When you sit still for long periods of time, you’re not doing yourself any favors, according to science. In fact, you may be increasing your risk for certain diseases, such as cancer, heart disease and type 2 diabetes. To encourage people to move more, the American Heart Association designated April “Move More Month,” and the theme for 2024 is something many of us can get behind: “Walk More. Stress Less.”

If you’ve been looking for a little inspiration to get you moving, consider this your time! Read on for some ideas on how to ease into an exercise routine, while keeping your health top of mind.

  1. If you’re new to exercise, or if it’s been a while, talk to your doctor. It’s true that doctors are generally in agreement that exercise is a good thing. But if you haven’t exercised recently and/or if you’re encountered health challenges that may put you in danger of illness or injury, it may be helpful to get some personalized health advice. For example, if you struggle with balance, if you feel dizzy or take medications that make you drowsy or if you have a chronic health condition that impacts your heart, lungs, energy and/or strength, ask your primary care provider for the “all clear” before starting something new.
  2. Identify your “why.” Starting an exercise routine is sometimes the easy part. Maintaining the habit can get challenging for some people. Consider you motivation. Are you starting a new routine for improved health? Weight loss? To be a good role model? To support a friend or family member? To feel better? To boost your mental health? Make a list of your reasons so you’ll have them to reflect on later in the month—especially on days when it’s gray and gloomy, or you’re feeling tired or stressed and need that extra push.
  3. Plan your routine. Whether you’re walking, running, cycling, dancing or signing up for a team sport, it can help to establish a routine to follow. That might mean committing to a certain number of steps each day or miles each week; or it could be based on the number of minutes or hours you’re striving for. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, for example, say to aim for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity per week (i.e. 30 minutes a day, five days a week) and two days of muscle strengthening activity.  The American Heart Association shares some ideas of what those activities can be, and they include brisk walking, water aerobics, dancing, gardening, tennis and biking at a leisurely pace. Do any of those appeal to you?
  4. Warm up, cool down and stretch. Don’t forget the “ease” part of easing into a new routine! Commit to a few minutes at the start and end of your workout to warm up and cool down. And don’t forget it stretch. It may help you improve flexibility and reduce the risk of injury. The American Heart Association offers this stretching guide to get you started.
  5. Eat a healthy diet. Food is fuel, and when you’re exercising you want to make sure you’re putting premium fuel in the tank! Strive for an eating regimen that’s filled with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains. Also, aim to eat foods that are low in added sugars, saturated fats and sodium. And drink lots of water, to make sure you’re hydrated during your workouts. As you adapt your diet and your activity level, see if you can tell a difference in your energy levels and your quality of sleep. It’s all connected!

Committing to a new exercise routine is no small feat. As you take these healthy steps in April, be kind to yourself. Try to find joy in each part of the journey. And remember that when you prioritize your health, it’s the greatest gift you can give yourself.