it’s safe for you.

Exercises for menopause

A part of ageing for women is menopause. Postmenopausal women are more at risk of heart disease and osteoporosis - a condition that causes weak bones. Exercise is the best way to prevent these complications.

During the menopause, symptoms like hot flushes can make exercise more uncomfortable. So, it’s best to do simple exercises at your own pace. Any exercise is better than none - even if it’s just a brisk walk once a week.

After menopause, the period 12 months after your last period known as postmenopause, your symptoms should improve. You should aim to focus on doing some cardio and some light resistance training.

Taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is clinically proven to reduce your symptoms, which can help reduce any discomfort while exercising. Which can help you make progress in the long run.

Exercises that don’t need equipment

If you can’t afford a gym membership or buy the equipment yourself, there are plenty of exercises that require minimal to no equipment.

  • walking or running - only require a comfortable pair of shoes
  • yoga or pilates - only require an exercise mat, but can be done on any comfortable surface
  • body weight resistance training (e.g. planks or push-ups)
  • standing cardio or HIIT

You could also substitute items in your home for gym equipment. For example, you could fill up two water bottles and use them as weights. You could even go up and down the stairs in your home for some cardio.

Young woman doing exercises on a chair.

There are also a variety of free workout videos available on platforms like YouTube that require no equipment. From cardio to pilates, there is a variety of free exercise content online that you can do for your home workouts.

Exercises for a busy schedule

Some people struggle to find time to exercise. They have a busy schedule either because of work, school or if they have young children. But, you can still do an effective workout even if you only have 15 minutes a day to spare.

One exercise that gets your heart pumping in a short period is HIIT (high-intensity interval training). This involves short bursts of high-intensity activity and then periods of low-intensity activity or rest.

Woman working out at home fitness video.

Some high-intensity activities include mountain climbers, jumping jacks, burpees and jump squats. There are also many videos online that you can follow along to from the comfort of your own home.

You can also incorporate more physical activity into your daily routine if you cannot allow much time for exercise. Try cycling to work or walking to the shops rather than driving if you can. You could even add a 15-minute walk into your lunch break.

Final thoughts

Any physical activity is good, even if you can only commit to 15 minutes a day. It has a myriad of health benefits, allowing you to improve your overall well-being.

There are a variety of exercises available for different goals or fitness levels. Even if you’re a beginner, there are plenty of options available to you that are easy, fun and require no equipment.

It can be daunting to try new things, but it’s an opportunity to find a new potential hobby. If you’re nervous, why not bring a friend or family member? You might even find a shared passion and spend more time with them.

Further reading

The secret to battling weight loss plateaus

The benefits of exercise for weight loss The secret to battling weight loss plateaus

Reviewed by Dr. Caroline Fontana
Weight lifting for weight loss

The benefits of exercise for weight loss Weight lifting for weight loss

Reviewed by Dr. Caroline Fontana
Home workouts to lose weight

The benefits of exercise for weight loss Home workouts to lose weight

Reviewed by Dr. Caroline Fontana
The best cardio exercises to lose weight

The benefits of exercise for weight loss The best cardio exercises to lose weight

Reviewed by Dr. Caroline Fontana
Walking and how it can help with weight loss

The benefits of exercise for weight loss Walking and how it can help with weight loss

Reviewed by Dr. Caroline Fontana
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