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 several fitness scores, such as:

  • 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 (2.41 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 (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. In addition to aerobic activities, strength training and flexibility exercises, your doctor may suggest you incorporate 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 to 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 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 exercises that tires your muscles after 12-15 repetitions 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. 04, 2018 See more In-depth

See also

  1. Slide show: 5 smart exercise choices for psoriatic arthritis
  2. 6 tips for an active getaway you'll remember
  3. Accentuate the positive to make lasting health changes
  4. An appointment to exercise? You bet!
  5. Are you ready for a workout?
  6. Balance training: Boost your long-term health with these exercises
  7. Barriers to fitness
  8. Blood Doping
  9. BMI calculator
  10. Body fat analyzers
  11. Boot camp workout
  12. The role of diet and exercise in preventing Alzheimer's disease
  13. Core exercises
  14. Create a home gym without breaking the bank
  15. Did you exercise today? Reward yourself!
  16. Toning shoes
  17. Does fitness trump thinness?
  18. Don't have an exercise budget? Go cheap!
  19. Dress smart for winter workouts
  20. Early bird or night owl? Plan exercise accordingly
  21. Exercise benefits
  22. Exercise and chronic disease
  23. Exercise and illness
  24. Stress relief
  25. Exercise: Every minute counts!
  26. Exercising with arthritis
  27. Exercise smarter, not longer
  28. Exercise: Check with your doctor
  29. Exercising regularly? Track your progress!
  30. Fitness: Take it 1 step at a time
  31. Fitness motivation
  32. Fitness ball exercises videos
  33. Fitness barriers: Bust 'em
  34. Fitness for less
  35. Fitness ideas for the entire family
  36. Fitness program
  37. Fitness takes more than huffing and puffing
  38. Fitness tip: Get physical at home
  39. Fitness tip: Get physical at work
  40. Fitness tip: Include your friends
  41. Fitness training routine
  42. Fitting in fitness
  43. Going up? Take the stairs
  44. Golf injuries
  45. Golfers: Know when to call it quits
  46. Golfers: Tee up common sense
  47. Hanging out with friends? Activity counts!
  48. Hate to exercise? Try these tips
  49. Heart rate
  50. Heat and exercise
  51. Hockey Flywheel
  52. How fit are you?
  53. How much exercise do you really need?
  54. 3 easy ways to get started with yoga
  55. Is exercise a chore? No more!
  56. Keep your workout fun
  57. Know when to move your winter workout indoors
  58. Late-day exercise
  59. Marathon and the Heat
  60. Mayo Clinic Minute: How to hit your target heart rate
  61. Miss a workout? Don't give up!
  62. Natural movement: Going back to basics
  63. Need a gym to get fit?
  64. Need exercise motivation? Put it on paper
  65. Need motivation to exercise? Try a diary
  66. No pain, no gain? No way!
  67. No time for exercise? No way!
  68. Office exercise
  69. Overuse injury prevention
  70. Pregnancy and exercise
  71. Ready to get in on the aquatic fitness movement?
  72. Simple tips for staying active and mobile with osteoarthritis
  73. Core-strength exercises
  74. Guide to stretches
  75. Balance exercises
  76. Fitness ball
  77. Starting a fitness program? Take it slow
  78. Starting an exercise program: Take time to rest
  79. Stay fit and healthy — without breaking a sweat
  80. Stay fit at any age
  81. Travel and work
  82. Strength training: How-to video collection
  83. The best ways to bounce back after a tough workout
  84. 5 common sports injuries in young female athletes
  85. To stay fit, embrace the power of play
  86. Too busy to exercise? Get up earlier
  87. Too sick to exercise?
  88. Fitness tips for business travelers
  89. Walking for fitness: Getting started
  90. Want to get fit? Try backyard aerobics!
  91. What it takes to be agile at any age
  92. Winter blahs? 4 pro tips to get you off the couch.
  93. Cold-weather exercise
  94. Winter weather tip: Watch for signs of frostbite
  95. Working out? Remember to drink up
  96. Workout blahs? Don't go it alone!