Taking Fitness Personally

Before you beat yourself up about how you’ve only once visited the swanky gym you joined last year, think about whether you enjoy the exercise that you do there. If the idea that physical activity can instill anything other than dread seems shocking, it may be time to reconsider your exercise choices.
“The most important thing about exercise is consistency,” says Bryant Stamford, PhD, a professor and director of the Health Promotion Center at the University of Louisville. “So you need to choose things that are realistic, comfortable and that are going to inspire you to keep coming back.”
One of the best ways to figure out what kind of exercise is right for you, Dr. Stamford says, is to try to match your activity with your personality. If you’re loner you’re probably not going to drag yourself to volleyball practice after a long day, but you’ll show up if you’re competitive or if you love the camaraderie of a team. A more contemplative or introverted person might have better luck with walks in the woods, tai chi or martial arts.
Likewise, Dr. Stamford says, a goal-oriented personality is often drawn to a single activity. That way, they can train like an athlete and excel at their sport. But alternating between different activities might be a good choice for other people, especially older adults who don’t want to overstress their joints, or those who are easily bored.
“If I’m sort of a dilettante about exercise and on Monday, I’m swimming, and on Tuesday, I’m walking, and on Wednesday, I’m biking, then I’m probably not getting very good at one thing,” Dr. Stamford says. “But in terms of being active, that’s perfect.”
Even a coach potato can make a gradual transition to exerciser, as long as they begin with realistic goals such as opting for the stairs rather than the elevator when possible. Or people can make time to do household chores, such as gardening or scrubbing the tub, for the sake of their health.
“The key is getting away from this one-size-fits-all exercise idea and ask yourself, ‘What am I willing to do?’” Stamford says. “Then the truth about your willingness to commit is going to come out. ‘Well, I’m really busy, and I can only set aside time on the weekend.’”
While people tend to think a small commitment is a waste of time, any amount of time is a good starting point. And choosing something you like to do is likely to motivate you to make more time for your activity. “If we can get you locked into hiking in the woods on Saturday and Sunday, then you may end up saying, ‘Maybe on Wednesday I can carve out some time for exercise.’”
Studies confirm exercise doesn’t have to be painful to be effective, so pick an activity that gives you some joy, whether it’s mall walking, yoga or ballroom dancing, and stick with it.
By Christine Haran

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