Set your course. You’re the one who will establish the routine, set your pace and choose your path. Be sure to set reasonable goals – and do your best to meet, then expand them. If you start out walking for 15 minutes a few days a week, take it up a notch after a week or two. Try walking a little faster, going a little longer. Never stop striving to take it to the next level. Where and when you exercise are also important considerations. If walking a hilly route is too strenuous stick with level ground. Try an indoor mall or gym with a flat track so you can walk safely and comfortably. Explore large churches, YMCAs or community centers in your area that may have indoor tracks good for walking in any weather.

Don’t go it alone. If you find exercise tedious or lonely, you’re less likely to stick with it. There’s strength in numbers, so grab a friend, neighbor or family member and make a regular date to walk. If you have an active dog, take it for a stroll. Look into group walks or arthritis exercise classes – activities that make working out more of a fun social event and less of a chore.

Shop around. Does the very idea of a gym make you break out into a cold sweat? You aren’t alone.  But if you think all gyms are filled with nothing but toned and thin people, think again. Take a tour or accept a trial membership at a variety of gyms in your area. You may find several that suit you. Explore specialized health clubs such as Curves, a chain of gyms for women. At Curves, women of all sizes, ages and fitness levels perform circuit training with instruction from a coach. Or try an Arthritis Foundation floor or water-exercise class where everyone in the class also has arthritis and many people may have weight issues. 

Mix it up. While it’s important to make exercise part of your routine, you don’t have to do the same thing day in and day out. Variety is the spice of life, so spice up your workout. A balanced fitness program includes aerobic activity, strengthening exercise and stretching. Strengthening exercises will help build up muscles around certain joints, relieving pressure on them, while stretches can help increase your range of motion. All three are necessary to help you avoid injury, improve your overall fitness and prevent boredom. Explore new activities that might be more to your liking than repetitive exercise – anything from yoga to Pilates classes, gardening, water exercise or dance-fitness classes. 

Suit up. Knowing “what to wear” can make all the difference in having the confidence to take those first steps toward becoming more physically active. Research shows that one of the leading barriers preventing people who are overweight or obese from exercising is feeling self-conscious about their appearance. The solution: Wear clothing that you feel comfortable in – loose-fitting t-shirts and stretchy pants are fine. Actually, there is no real norm at today’s gyms. People wear a variety of clothes, whatever suits them. Plus-size workout clothing and swimsuits are available at department stores or discount stores such as Wal-Mart and online. Check out the Plus Size Yellow Pages. And don’t forget about the most important piece of clothing to get started with a physical activity program: your shoes. The right shoe should be roomy, supportive and flexible.

Visualize success. What does success look like to you? Running a marathon? Wearing a bikini? Sure, these can be achievable long-range goals for some people, but why look so far into the future? That can be intimidating. Aim for shorter-term successes, like always using the stairs instead of using the elevator at the office or walking for 30 minutes straight without stopping. These are all equally important achievements and each deserves recognition. Don’t forget to celebrate your successes when you reach them! Remember – every pound of weight lost takes four pounds of pressure off your knees.