The first barrier most people encounter when they want to start exercising is getting started. The second barrier is keeping at it until you see and feel results. Choosing the right exercise program for you—a unique individual with unique interests and needs—will help you overcome these barriers and develop a habit of regular exercise. Asking yourself the following questions will help you choose a program that works for you.
1. What is your health status? Very few people cannot exercise at all, but many people with health conditions need to adapt their exercise program to their physical condition. If you are young and in good health, you can probably engage in any activity you enjoy. If, however, you have medical problems, you should check with your doctor before beginning an exercise program. This is especially, absolutely and of extreme importance if you:
• Have heart or lung problems.
• Get pains in your chest, especially if exercise causes them or makes them worse.
• Have episodes of severe dizziness.
• Have high blood pressure.
• Have joint or bone problems, such as arthritis.
• Have diabetes.
• Smoke cigarettes.
• Are over age 65 and have not previously exercised.
• Have any other medical condition that makes exercise difficult for you.
2. What is your current physical condition? Are you Mr. or Mrs. Atlantis, or are you a dumpy middle-aged American? If you are out of shape, you’ll do better if you start slowly, with low intensity activities, and increase your exercise gradually.
3. What do you want to achieve? Are you interested in exercising to feel better and healthier, to lose weight, or to get stronger? Do you want to run a marathon, or are you more interested in being able to climb upstairs without getting out of breath?
4. What are your limitations? Do you have physical, space or financial limitations? A few of us can swim laps under the supervision of our personal trainer in the indoor Olympic pool in the basement, but most of us will choose a program that we can do and afford.
5. What do you enjoy doing? You’re much more likely to stick with an exercise program if you’re having fun.
6. When can you exercise? When does it fit into your schedule, and when are you most likely to get it done?
Once you’ve answered these questions to your satisfaction, you will have a pretty good idea of what kind of exercise program will work for you. If you need help working out the details consult a trainer, join a gym, or ask an athletic friend to help you. Here are a few extra tips for choosing your exercise program:
• Remember to warm up before and cool down after exercising. You’ll feel better, and more likely to do it again.
• Include all three kinds of exercise: stretching, resistance (strength training) and aerobic.
• Start slow and increase your exercise gradually.
Whether you start by walking, joining an aerobics class, swimming laps in your Olympic sized pool or shooting hoops with your kids, you’ll be doing something good for yourself. You may even discover that you enjoy it.