Find your exercise style

Heidi Godman
Heidi Godman, Executive Editor, Harvard Health Letter

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.

Trying it out

Once you find an activity you want to try, follow up on it by:

  • speaking with a doctor, trainer, or physical therapist to see if the activity is right for you
  • talking to friends who take part in that activity
  • tagging along with a friend for a workout (with your doctor’s okay first).

Then, commit to a few exercise sessions. You’ll probably know right away if it’s a good fit. And if you find yourself turning into a super nerd for your new activity, you’ll know you’ve struck exercise gold.

Related Information: Starting to Exercise

Comments:

  1. Katherine Bicicchi

    This is not a joke. How about the “I hate exercise solution.” I know I have to do it but have a strong dislike of it, though I used to do lots of things — aerobics, yoga, bike, tennis at the top. I really would like to find something that actually inspires me to move, but mostly it feels like pushing avalanches up hill.

  2. A.J. R. van der Leij, Sentebibu clinic Amsterdam

    I like the article because it stresses the importance of working out with pro’s en con’s ,so people can make their own choices. For me almost life long yoga, mostly at home, 4-5 times a week 25 minutes, and some private lessons once and a while. I shared it in a tweet for my patiënts!

  3. Clyde Beury, Tai Chi instructor

    I teach several Yang Family Tai Chi classes at YMCAs and Senior Centers. I begin by telling new students, “This is not an exercise class, Exercise make people sweat and get out of breath and reminds them of a mean gym teacher or sadistic DI from the military. This is an enjoyable physical activity that has specific health benefits, and you may sweat a bit or find yourdelf breathing more heavily.” I have had several students referred to Tai Chi by their physicians and surgeons after knee , hip or shoulder replacement surgery or with a diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease, because the gym membership is less expensive than other treatments and the students continue, enjoying the activity and the social contact.
    Peace, Clyde Beury

  4. Sylvia Kaplan

    Exercise should be JOYFUL. If it is, one is more likely to continue with it. As a fitness instructor, I teach Zumba and body toning classes. In addition, I teach line dancing, ballroom dancing and contra dancing. Those who come and are willing to give a class more than one try, often catch on to the enthusiasm and camaraderie. The social aspect of dancing has been shown to also help with the lessening of white matter deterioration. So, I would say go for the joy and dance like nobody is looking because really, they aren’t.

    • Paul Ort

      Hello Sylvia,
      Your approach sounds terrific. Just the right combination of activities. I wonder where you are located.
      Paul

  5. engida

    Thanks for this amazing article it is precise and easy to understand. I have been trying to loose the last ten pounds I found it very difficult since I am on menaupause can you give me a bit of advice
    Angie

  6. Diana Hörhammer

    Thank you for a wonderful article. I myself have absolute trust in yoga as a wonderful form of exercise and have been working the last 10 years of getting both children and adults to take up yoga practise. The most amazing thing about yoga is the effects it has not only on the body, but also the mind. I have worked with ADHD children how have experienced many benefits from 2-3 times a week yoga practice, including better sleep, learning when they are about to loose control of their emotions and look for time-out themselves. Here is an insightful article how to get started with yoga practice https://artbyheart.biz/starting-yoga-practice We are running a trial at the moment in Kaiserslautern, Germany by offering free yoga sessions for people with mental disabilities at the local centre and looking forward for the positive results in weight control and mood boost.