6 steps to improve your fitness level

No matter how fit you are right now and however you decide to exercise, it is good to have a goal and a way to measure your success. So, before you start, do a few checks and write down the results. Check again every six weeks, and watch as your fitness level climbs.

6 steps to improve your fitness level

1. Make your goals realistic

And be sure to reward yourself when you hit your target.

2. Determine your fitness level

  • Find out your fitness level by establishing your resting pulse rate.
  • Generally, the lower the rate, the fitter you are — well-trained athletes' heart rates may drop as low as 40 to 60 beats per minute.
  • A high resting heart rate is a predictor of heart attacks and coronary death in both men and women.
  • Aim to bring yours down.

3. Start with a walk

  • Take what you would consider a reasonable walk at a reasonably brisk pace.
  • Record your pulse rate immediately afterwards and two minutes later; write down how far you walked and how long it took you.
  • Your aim is to walk further and faster each week and to see your pulse return to its resting level more quickly.

4. Check your measurements

  • Next, look back at the various measurements you took earlier: Body mass index (BMI), waist and hip circumference and waist-to-hip ratio.
  • If you are overweight, you should aim to reduce all these figures.

5. Record your steps

  • If you have a pedometer, record how many steps you take during an average day of the week and on the weekend.
  • Try to increase this number — the more steps, the better.
  • Settle on a realistic short-term target at the start, depending on your initial step count, and aim for at least 10,000 as your final goal.

6. Improve your "recovery rate"

  • Your resting pulse rate gives you some measure of your fitness level, but for an accurate assessment you need to know how quickly your heart rate returns to normal after exercise.
  • If you have been unable to do strenuous exercise, or if you are not in shape and are just beginning to be physically active, use the measurements you took from the self-paced walking test described above.
  • Otherwise, do some form of short-burst exercise that noticeably increases your pulse rate, such as push-ups, skipping or star jumps for as long as you can manage, between two and five minutes (but stop if you develop any pain or discomfort).
  • Take your pulse immediately after stopping the exercise, and again two minutes later.
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