Note: Consult your physician before beginning a new fitness regimen.
If you have struggled to maintain a fitness routine, you're not destined to life as a couch potato – all you need is a different approach. Jennifer Hopper, M.S., manager of the Piedmont Atlanta Health & Fitness Center, says recognizing your personality type is crucial for long-term fitness success.
“The first thing you need to do is wrap your mind around what you need as an individual,” she explains. Hopper says most people can identify with one of the following exercise "needs":
Simplicity. Those who crave simplicity do not want a complicated routine or a list of instructions — they just want to get started.
Understanding. People who need understanding are better able to stick with a routine once they know the purpose and benefits of a workout. For example, once they know core work relieves lower back pain, they may be motivated to do the necessary moves.
Structure. Exercisers who value structure often benefit from working with a personal trainer, who can help them develop a personalized routine, or from joining a health club.
“If you need simplicity, purchase a very comfortable pair of exercise shoes that feel good as soon as you put them on,” she recommends. “Schedule walks most days of the week. Start small with a 20-minute walk three to four days a week and increase it as you see fit.” By choosing an easy-to-follow routine, exercisers who value simplicity will stay motivated and get into the habit of working out, she says.
“If someone needs understanding, explaining why they need to do something deeply resonates with them,” says Hopper. “This individual is then more focused on doing exercises that might not be appealing otherwise.” For example, under a doctor’s supervision, some forms of exercise may relieve muscle and joint pain.
Note: New exercisers should first consult with their physician, who can determine if it is safe for them to begin an exercise program. People in this category can also enlist the help of a medically-based exercise physiologist or physical therapist to develop a personalized exercise program.
“Those who need structure often have no idea what they need to do and have little motivation,” she says. Hopper “strongly recommends hiring a medically-based exercise physiologist for one to three months to structure a fitness program you can do at home.” People who respond well to structure may also benefit from joining a gym, where they can take classes, learn from others and stay motivated. Regardless of which of the three categories you fall under, Hopper recommends adhering to the following guidelines:
Get a minimum of 150 minutes of heart-pumping cardiovascular exercise each week. Divide it up to best fit your schedule (i.e., 30 minutes, five days a week).
To prevent injuries, gently stretch after each workout, paying special attention to the muscles you just worked.
If you are strength training, do not work the same muscle group on consecutive days.
Try a 15-minute workout – it can help you stay committed during even your busiest weeks. Hopper has a go-to 15-minute routine of functional moves she fits in whenever she is crunched for time.
Don’t wait until you become more flexible to take a yoga class — yoga will help you become more flexible.
Diet and exercise go hand-in-hand
In addition to selecting the right regimen for your personality type, remember that you can undo all of your hard work with a poor diet. “You can’t do one without the other,” says Hopper. “Both have to be included in your commitment.” Hopper encourages new exercisers to put their health — not looks — first. “Focus on being healthier, not just on losing weight,” she says. “Your waistline will follow if you focus on health.”
While it may take a few weeks or months to notice physical changes (don’t worry, you’ll get there!), there are plenty of immediate benefits you can look forward to when you start working out. “You’ll notice an immediate increase in energy,” she says. “When we exercise, we release feel-good endorphins, which are healthy and naturally healing. You’ll sleep better at night, become stronger and more empowered, have more body awareness and feel a sense of accomplishment after each workout.”
How to take your fitness routine up a notch
“If you’re someone who already exercises and wants to step it up, try an abbreviated or full triathlon,” suggests Hopper. “Or try adding pilates, yoga, swimming or a dance class to your routine. Step outside your fitness box. It’s a great way to meet a whole new group of people and you’ll be doing a real service for your body.”
Make exercise a lifelong habit
“While research shows it takes 21 days to form a habit, I think it takes a little longer to adopt exercise as a part of daily life,” she says. “Life is full of distractions, like work deadlines or illnesses, but if you can repeatedly get back on track after distractions for three months, you’re going to stick with it for the rest of your life.”
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