When it comes to getting in shape, there are no real secrets or shortcuts. The path to a fitter you is paved with many hours doing fitness activities. No matter what your gender, creating better health and a shapelier body involves picking activities you enjoy, and doing them as often as you can.
Assess your current fitness level so you'll be able to track your changes over time. Run, jog or even walk a mile, and time how long it takes you. Count how many sit-ups, pushups and pull-ups you can do. Measure your waist, chest, hips and thighs using a soft measuring tape. Then write all of that information into a fitness journal, along with the date. Two weeks from now -- no sooner -- do this test again, and then again in six weeks. If you've been sticking to a fitness routine, you should find that you're making significant changes.
Find a friend who wants to take this journey with you. Having consistent social support has been shown to be a strong indicator of success in fitness programs, and may motivate you to show up when you were thinking of skipping out. It can also encourage some friendly competition to see who meets their goals faster.
Carve out as much time as possible for getting in shape -- but don't worry if you only manage 15 minutes over your lunch break. Around 30 to 60 minutes of cardio, five days a week is ideal, but do what you can. Pick activities that you enjoy among the highest calorie-burning exercises such as running, swimming, aerobics, Zumba, dancing or jumping rope, if you can -- if none of those appeal to you, any type of movement will help you get in shape. Women's lives tend to be filled with child-rearing and household responsibilities that make it difficult to do a full hour of exercise -- and that makes some women feel overwhelmed, suggests a 2002 University of Michigan study on barriers to women's fitness. Don't beat yourself up -- do what you like to do and you're more likely to feel good about it and stick with it.
Work strength training into your routine two days a week, in keeping with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' physical activity guidelines. The best-case scenario: hire a trainer or use circuit training machines or free weights to do a total-body workout that puts all major muscle groups through a full range of motion. If you're among the many women who don't want to go to the gym for fear of others seeing their bodies, take your strength training routine to your living room, before or after work. Get a set of dumbbells and do weight-bearing exercises, including bicep curls, butterfly chest exercises, lunges and squats, as well as pushups and sit-ups. All you need is one set of about 12 repetitions of each exercise, or to the point of muscle fatigue. Within a few sessions, you should start to see a difference.
Reward yourself when you complete a workout, no matter how long the workout. In that University of Michigan study, researchers found that women were more successful in sticking to their exercise programs when they created a "pleasure response" to exercise. That doesn't mean you should go out and eat a banana split every time you work out -- reward yourself with something healthy, such as a smoothie, an extra episode of your favorite show, or something else you enjoy.