Whether you plan to exercise for general health benefits, to increase your physical fitness or to help maintain or lose weight — perhaps all 3 reasons are your motivation — it is important to select types of exercise that you can continue to do, week-in and week-out. The health, fitness and weight management advantages of exercise all depend on you being physically active regularly and for the long term.
Tips for choosing the right exercise
Choose exercise that you enjoy
One reason people find their exercise programme falls by the wayside is boredom. If going for a walk gives you pleasure, turn it into a daily health and fitness opportunity. Walking with a friend can make it even more enjoyable and by committing to walk with them, you are more likely to do it and less likely to let other things stop you. Some people enjoy going to a gym for strength training exercises, where again, going with a friend may help you keep that commitment. But if you don’t enjoy the gym, then you could try exercising at home. Try new activities to keep yourself interested and motivated.
Choose more than one type of exercise
Your regular weekly exercise routine should include both aerobic exercise (such as walking, jogging, cycling, aerobics, or sport that involves running) for cardiovascular health, plus gym-type sessions for muscular and bone health. This combination will ensure that you work on all aspects of your health and fitness. Also by doing different exercise sessions you will add variety, and by working different muscles on different days, it will help reduce the risk of injury, as well as preventing monotony.
Vary the intensity of your exercise
Highly trained athletes often train according to the ‘hard-easy’ principle whereby one day of intense exercise is followed by a day of low intensity exercise, and so on. This principle can also apply if you have a lower level of fitness, as it will help avoid injury and will allow your muscles time to recover from hard work.
By aiming for an exercise programme that addresses all aspects of physical fitness — muscular strength, aerobic fitness, flexibility and endurance — you will need to select a range of exercise options anyway, such as weights training for strength, walking, jogging or cycling for aerobic fitness and endurance, and yoga or stretching exercises for flexibility.
Choose exercise options that fit your lifestyle
If you have access to a local gym or swimming pool, you may be able to go before work, during the day or after work – and fit it into your routine. This could be in the form of organised classes, going with a friend, or going by yourself. If you have children who go to sports clubs and classes, you may be able to exercise while they are there, e.g. by walking around the pitches, rather than standing on the sideline or sitting in your car, or go for your own gym or swim session, while they have lessons. Likewise, you may be able to fit in a walk, cycle or jog before or after work. The key is to be motivated enough to find a time slot in your day and prioritise exercise at that time.
Join a class or social sports team
Some people like the discipline of attending a regular class or course or joining a social sports team, and find that this helps them to exercise regularly. They also tend to try harder than they would on their own. Community centres and adult education colleges often offer classes in activities such as dance, yoga or pilates, as well as classes for the older exerciser. Personal trainers will offer a variety of group and individual sessions that can be matched to your needs.
You can also search the Internet or Yellow Pages for local sports clubs or outdoor activity groups — most offer instruction in activities and are happy to have new members. Check your local newspaper for local fun runs — most have a category for walkers too. Whatever you’re interested in, there should be something out there for you.
Have alternative exercise options that don’t depend on good weather or daylight
Having both indoor and outdoor exercise options means that you don’t need to give up your exercise when the weather or daylight closes in. For example, joining an indoor soccer team, trying aqua aerobics or setting up a stationary exercise bike somewhere will allow you to be active despite changes in the weather and the onset of winter.
Choose exercise options that can become part of your routine
We are all busy, so fitting exercise around all this ‘busy-ness’ can be a challenge. However, some types of exercise are ideal for becoming part of your usual day, for example, getting off the bus or train a stop early could build a 20-minute walk into both ends of your day.
Increasing your level of physical activity doesn’t always mean doing formal exercise. Increasing the incidental activity in your day can itself bring health benefits. It improves many aspects of your health, reduces the risk of many diseases and helps to burn calories. Rely less on machinery for household chores — sweep the driveway rather than power blasting it with a leaf blower, and walk to the shop for milk rather than driving the car. On work days take the stairs rather than the lift, and walk to the park for lunch rather than eating at your work station.
Set aside an exercise time each day
Setting aside a dedicated exercise time each day can help to turn regular exercise into a habit, much like washing your hair or making your bed. In this way, you’ll find you are less likely to ponder whether or not to go for a walk or run — before you know it you’ll be out there pounding the pavements just because that’s what you do at that time of day! Equally, don’t be inflexible about exercise: if you do miss exercising at your preferred time, and the opportunity presents itself at another time during the day, take the opportunity and enjoy the novelty.
Choose an exercise that accommodates any health problems you may have
If you are aged over 40 or are overweight, or you have been inactive for a long time, have existing health problems, or old or recent muscle, bone or joint injuries, see your doctor before starting or re-commencing regular exercise. Being unwell or having an injury does not usually rule out exercise, in fact, it is often a vital part of rehabilitation. However, exercise in this context may mean you need to amend the details of your physical activity program, under guidance from your doctor or other healthcare professional.
For example, many people with asthma find they can achieve high levels of fitness through swimming, as the air they are breathing during this exercise is warm and moist and less likely than cold, dry air to trigger an asthma attack. Long-term conditions such as high blood pressure can be improved by appropriate amounts of daily exercise, while the risk of developing conditions such as type 2 diabetes or osteoporosis can be reduced. People with arthritis are often suited to exercising in a swimming pool as the buoyancy of the water avoids weight-bearing stress being placed on inflamed joints. Weak upper leg muscles and poor balance in some older people can mean that a recumbent stationary bicycle is particularly suited to encouraging exercise without causing discomfort or risking injury.
Choose to exercise with a friend
Keeping up the motivation to exercise regularly is a challenge for many people. Including your friends in your new-found exercise interest might include booking a court for weekly social tennis, organising a bushwalk with your friends and following it with a barbecue, or arranging to walk each morning with a friend who lives nearby.
Do you need a personal trainer?
A qualified personal trainer can help you make the most of the time that you have put aside from your busy life for exercise, as well as help motivate you, help you with technique, monitor your progress, adjust your exercise programme in response to your changing fitness level, and offer alternative exercise options to keep up your enjoyment level.
Whichever exercise options you choose, and whichever strategies you use to keep motivated, remember to start off slowly and build up gradually. Don’t push yourself too hard, too fast: progression in fitness occurs over weeks and months, not days. Increase only one exercise variable at a time — how long your exercise session lasts (duration), how hard you work during the exercise (intensity) or the number of exercise sessions each week (frequency) — and only by a small amount, say 10 per cent each week.