Find your exercise style

Heidi Godman

My husband Jay and I turn into super nerds on our brisk morning walk. We sport decidedly uncool but comfy clothes and sneakers, clock the times when we leave and return, count our steps, sometimes break into a run for interval training, and alternate routes in the neighborhood — all while flailing our arms (okay, that’s just me), gabbing away (me again), laughing, and analyzing the issues of the day. It’s fun — like a mini date — and it’s always interesting. The routine suits us. And that comfortable fit is key to sustaining an exercise program. “Finding an activity you enjoy is an incentive to keep doing it,” explains Madhuri Kale, a physical therapist at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

If you’re not entirely crazy about your exercise routine, try another. Think about activities that appeal to you, and consider their pros and cons. The following ideas will help you find what suits you.

Exercise classes

Examples: step workouts; tai chi; water exercise; aerobics (exercise that gets your heart and lungs pumping)

Pros: Exercise classes work well if you like getting out of the house, need instruction, and are comfortable in a group. “The class setting builds a sense of healthy competition. It motivates you to put exercise on your schedule, get dressed, go there, and work out,” says Kale. And it’s a great way to meet people and socialize.

Cons: A class may be expensive, or it may not be right for people who feel shy, for people with transportation or scheduling challenges, or people who get bored doing only one kind of exercise. A large class provides fewer chances for individual instruction.

Gym workouts

Examples: Using equipment such as weight machines, treadmills, or stationary bikes; using free weights; working with a trainer; doing exercise that relies on body weight, such as push-ups and lunges

Pros: You get to exercise at your own pace and do several kinds of activities within one workout. You can switch the exercise according to what you want, and you’re not bound by a schedule. Many gyms offer complimentary trainer services and a workout program tailored to your needs.

Cons: Not every trainer will understand your needs and abilities. That could lead to injury. Plus, gym memberships can be expensive, and you’ll need transportation to and from the gym.

Home workouts

Examples: Strength exercises with free weights or resistance bands; stretching and balance routines; yoga; aerobics workouts to a video

Pros: Works well if you’re a self-starter, and willing to keep a log of exercise type and time spent. Exercise any time you like, in any way that you’d like, and mix it up as often as you want. There’s no strict schedule, no peer pressure, and no transportation issues or class fees.

Cons: “Compliance can be challenging,” says Kale. “A lot of my clients tell me it’s hard to be motivated to exercise.” Or you may not know if you’re exercising enough or overdoing it.

Vigorous activity

Examples: Bike riding; yard work; walking; playing tennis; playing with children

Pros: Good for people who don’t enjoy structured exercise. You get to choose the activity. “Almost anything that you can sustain for 20 minutes or more, that gets you to break a sweat, can qualify,” says Kale. She suggests that you choose something you love and make it fun.

Cons: It’s harder to keep track of how much you’re exercising. You may not get enough variation — for instance, neglecting balance, strength training, or aerobic activity. “You might be squatting while gardening, but it may not work the right muscles or upper body, or give you a cardio workout,” says Kale.

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