Ask yourself these questions to create a workout tailored to your needs and preferences.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Fitness programs abound, from yoga and Pilates to step aerobics and strength training — either at home or in a gym. So which type of fitness program is right for you? Ask yourself these questions to figure it out.

You probably have some idea of how fit you are. But assessing and recording baseline fitness scores can help you set your fitness goals and measure your progress. To assess your aerobic and muscular fitness, flexibility, and body composition, consider recording several fitness scores. For example, you might record several fitness scores from the President's Challenge Adult Fitness Test, such as:

  • Your pulse rate before and immediately after walking 1 mile (1.6 kilometers)
  • How long it takes to walk 1 mile or 400 meters, or how long it takes to run 1.5 miles (2.41 kilometers)
  • How many half situps, standard pushups or modified pushups you can do at a time
  • How far you can reach forward while seated on the floor with your legs in front of you
  • Your waist circumference, just above your hipbones
  • Your body mass index

If you are age 50 or older and haven't exercised for some time, or you have chronic medical conditions, such as diabetes or heart disease, it's a good idea to consult with your doctor before beginning an exercise program.

It's also good to keep in mind that as you age, impaired balance, muscle weakness and other factors can limit your exercise capacity. Injuries may be more frequent, and recovery can take longer.

But that doesn't mean you shouldn't exercise or that you won't benefit from it. Before you start an exercise program, be sure to seek input from your doctor or an exercise therapist about how to create a program that's appropriate for you. In addition to aerobic activities, strength training and flexibility exercises, your doctor may suggest you incorporate balance training exercises into your exercise routine.

Keeping your fitness level in mind, think about why you want to start a fitness program. Consider your health and fitness goals.

Perhaps your doctor has suggested that you start a fitness program to lose weight. If you're already active, maybe you want to increase the intensity of your fitness program to prepare for a 5K race or to get ready to participate in a favorite sport. Having clear goals can help you to stay motivated.

Next, think about the types of physical activities you enjoy most. After all, a fitness program doesn't need to be boring. You're more likely to keep up with a fitness program you enjoy.

If you love riding your bicycle, consider a cycling class. If you have a blast on the dance floor, an aerobics class that includes dance moves would be a good choice. If you're a social person, a gym or health club membership may be a good option for you. If you prefer to exercise alone or you find health clubs intimidating, fitness videos and exercises you can do at home may be best for you.

Aerobic activities should generally be a large part of your workout, but you also want to include muscle-strengthening activities such as working with weights or resistance bands. Cross-training, which involves doing a variety of different exercises or activities, is a good way to keep from getting bored by your exercises. Cross-training also reduces the risk of injuring or overusing one specific muscle or joint.

When you plan your fitness program, consider alternating among activities that emphasize different parts of your body — walking, swimming and strength training, for example.

Make sure your fitness choices are in line with your budget. If a gym membership or home exercise equipment is too pricey, consider cheaper options for getting in shape.

You can base a fitness program around brisk daily walks and inexpensive hand-held free weights or resistance tubing. Some recreation departments may offer discounted fitness classes to local residents, and some schools or hotels may open their pools to the public for inexpensive lap swimming. You might also consider buying used exercise equipment or sharing the cost with a friend.

You've thought through your likes and dislikes and the pros and cons of various types of fitness programs. Now it's time to get moving. Start slowly and build up intensity gradually. Even shorter spurts of exercise, such as 10 minutes of walking spaced throughout the day, can offer benefits.

For most healthy adults, the Department of Health and Human Services recommends:

  • Aerobic activity. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity a week, or a combination of moderate and vigorous activity. The guidelines suggest that you spread out the exercise during the week.
  • Strength training. Incorporate strength training exercises of all the major muscle groups into your fitness routine at least twice a week. A single set of 12-15 repetitions of each exercise with the proper weight can be effective for most people.

Remember, each workout puts you one step closer to reaching your fitness goals. If you get bored or lose interest in your fitness program, don't be afraid to try something new. Reassess your fitness level and set new fitness goals. The result? A future of improved fitness and better health.

Oct. 17, 2015