Olympic swimmer Dara Torres said people just starting a fitness program should take it slow and be careful not to injure themselves. Torres is a Bengay Brand Ambassador. Photo by Bengay.
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Olympic swimmer Dara Torres knows what it takes to make it big in the world of fitness. At 41 years old, Torres made an incredible comeback at the 2008 Beijing Olympic games, during which time she took home three silver medals. Whether you’re a star athlete like Torres—or beginning your routine—you may find yourself struggling to keep moving. Torres, who has competed in five Olympic Games and won 12 medals, has some tips.

Now mother to a 5-year-old daughter, Torres still finds time to compete. We spoke to her by phone about her busy schedule, her workout routine, and how she balances it all.

“I have my days,” Torres said. “But I’m a goal-setter, so I know that if I don’t get up and do what I need to do I won’t meet my goals.”

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Sound familiar?

Torres may be a professional athlete, but she’s still human.

While Torres’s goals may be very different from someone just starting an exercise program, the basics of needing drive, will-power, and support are the same.

So what are some of her tips for getting—and staying—active?

First, she said, people should start slow.

It took Torres years of training to get to her first Olympic games, and she didn’t build her career overnight.

“Always make sure you take it slow so that you don’t injure yourself,” Torres said. “There are a lot of videos out there if you can’t make it to a gym, or you can hire a trainer to show you the basics and go from there.”

And when it comes to setting goals, Torres said finding what motivates you is important, whether it’s watching the number on a scale or seeing the difference in how your clothes fit. It’s also easier to find motivation if you know when you’re more likely to stick with a fitness routine, she said. “I’m more of a morning person. Doing my workout first thing helps me feel revived and gets my day going.”

As the mother of a young child, Torres said it’s also important to find the right balance between training and all of her other commitments. “I really look to working parents as my inspiration,” she said. “The way my day works is that I’ll wake my daughter, get her ready for school and then while she’s at school I do my training and by the time I get her home from school I’m done.”

Another key part of Torres’s routine includes recovery, she said. “You have to allow yourself to recover and rest. I train five days a week and rest on the weekends.”

Diet, she said, is something that can’t be ignored when it comes to health and fitness, but she also said that people shouldn’t restrict their diets too much. “I allow myself to splurge once in awhile because if you’re so restrictive you’ll just crave something and eat more than you actually want to, so if you don’t overindulge a little splurge is OK.”

When asked if she has ever overindulged and consumed as many calories as fellow Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, whose diet made a big splash during the 2008 games in Beijing, she laughed and said: “I’ve had a few meals with Phelps and let’s just say I could keep up.”

Do you relate with Torres? Share your fitness struggles, and successes, in the comments. And don’t forget to share a photo of yourself being active for a chance to be featured at Get Moving, Boston, and win a prize.