Tracy Griffen

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If you are thinking about exercising for the first time in a while, you'll notice things have changed, the colour of trainers for a start (acid green and orange, anyone?) Also, everyone seems to go running, but what are the alternatives? How do you pace yourself to make steady progress without injury?

"Gradually," says Tracy Griffen. "I see people throwing themselves into exercise until they feel they are going to collapse and not having enough recovery time. A lot of people go too hard, too soon, and then they are peeved for not being as fast as they used to be. If they persist they can get an injury.

"Three times a week every other day is my rule, because that gives your body a day to recover. If you are feeling out of breath for half an hour three times a week, your heart gets stronger and you lose weight."

As for what sort of activity to take up, there should be one guiding factor: pleasure. Running offers benefits such as strengthening the heart and bones and reducing stress levels, but there are plenty of other options, from joining a dance or martial arts class, to cycling or swimming.

"I'd work out what sport or exercise I enjoyed as a teenager and do more of it," says Griffen."People think that getting fit is going to be a monumental task, but just go slow. Be realistic about your goals and have little goals on the way to the big one."

Often people want to be as fit as they were in their twenties, but they might have been living on a third-floor flat and walking everywhere; now they live in the suburbs and rely on their car to get about. "Getting fit is about more than doing press-ups, it involves lifestyle changes, things like eating differently and getting more sleep."

You don't have to do it all alone. "If you do want to see results quickly I do think it's worth investing in a personal trainer, though I would say that," says Griffen. "A month to six weeks with a personal trainer helps you develop new habits."

Tracy Griffen, Griffen Fitness, Edinburgh,


Professor Ewan Gillon

What should you do on day one of a get fit regime? Swim 800m? Go for a mile run? Nah, says Professor Gillon - go to the gym and have a coffee. Come again?

"We often set ourselves up to fail right from the start by asking more of ourselves than we can deliver," explains Prof Gillon.

This is the classic pitfall. Having woken on the cold grey light of New Year's Day, impatient for change, the budding exerciser decides he or she is going to set tough challenges from the start. Bad move. "You're going to feel like you've failed because you won't manage it. You create a demoralising experience so you're not going to want to exercise again.

"You want to create a feeling of success, and build up slowly towards a goal. Even just saying: 'I'm going to go to the gym to walk around and then spend five minutes on the bike.' These are small manageable goals that create feelings of positivity."

Psychologists observe people thinking in all-or-nothing terms. Prof Gillon says: "We have this parental voice - psychologists call it a 'critical parent' - that sets unrealistic expectations. We have to create a psyche that is supportive - a 'nurturing parent'.

"Getting fit is messy. Sometimes we succeed, sometimes we fail. The most important thing is to do something, no matter how little."

Prof Ewan Gillon, First Psychology Scotland,


Nikos Jakubiak

You might expect a nutritionist to be precise about what you should eat, but Nikos Jakubiak warns that a strict dietary regime is the last thing you need. "The error of the diet regime is that it offers a quick fix when healthy eating should be a way of life," he says. "When you are being too prescriptive, you are putting an expiry date into how long you are going to do it for."

If you already have a healthy varied diet, there is no need to alter a thing because you have started exercising, but if your diet is lacking in nutrients you will have to make changes. The extra stress can exacerbate potential risks if you're not getting what your body needs.

"Your plate should be colourful," says Jakubiak. "Make sure there is a big variety of different foods."

Jakubiak, from Greece, is concerned that Scottish people don't eat enough vegetables so in winter recommends vegetable soup and lentil soup, while avoiding processed food. "This will help you have lots of nutrients with fewer calories."

But doesn't exercising mean you can eat all those cakes and biscuits and burn them off again? Nope. "It's the opposite," says Jakubiak. "If you do enjoy cake, have it, but don't satisfy your hunger with junk food."

The same goes for carbohydrate intake and sports drinks: the average exerciser does not need to up the intake of either, nor do they need to constantly drink water. "People can drink if they are thirsty, providing they are eating a reasonably healthy diet. I'm not saying don't drink water, but don't force yourself."

Nikos Jakubiak, performance nutritionist at the sportscotland institute of sport


Professor Dawn Skelton

It's never too late to start exercising, says Professor Dawn Skelton. Even 95-year-olds can start, if they take it slowly, and will see an improvement. "Exercise can only benefit. It's riskier not to move," says Prof Skelton.

"Often people associate breathlessness with ill health, but over 65 it is nearly always poor fitness."

But what if you have an illness? "If you have an unstable medical condition you should talk to your GP, but with conditions that are stable - angina, heart failure, asthma - exercise shows reductions in symptoms and improvements in quality of life.

"Government guidelines are that you should do 150 minutes a week of something that gets you warm and out of breath but it can be in bits of 10 minutes. So start off doing 10-minute bits."

Different forms of exercise affect different fitness components and you want a variety.

To boost endurance, walk at a pace when you get slightly warm and out of breath, but can maintain conversation. If you have had falls in the past year, increase the duration of the walk, not the speed. Dancing, cycling and swimming are also good for endurance.

To build strength, do a movement repetition with extra weight. This could be in a gym, housework with wrist weights, or 10 sit-to-stands during the advert break on TV. T'ai chi, yoga and pilates are also good.

"People are concerned if they can feel it the next day because they think that's too much," says Prof Skelton, "but if they can't feel it, they haven't done enough."

To build balance, when you put the kettle on, stand on one leg. Do a minute on each leg each day and you will you get better at it.

And remember: "Take it slowly and build up over a couple of months."

Professor Dawn Skelton, Glasgow Caledonian University