Go from zero to hero

From office worker to active BHF hero

It’s never too late to make a fresh start, and that applies to being active too. So why not set yourself a challenge and do something you can be proud of, writes Sarah Brealey.

You might already have made a resolution to exercise more, or for the first time. It’s never too late to start. Regular moderate-intensity physical activity reduces your risk of coronary heart disease and many other conditions and can boost mental wellbeing. It can also help manage risk factors such as high blood pressure and cholesterol.

Exercise is also a great way to keep your weight in check, especially if combined with a healthy diet.

Getting started

If you have any health problems or it’s been a while since you’ve done any physical activity, check with your GP before starting a new exercise regime.

For many of us, both time and money are short, but don’t worry – some of the most popular physical activities can be easily worked into your daily routine and require almost no equipment.

For walking, all you need is comfortable footwear, although waterproof clothing will make you more likely to head out even if the sun isn’t shining. For running, a decent pair of trainers is a wise investment. If cycling takes your fancy, check your bike over before you hit the road, or take it to a bike shop for a service.

Set realistic goals

Set realistic, achievable goals for each week, gradually increasing the distance of your activity or the time you spend doing it. Think about when you’re going to exercise and mark it in your diary or calendar to remind you.

Many people who are new to exercise try to do too much, too soon, and become injured or discouraged, so take it easy.

Don’t forget to start your activity slowly and build up gradually and cool down at the end of your routine. And remember – a setback is not a defeat, so if you have a bad week, pick yourself up and keep going.

Graham's story of taking up exercise

Graham Bowley Graham Bowley, 69, a retired printer from Ilkeston, Derbyshire, started exercising for the first time after having a heart attack in 2011.

He now goes to gym sessions three times a week with Exercise for the Heart, a BHF-affiliated Heart Support Group, and also enjoys walking.

“It may seem a strange thing to say but having a heart attack was a good thing for me,” he says. “It’s made me live a healthy lifestyle. You would never have got me in a gym before but I really love it – in fact I miss it if I can’t go. It’s not just keeping fit, it’s sociable too. You can go on the treadmill or the rowing machine and chat to the person on the next machine.

“Exercise and eating healthily has made a big difference – I feel much better these days.

“It took a heart attack for me to change – my advice is don’t wait until you have one.”

Have something to aim for

Training for an event is a great way to stick to your exercise goals – especially if you’re raising money for a good cause.

How soon you’ll be ready for your first event depends on your fitness and what you’re working towards. Most beginners can build up to running 5km in eight or nine weeks, and if you have ambitions to run further, training for a half marathon can be completed in three to six months.

Cyclists should allow about 12 to 18 weeks to train for a 50-mile ride.

What’s coming up?

We’ve got loads of events throughout the UK and abroad in 2019, including walks, runs and bike rides. Set yourself a fitness goal and raise funds to power our research.

Woman celebrating at a BHF event

Look out for these:

8 May Tower of London Run

16 June London to Brighton bike ride

13 October Great Birmingham Run

All these events include a choice of distances, so there’s something for every level of fitness.

Find out more

NHS Choices has lots of information on exercise, including a detailed ‘Couch to 5km’ running plan, which comes with free podcasts.

We’ve also got training programmes on the events pages of our website.

More useful information