Exercise: Getting Active

Moving Your Body

Do you remember how to play? When you were a kid, you probably enjoyed some type of activity whether it was sports, swimming, dancing, or just a fun bike ride. Play and physical activity are an important part of life! Burning off energy and getting in tune with your body helps keep you well-balanced physically, emotionally, and mentally. Getting out into daylight has also been shown to improve learning and retention of information. Take the time to give yourself some playtime. The benefits far exceed the time spent.

Getting Active: What type of body movement do you enjoy?

The first step in becoming more active is the hardest. It becomes a little easier when you choose to do an exercise that you enjoy and look forward to doing. As you begin to add activity to your day or week, you will see that the key to becoming active is learning to identify opportunities to move your body (like taking a quick walk or scheduling stretch breaks in between your day, etc.) and focusing on little steps. Progress over perfection! 

The Surgeon General recommends doing moderate-intensity activities for 30 minutes on most days per week. The 30 minutes does not have to occur all at once. Some examples of increasing everyday activity are using the stairs instead of the elevator (if you can do so without injury), walking part of the way to work, or parking your car in the farthest space available and walking the rest of the way to your office. Every 5 to 10-minute dose of activity can help increase energy and reduce stress levels. 

Sticking With It: Progress Over Perfection!

To avoid burnout or injury, start your exercise program slowly. Try to build these new activities, such as walking, into your work and home life. By developing short-term goals (i.e. "I will walk for 20 minutes after lunch 2 times this week"), you are more likely to accomplish them. Add your walks for the week to your calendar, so that you remember. 

Use the Exercise Planner handout to keep track of your activities during the week or month. It also helps you to see your progress as you increase your activity levels, as well as helps you plan exercise into your schedule each week. Don't be too hard on yourself if you skip a day or a week, it's all about progress, not perfection!  

More Exercise Tips

  • Register for a walking event or short race (Such as a 5K) 3-4 months from now to give you a goal to work towards and time to train for it.
    • Berkeley Half Marathon (5K, 10K, and Half Marathon)
    • Albany Move'n'Groove 5K
    • Colusa Circle 5K Fun Run
    • Oakland Marathon (5K, 10K, Half Marathon, and Marathon)
    • Donut Fun Run 5K in Alameda
  • Change up your walking program by diversifying the path, pace, distance, or difficulty of your regular walks.
  • Try joining a walking, running, or biking group, etc. Or invite your friends to do activities together like hiking or attending a dance class.
  • Try new activities as part of your exercise program, such as biking, swimming, tennis, hiking, rock climbing, dance lessons, etc. Mix it up, and find new ways to move your body and have fun!
  • Add a strength training/weight training component 2-3 times per week to increase muscle strength and to help raise your heart rate.
  • Don't forget to stretch. Stretching after exercising helps to improve flexibility and prevent injuries.
  • Be kind to yourself and check in with how you feel. The point of exercising is to consistently move and feel good!  

Disordered Exercise

Regular exercise is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. But sometimes the drive to exercise can have negative health impacts. Disordered exercise has many names but some warning signs to look out for include 1) extreme or harmful exercise behaviors, 2) obsessive focus on food, exercise, or body weight, shape, or size, 3) social isolation or sudden change in attitude or performance or 4) fatigue, fainting/dizziness. 

For students who are struggling with disordered eating or exercise, the University Health Services Eating Disorders Team is a good place to start. To schedule an appointment, students should call the UHS clinic desk at (510) 643-7110. For questions or consultation, please call Social Services at (510) 642-6074.  

Injury Prevention & Self-Care

Here are some guidelines for preventing sports injuries, along with a few self-care tips for treating minor sports-related health problems that happen from time to time. 

Warm Up

Always warm up before exercise. For example, 3-10 minutes of slow walking or jogging, easy cycling, or light weights help to increase blood flow to the major muscle groups and increase your metabolic rate to prepare your body for a higher-intensity activity. 

