Getting fit: it doesn't have to hurt

There's an old adage of "no pain, no gain" when it comes to exercise. The key here is how we define "pain" and understanding that it really means "putting the effort in" - by which we mean getting at least a little warm and "breathy" and accumulating at least 150 minutes of this level of effort each week.

Minor aches and niggles are of course common and normal during exercise - but if you start to feel an increase in discomfort then think about easing back or stopping for a few moments.

If you feel better, then carry on gently and give it another go but if you start to feel uncomfortable again then you should probably call it a day and take a longer rest. You'll hopefully feel fine the next time around, especially if you ease off a little on the effort level but if the same thing happens again, you may want to think about getting some advice from either your doctor or an exercise therapist/specialist.

Government guidelines suggest that adults should take part in moderate-intensity exercise for at least thirty minutes five times a week in order to stay fit and healthy.

Following this advice can reduce the risk of serious diseases including type 2 diabetesheart disease and stroke. Research has suggested that light, low-impact exercise such as yoga and brisk walking can be just as effective as high-impact activities such as running in reducing the risk of heart disease.

The best way of finding an exercise schedule that you can stick to is by taking part in exercises you enjoy and that fit into your lifestyle. These can help you to gradually build up your fitness, strength, flexibility and balance.

Walking

Walking is free, part of everyday life, ideal for all ages and is an easy way to burn up calories. Regular walking can help you to lose weight and reduce the risk of several health conditions, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, asthma, stroke and some cancers.

The great thing about walking is that you don't need any specialist equipment, just a comfortable pair of shoes and some loose-fitting clothing. Walking a little faster than normal is the best method, which should make you a little out of breath, but not enough to be unable to carry a conversation.

Walking is great for strengthening the heart, lungs and circulation (cardiovascular system) and building muscle endurance, especially in the legs and hips.

However, if you find your motivation to walk is slipping, going out with a friend or even with a dog can go a long way towards lifting your spirits. Most people walk somewhere between 3,000 and 4,000 steps a day, and ideally you should aim for closer to 10,000 a day. If you walk at a moderate pace, you'll cover around 1,000 steps in 10 minutes.

Pilates

Pilates can help to improve body strength, flexibility and mobility in a gentle manner. The focus is on stretching and increasing the strength of the body, aiming to restore your muscular balance and is a safe way to improve posture and movement, helping to build your all-important core strength.

Pilates uses a mixture of Western forms of exercise with yoga and martial arts. It is often recommended by medical professionals as it can benefit people of all ages, regardless of their fitness levels.

Yoga

Yoga is an ancient practice that began in India around 5,000 years ago and there are several different styles, with some being more vigorous than others. It is considered to be a safe and effective way to build flexibility, muscle strength, balance and breathing control and there is some evidence to show that it can also help lower blood pressure and ease back pain, depression and stress.

T'ai chi

T'ai chi is a combination of slow, gentle movements, deep breathing and relaxation. Originating from 13th century China, it's sometimes described as 'dynamic yoga' and studies have shown that it can help improve balance, reduce stress and increase muscle strength.

Like yoga it is suitable for people of all ages and abilities. It can be practised on many levels, from simple exercises that focus on meditation, to those that are more in the style of a martial art.

Exercises include slow, graceful, movements that aim to restore the body's natural balance of energy. T'ai chi can also help to improve flexibility and suppleness without placing excessive strain on the joints or muscles.