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Do I need to join a gym, buy exercise equipment, or work with a trainer to be physically fit?

No. While many people benefit from the guidance of a personal trainer or other fitness expert, the convenience of home exercise equipment, or the variety of fitness programs and equipment offered at the average gym, those things may not fit into your schedule or budget, and they certainly aren't necessary for the average person to stay physically fit.

Many experts would argue that all one really needs is a good pair of shoes for walking or running. Both activities offer an aerobic workout, don't require fancy equipment, and can be done virtually any time, anywhere.

I am far from fit. Is it too late for me?

It is never too late to improve your fitness level. Studies have shown that even for elderly sedentary people, a boost in physical activity can have a significant impact, increasing strength and overall fitness.

Some people are so accustomed to living a sedentary lifestyle that the mere thought of getting the recommended amount of exercise is overwhelming. Experts suggest the following tips for getting and staying motivated:

If you smoke, quit—or at least cut back. The fewer cigarettes you smoke, the more effectively your lungs function. The more effectively your lungs function, the more physical activity your body is capable of—and the healthier and more fit it can become.

  • Choose physical activities you truly enjoy. Whether it's working in the yard, joining a bowling league, jogging with the dog, or taking a yoga class, pick a few things you like to do and make time for them most days of the week.
  • Start with simple, sustainable changes in physical activity and build gradually. People often try to do too much too soon. They get discouraged and perhaps even injure themselves, and then they stop exercising.
  • Buddy up. Many people enjoy the social interaction that comes with exercising with a partner, and partners can help keep each other motivated and on track.
  • Don't focus too much on the numbers at first. Thinking about repetitions, distances, and times can be discouraging and distracting. Just listen to your body and focus on becoming more active initially; tracking the numbers can come later.

Am I working hard enough?

The key to answering this question is knowing what's normal for you in terms of things like breathing, perspiration, and your overall feeling of wellness when you exercise. A general rule of thumb, however, is to use "the talk test": During a good workout, you should be breathing hard but not so hard that you can't participate in a conversation.

Overall, if activities that used to be extremely taxing become less challenging over time, you might consider increasing the intensity and/or duration of your workouts. And if a previously mastered activity suddenly becomes painful or exceedingly difficult, stop the activity until you speak with your doctor, trainer, sports therapist, or other appropriate professional.

If you're not seeing improvements in your overall health, well-being, and performance after three months, you should see your doctor to rule out any health problems that could be hindering your progress. You might also consider trying different activities, for longer durations and/or at greater intensities.