Cool Down

After exercising, cool down. Decrease the intensity of your exercise and continue to move for 5 more minutes, then do slow, static stretches for 5-10 minutes. Cooling down helps your body adjust by allowing a proper decrease in heart rate and blood pressure, preventing blood from pooling in your legs, and promoting the removal of lactic acid to aid in decreasing muscular soreness, common after a moderate to high-intensity workout.  

Stretch Slowly and Gently

Never bounce, and stop short of pain. Inhale and exhale regularly while stretching. Hold the stretch for 10-30 seconds. Learn Proper Exercise Techniques Join an instructional class, take private lessons, or utilize the guidance of a certified personal trainer. 

Wear Comfortable Clothing, etc.

  • Shoes should fit well and should be designed for the activity you are involved in.
  • Wear socks made with cotton or wool to prevent blisters.
  • Wear shirts on hot days to protect the skin.
  • Women should wear sports bras when exercising strenuously.
  • Wear helmets for sports such as rollerskating and biking.
  • Wear safety glasses for sports such as racquetball and squash.
  • Wear clothes designed for the activity. 

Pay Attention to Nutrition

  • Plan ahead and have snacks/water available
  • Ask yourself: What is a good pre-workout/post-workout snack for you?
  • Eat regularly and stay well-hydrated. 

Take Precautions in Warm Weather

  • Drink plenty of water before, during, and after exercise. Don't wait until you are thirsty. 
  • Wear light-colored, lightweight, loose-fitting clothes.
  • Wear a hat or sun visor, sunglasses, and sunscreen.
  • Exercise more slowly and less intensely.
  • Be aware of the symptoms of heat exhaustion: weakness, dizziness, rapid pulse, headache, muscle cramps, decreased sweating, and nausea. 

Take Precautions in Cold Weather

  • Wear a hat and warm clothing to prevent heat loss.
  • Avoid overdressing; wear layers that can be removed as you warm up.
  • Wear loose clothing; it traps layers of air and provides good insulation.
  • Remove damp clothing as soon as possible. Water increases the rate of heat loss and decreases the insulation value of the clothing.


If you are tired or have had insufficient sleep, cut down on the duration or intensity of exercise. Also, give your body adequate time to recover from exercise, ideally 24 to 48 hours. 

Causes of Injuries

Do not ignore pain. Pain is the body's response to injury or overuse. As you get accustomed to exercising, you will better be able to distinguish between soreness and pain. Soreness may develop one to two days after a workout and dissipate 24 to 48 hours later. Pain can occur immediately and persist with everything you do. 

Stiffness and Soreness Caused By Overtraining

  • Intensity - exercising too much and too hard
  • Frequency - exercising too often, not giving your body enough time to recover (24 to 48 hours)
  • Dehydration
  • Impending or low-grade illness 

Back Pain

  • Improper technique while bending and lifting
  • Weak abdominal muscles
  • Inflexibility in the hamstrings or hip flexors
  • Hypermobility in the lower back from excessive stretching of hamstrings and pelvic girdle muscles
  • Emotional stress 

Other Causes

  • Ill-fitting shoes
  • Poor exercise equipment - weight machines that don't fit or align properly with your body 

Injury Treatment

For treatment of minor injuries not involving the eye, follow the RICE procedure:

  • Rest the injured area by reducing activity and immobilizing it.
  • Ice the injured area for 20-minute periods on, and 40 minutes off, to help decrease inflammation and pain.
  • Compress the injured area by wrapping it for at least 30 minutes to prevent swelling.
  • Elevate the injured area above heart level. If pain or swelling worsens after 24 hours, see a physician. 

Seek Medical Help For:

  • Any eye injury
  • Severe pain, disability, or numbness
  • An injured joint or broken bone 
  • Loss of movement
  • A minor injury which does not improve or heal within 3 weeks
  • Infection, pus, red streaks, swollen nodes, or fever 

Starting a Walking Program

General Guidelines

Please check with your physician before starting a regular exercise program.  

