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:
• Your pulse rate before and immediately after walking 1 mile (1.6 kilometers)
• How long it takes to walk 1 mile
• How many 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 at the level of your hipbones
• Your body mass index
Do you have any health issues?
If you are age 50 or older, haven't exercised for some time, or have chronic medical conditions, such as diabetes or heart disease, it's a good idea to to consult your doctor before beginning an exercise program.
It's also good to keep in mind that as you age, impaired balance, decreased elasticity of tendons and other factors can limit your exercise capacity. Injuries also are more frequent, and recovery takes longer. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't exercise or that you won't benefit from it. Just be sure to seek input from your doctor or an exercise therapist about how to create a program that's appropriate for you.
What are your goals?
Keeping your fitness level in mind, think about why you want to start a fitness program. Perhaps your doctor has suggested that you start a fitness program to lose weight. If you're already active, perhaps you want to rev up your fitness program to prepare for a 5K race or get ready for 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 drudgery. 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 bet. If you're a social person, a gym or health club membership may be the ticket. If you prefer to exercise alone or you find health clubs intimidating, exercises you can do at home may be best.
How can you add variety to your workout?
Aerobic activities should be the biggest chunk of your workout, but you also want to include muscle-strengthening activities such as working with weights or resistance bands. Cross-training, which is doing a variety of different exercises or activities, is a good way to keep exercise boredom at bay. 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.
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 weights or resistance bands. Many recreation departments offer discounted fitness classes to local residents, and many schools 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 physical. Start slowly and build up intensity gradually.
For most healthy adults, the Department of Health and Human Services recommends:
• Aerobic activity. Get at least 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes a week of vigorous aerobic activity. You also can do a combination of moderate and vigorous activity. The guidelines suggest that you spread out this exercise during the course of a week.
• Strength training. Do strength training exercises at least twice a week. No specific amount of time for each strength training session is included in the guidelines.
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.