Fitness is important for people during all stages of life, and maintaining an active lifestyle as you age is critical to long-term health and wellness.

However, it’s important to find a fitness plan that is ideal for your unique fitness level and personal goals.

Here are some tips to help ensure that you don’t over- or under-do your cardio exercise, and you create the right routine for you.

1. Confirm that you’re healthy enough for physical activity

First and foremost, talk to your doctor about your fitness goals and any plans you may have to start new activities. It’s necessary to discuss any changes to your fitness habits with a medical professional so they can give you guidance on what is smart for you in your present condition. If you don’t, you may wind up injuring yourself and setting your health and fitness progress back.

Before you bring it up, try to decide what type of activity you’d like to engage in — maybe you want to start jogging on the treadmill or taking weekly cardio classes — so your doctor has an idea of the specific physical demands you’ll be taking on.

If you intend to work with a personal trainer, schedule a preliminary consultation to determine a basic fitness plan. You can then take the plan to your doctor and get the green light to move ahead before actually starting it. Once you know what your safety limitations are, your personal trainer can further customize your plan to suit your capabilities.

2. Set short- and long-term goals

In conjunction with getting your doctor’s approval, you’ll want to think about short- and long-term goals. Ask yourself what you want out of a fitness routine and what kind of results you’re trying to achieve. Short-term goals include objectives like “perform 30 minutes of cardio activity on the elliptical trainer four times per week,” “run a 5k race,” or “lose five pounds.” Longer-term goals include things like “increase endurance to keep up with the grandchildren,” “maintain a healthy body weight long term,” or “engage in daily cardio activity to reduce risk of familial heart disease.”

Setting goals is helpful both in terms of tracking your progress, managing expectations and sticking to a consistent schedule.

And you get bonus points if you tell other people your goals, in order to stay accountable to them.

3. Push yourself

Once you’re under the supervision of a doctor, and ideally with guidance from a personal trainer as well, you want to push yourself as much as you safely can. Not exerting yourself enough means you’re cheating yourself out of the full benefits of the time you put into your workouts. You need to elevate your heart rate to improve your cardiovascular health, so make sure you focus on spending some of your workout in a highly exerted zone.

Try starting with three 30-minute, low-to-moderate intensity elliptical workouts per week. Once you have a solid idea of your fitness level, you can work on gradually increasing the intensity and duration of your workouts. You may want to work on personalized goals with a trainer, but an example might be to ramp up to four 45-minute, moderate-to-high intensity workouts per week. Elliptical workouts are a great option because they’re low impact and put less strain on your joints, but there are plenty of other choices when it comes to cardio equipment or activities like fitness classes and group training.

4. Stay self-aware during workouts

During a cardio session, give yourself periodic checks. What is your heart rate? You can check this by using the handlebar sensors on many pieces of cardio equipment or by wearing a heart-rate tracking chest strap/wrist band. How would you rate your exertion level? If you can carry on a conversation with no problem, that’s indicative of low exertion, whereas if you can’t finish a sentence without catching your breath, that is high exertion. You most likely want to aim for moderate exertion.

5. Don’t neglect mobility

Before and after your cardio workouts, take five-to-ten minutes to warm up and cool down. An excellent option is a warm-up routine that incorporates dynamic stretching to get your muscles limber and ready for your full workout.

In addition to improving your endurance and cardiovascular health, you also want to work on mobility. Mobility — your ability to safely and comfortably get around, exercise, and perform everyday activities — has a huge impact on quality of life. By incorporating mobility-enhancing stretches and exercises into your fitness routine, you can live the lifestyle you enjoy for longer.

6. Make time for self care outside of the gym

Fitness alone doesn’t lead to a healthy lifestyle – you should also focus on eating well, taking time for recovery, getting plenty of quality sleep and keeping a positive mindset. By practicing these healthy habits, you’ll have more energy to channel toward your workouts, will likely recover faster and should see better results. Always schedule a few rest days every week to avoid overstressing your body. Many people choose to perform two days of training followed by one day off, but take your rest days when they best fit into your schedule.

Cardio activity is a valuable addition to your everyday routine, and with so many different options to choose from, you’re sure to find an activity that you enjoy. If you believe the more, the merrier, be sure to check out 24 Hour Fitness’ Active Aging Classes, which include fun group sessions like cardio circuits, yoga, aqua Zumba and more.