How to Start a Daily Exercise Routine

Once you make the decision to start working out every day, it may be tempting to go overboard right from the start. After all, who doesn't want to look completely lean and cut a week after getting started? But those who start out too fast usually sputter and lose momentum quickly. Increase your odds of sticking with it for the long haul by starting the exercise routine gradually, then amping up the length or intensity of your workouts as both your body and mind become able to handle them.

Strength-Training Basics
Any complete exercise routine will include strength training; the extra strength and endurance makes everyday tasks easier and gives your metabolism a nice boost. Aim for eight to 12 repetitions each in a range of exercises that work every major muscle group in your body. A good starting lineup is leg presses or squats, chest presses, rows, biceps curls, triceps extensions and lunges. Once you can manage 12 repetitions with good form, it's time to either increase the resistance by 5 to 10 percent or do a more difficult variation of the exercise, so the workouts remain a challenge.

Cardio Basics
Start with whatever you can handle and work up from there; a good first goal is doing at least 10 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio every time you work out. Anything you enjoy that gets your big muscle groups moving rhythmically is fair game: walking, running, cycling, dance aerobics, inline skating, playing Frisbee and paddling a canoe. You'll know you've hit moderate intensity when you can speak normally but not sing.

Remember the Rest Days
Even the most hardcore of athletes need to build a few rest days into their workouts. Think of it this way: Your body gets stronger as it rebuilds itself in the space in between your workouts, not during the workouts themselves. So give yourself at least one rest day a week and more if you start to notice signs of overtraining such as prolonged recovery times, disturbed sleep patterns or unusual muscle soreness.

Your Workout Schedule
Now that you have all the pieces of a comprehensive fitness program, here's how to fit them together. The easiest schedule for a beginner is alternating days of cardio and strength training throughout the week, with one day chosen as a rest day. For example, you might do cardio on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and strength train on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

The gap between strength-training workouts is especially important, because you should never work the same muscle group two days in a row. As you get stronger, add cardio to your strength-training days, or retain the organization of your workouts, but increase their intensity or duration.

Playing It Safe
Warming up and cooling down before and after your workouts, respectively, helps ease your body into and back out of the heightened physical activity. Each warm-up and cooldown should be five to 10 minutes of gentle physical activity that mimics the workout you're about to do. If you're going to run, warm up by walking or jogging; if you're going to do cardio boxing, warm up with light shadowboxing. I you've been living a sedentary life, consult a physician before beginning a new workout program.