So, you’ve decided to start exercising. Maybe you just retired and finally have time to reap the many physical and mental benefits of getting in shape. Good for you – but don’t jump in with both feet on the first day.

“Take baby steps. The No. 1 thing to realize is you are 70, or 80, and not 18,” says Butch Phelps, a licensed massage therapist with a bachelor’s degree in aging studies. “You’ll see men in their 60s or 70s who suddenly start working out. They start lifting weights where they left off at 19.”

Don’t suddenly bike for 10 miles or work in your garden for hours. Start by walking around your house, or around the block, Phelps advises.

“Do what you feel comfortable with, that pushes you just a little, not a lot.”

Exercising too much, or incorrectly, may cause injuries. Plus, if you wake up in pain the next day you won’t be eager to return to your exercise routine. Check with your physician before starting any new exercise, and be sure to drink plenty of water.

Phelps, who owns the Muscle Repair Shop in Sarasota, emphasizes the importance of stretching before exercising. He is certified in active isolated stretching, along with neuromuscular massage and sports massage. He combines stretching with massage to soften the muscles.

“Stretching is a key part of safety because, by allowing the muscles to be elongated, allowing the muscles to be soft, your body has blood flow to the muscle tissues. Where people run into trouble with muscle tears or pulls, or strains, is that they have not stretched and they are too tight.”

Butch Phelps owns The Muscle Repair Shop and emphasizes the importance of stretching before any exercise. He specializes in working with older people suffering from joint injuries, back injuries and general stiffness.