  • BeginnerTry walking briskly at a 3 to 3.5-mph pace (walking a mile in 17-20 minutes), beginning with 10 minutes per day for the first three weeks. Slowly increase the time you walk by 5 minutes per week until you are able to walk 30 minutes per day, six days per week. 
  • IntermediateIf you are already regularly active, start at this level. If not, you can continue here after about a month of the "Beginner" program. Aiming for a pace of 3.5 to 4.5 mph (13-17 minutes per mile), walking 3 miles (about 45 minutes), 3-5 times per week. If you find that you can't walk that fast, increase the distance that you walk instead. 
  • AdvancedIf you are ready to take your walking to the next level, increase the intensity of your workout by doing the following:
    • Walk/hike with a 10-15 lb. backpack.
    • Add uphill/downhill and stair climbing to your regular walks.
    • Walk on the beach; the sand will increase your intensity level.
    • Use 2-3 lb hand weights and continue your arm swing motion.
    • Try racewalking (5-9 mph). There are many local organizations and competitions you can join. 

Walking Techniques

Proper techniques in walking can make your workout more effective and enjoyable while helping to prevent injuries.

  • PostureKeep your head upright, looking ahead. Your chin should be in a neutral position, not too high or tucked in towards your chest. Your shoulders remain back and relaxed, not hunched over.
  • Foot PlacementKeep your feet close to an imaginary line in the center of the pavement in front of you (follow lines on a track). 
  • Finding Stride LengthStand upright with feet slightly apart. Lean forward at the ankles (like a ski jumper). Transfer your weight forward and as you do, put your right foot out in front of you and catch yourself before you fall forward. This is your stride length. You should maintain the same stride length regardless of the type of walk you do (Strolling - 3 mph; Brisk/Fitness walking - 4 mph; Racewalking - 5 mph  
  • StrideAlways keep at least one foot on the ground. The heel strikes the ground first, followed by rolling onto the ball of your foot, finishing with a strong push off the toes (trailing foot). Focus on quicker rather than longer strides. Avoid slapping the ground with your feet and concentrate on smoothing out the movement.
  • Arm SwingThis makes your walk a total body exercise. You will burn an additional 5-10% calories. Let your arms bend at the elbows and swing them in step with your feet in an arc from your waist to the front of your chest; your hands should reach just below chin level. Your forearms should brush your hips to keep your stride forward. 

Walking Throughout Your Day

The Surgeon General recommends doing at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise most days of the week. The good news is that any activity you do throughout the day counts and can be accumulated (i.e. three 10-minute walks spread out during the day) to produce real health benefits. Walking is a great low-impact exercise that can help you meet your health and fitness goals.

Try to accumulate a full 30-60 minutes of daily activity by doing some combination of the following:  

  • Walk to work 1-2 times per week or take public transportation part of the way and walk the rest.
  • Take a 10-15 minute brisk walk during your breaks.
  • Take a 10-15 minute brisk walk before or after meals.
  • Walk up and down stairs when you can.
  • Enjoy a brisk walk to meetings across campus.

When at home, find ways to stay active. Do some gardening or yard work. Walk the dog. Walk to the grocery store. Take an after-dinner walk along safe streets. You can also try to sign up for an evening dance class or learn a new sport by taking lessons or enrolling in a class (i.e. soccer, tennis, water aerobics). When planning to exercise away from home, get ready by packing a bag with your walking shoes, workout gear, water, snacks, etc. so you are prepared to exercise either during the workday or on your way home. 

Notice How You Feel

After a few weeks, you may notice a change in leg muscle strength, improved energy levels, and mood. Make sure you are also checking in with yourself about possible areas of pain to avoid injury. The point of exercising is to consistently move and feel good! 

Safety Tips

Below are some safety precaution tips for walkers:

  • Walk on sidewalks where possible. If walking on streets, always face oncoming traffic. 
  • Avoid walking after dark. If you choose to do so, walk on well-lit streets wear reflective accessories and light-colored clothing, and carry a flashlight, a whistle, and a cell phone. 
  • Walk with a mission. Try to look like you know where you are going and walk briskly.
  • In case you are attacked, yell "FIRE!" instead of "Help". People will respond to you more readily if they hear "FIRE!"
  • Try to let someone know where and when you will be walking so they know your whereabouts and when to expect you back.