Develop a realistic workout schedule and map out achievable goals—it will help you stick to your fitness plans. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

Establishing an exercise routine can be relatively simple. But maintaining it can be difficult.

Among other things, it takes discipline and a certain amount of flexibility.

For those who manage to launch a workout regimen, the rewards can permeate their entire lives.

“When working out regularly becomes a habit, you feel like you’re missing something if you skip a day,” said Samantha “Sam” Johnson, a sports medicine supervisor with Spectrum Health. “Exercising can relieve stress and increases a person’s endorphins, which decreases pain, and generally makes the body feel better.”

Here are five tips from Johnson to help get started on a workout program:

1. Have objectives

Set goals using the SMART method—Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Reasonable and Timely.

This requires specific objectives over a timeframe that can be achieved and adjusted if need be, Johnson said.

“People who exercise regularly have to be very fluid with time,” she said. “They have to have the ability to reassess the goals and modify them based on how their body and lives change over time.”

2. Maintain routine

People are creatures of habit—they need to have a schedule they can stick to. It may take some time to establish a schedule, so look at what’s realistic if you’re new to exercise. Start small—maybe two times a week—and then increase to three or more.

3. Plan workouts

By planning a workout in advance, you can maintain focus on the program. This includes everything from laying out your workout clothes to preparing the equipment and materials you’ll use during a workout.

Select the muscle groups you’ll work on and identify the exercises involved. Then, decide if you’ll conduct the workout at home or at a gym.

4. Warming up, cooling down

Warmups should precede each session, with the technique varying depending by individual and exercise. Some may need dynamic warmups, or moving the body through the joints full range of motion. Those lifting weights may start with a lighter piece before moving to heavier equipment.

For runners, walking for a few minutes before jogging may be advisable.

“When you warm up, you are preparing your body for activity by gradually increasing your body temperature and blood flow to the muscles, and thus reduce injuries,” Johnson said.

After exercising, people need to cool down to allow their blood pressure to drop and heart rate to return to a more normal level. This may involve some stretching exercises to ease the stress on muscles, or walking slowly after running. Swimmers may want to do an extra lap to cool down.

5. Shape your diet

Proper nutrition is critical when exercising regularly. The type of food may vary depending on the individual’s goals. If you’re trying to lose weight, you have to watch your calorie intake. In this case, vegetables, fruits and healthier foods are needed.

For those trying to increase muscles, a higher protein diet may be in order.

No matter what type of diet is selected, proper hydration is a must. Johnson suggests people carry water bottles while exercising, to fuel the diet through hydration before and after the workout.

It’s something of a myth that it takes 21 days to establish a habit. Research shows that, on average, it takes 66 days, said Phillip Adler, PhD, a licensed athletic trainer and operations manager for Spectrum Health Orthopedic Outreach.

“What it boils down to is start, do, and maintain,” Dr. Adler said.

Those who workout regularly often find it’s life-changing.

“People who exercise see the benefits in other parts of their lives,” Johnson said. “They may take the stairs instead of using an elevator, or they may park further away from store entrances to get a little more exercise walking. People will increase activity in every aspect of their life.”