First decide whether you want to improve musculature and/or lose body fat or do both. While the approach is similar, it is important to have thought about your primary emphasis (goal). This helps you develop a specific plan to achieve this/these goals. This may also help decide whether to train at home or in a conveniently located gym or a combination of each.
Workout At Home:
Weight training at home can be done very easily & efficiently with a pair of dumbbells. The preference is the type that allows you to change the weight discs and comes with a variety of weights to add. Each dumbbell should hold at least 25 lbs (women) to 40 lbs or so (men). A training program that includes lower body & upper body exercises to involve all major muscle groups can provide excellent results for both strength & physical conditioning.
Workout at the Gym:
Working out at the gym offers other benefits: more variety of exercise machines, weight training equipment, more dumbbell options with various benches, trainers familiar with the equipment, and a social factor of meeting & working out with others. Often classes or group exercising is offered that helps keep workouts interesting. The gym is usually more expensive, but the rewards of variety and others around for incentive may make up for the cost.
Jogging, biking, swimming, slow or fast (power) walking and just about anything that gets your heart pumping & body sweating for a minimum of 30-40 minutes daily (beginners) to an hour or more (advanced) is benefiting your cardiovascular system immensely. Your body quickly adjusts to workouts, so systematically increasing speed, intensity & duration over time will prove more beneficial to improved overall health, fitness & conditioning.
The more weight you want to lose, the more cardio work you will want to do -- but don’t forget about the benefits of weight training for weight loss as this may be just as important based on your specific condition & body type.
Weight/Resistance Training Workouts:
Though weight training often results in sweat and heavier breathing, unless you are in desperate physical condition, this is not enough to improve your resting heart rate or lower your blood pressure to any significance. What it will do is increase your lean muscle mass while helping you to burn more calories as training improves your body’s overall shape. Muscles become more toned, less likely for injury while making daily job/work tasks require less effort.
Free weights and weight machines provide similar results, but both require a trainer or training to properly demonstrate techniques to avoid injuries & maximize results. Be sure you take 1-2 days completely off from exercise each week, and be sure to include cardio workouts in addition to weight training for best all around results.
The Bottom Line:
If you are just beginning, the first week should include only 3 days of vigorous activity with no more than 4 days/week through the 3rd week or so (see “How do I get started?” Question #7). Workouts over an hour are too much for anyone beginning exercise and are primarily for those who are advanced or training specifically for an upcoming event or season.
Improved health & long-term workout routines that are based on both cardio activities and weight training routines are also ways to keep exercise interesting without overburdening your whole body system.