Fitness: Create a program that's right for you

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.

What is your current fitness level?

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:

  • Your pulse rate before and immediately after walking 1 mile (1.6 kilometers)
  • How long it takes to walk 1 mile, or how long it takes to run 1.5 miles (2.4 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 (BMI)

Do you have any health issues?

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.

Besides aerobic, strength training and flexibility exercises, your doctor may suggest you include balance training exercises into your exercise routine.

What are your goals?

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 stay motivated.

What activities do you enjoy?

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.

How can you add variety to your workout?

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, especially with low-impact aerobic exercise, 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.

What can you afford?

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.

Ready, set, go

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

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

  • Aerobic activity. Get 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 this exercise during the course of a week. Greater amounts of exercise will provide even greater health benefits. But even small amounts of physical activity are helpful. Being active for short periods of time throughout the day can add up to provide health benefits.
  • Strength training. Do strength training exercises for all major muscle groups at least two times a week. Aim to do a single set of each exercise, using a weight or resistance level heavy enough to tire your muscles after about 12 to 15 repetitions.

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.

Jan. 07, 2021 See more In-depth

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