Active living is good for us. Very good indeed. The simple truth is that you cannot be well, truly well, unless you live actively. You know that don’t you? And you’ve been active, at times, have you not? But you’ve battled to stick with it and so your life-with-exercise has been a bit of a roller-coaster up and down, has it not? If all this sounds familiar, you’re certainly not alone…

One of the biggest mistakes we make with exercise is setting unrealistic goals and targets. We plan to run a marathon in 6 weeks, or walk 10km a day, every day, right away. Or we enter a 100km cycle challenge on the back of just a few hours in the saddle. These, and similar, unrealistic targets lead to overtraining or injuries or demotivation, or simple pain. Almost always, one way or another, unrealistic targets just do not end well.

So what is reasonable? This is an extremely tricky question because the proper answer is “it depends”. It depends on your state of fitness, your age, any medical issues, and more. So we really do advise that you seek personal advice from a professional – a personal trainer, biokineticist, physiotherapist, or family doctor are all good choices. But let’s try to be a bit more helpful by offering some guidelines that apply to a 40-year-old person who is slightly overweight (not obese), sedentary (not doing any exercise currently) but with no medical problems. Such a person might reasonably set these sorts of targets:

  • Walk 5km – 5 weeks
  • Walk 10km – 10 weeks
  • Run 5km – 8 weeks
  • Run 10km – 16 weeks
  • Cycle 10km – 5 weeks
  • Cycle 20km – 10 weeks
  • Run 21km – 26 weeks
  • Run 42 km – 36 weeks
  • Cycle 50km – 26 weeks
  • Cycle 100km – 36 weeks

Obviously these are only guidelines but they should help you set realistic goals rather than self-defeating ones. If you are older or less well, please see your doctor first. If you are younger or fitter, please avoid the temptation to be too ambitious. In addition please remember:

  • Too-much-too-soon is the big mistake to avoid
  • For your first month of training, just getting-out-there is enough: this is not the time to race, to set time-targets, etc. Just move. Regularly. After a month you’ve started a habit, you’ll feel a bit better, and you can start to think more seriously about goals and targets.
  • After the first month of just-moving, you can try weekly improvements of about 5%. You can walk 5% further, run 5% faster, etc. This is a fair rate of improvement that should be safe for most adults.
  • If you have any sort of pain or injury, stop your training and see your doctor please.
  • To begin with, and for the first year, training alternate days is probably best and you really should not train more than 4 times a week, or 4-6 hours a week. This can change once you’ve built up your fitness (slowly) but as a general guide, alternate days is a good start.

Exercise is great. Realistic goal-setting makes it safer, healthier, even better, and much more sustainable.