Maintaining an Exercise Programme

Starting exercise at the right level, setting realistic goals, exercising consistently to maintain and improve performance, and taking a long-term approach all make it easier for an individual to adhere to her exercise programme.

Choosing the right pace

Anyone new to exercise, or to a particular form of exercise, should start gently. Beginners may benefit from exercising in classes rather than alone. An instructor should demonstrate exactly what to do and the pace should be relatively slow; it can be discouraging for an individual to go into a class where everyone else seems to know what to do and the pace is too fast. For those who are already quite fit, it is important that the pace is increased periodically; otherwise boredom can develop and fitness levels remain static.

Any individual – whether a beginner or an experienced athlete – can be tempted to over-work. Rest is important, and a well structured programme should allow for rest days between sessions. Increasing the demands of an exercise programme too quickly can lead to exhaustion and a weakened immune system: this leads to frequent minor infections which can disrupt the exercise programme. Training injuries are also more likely to occur when the body is being asked to do too much too soon.

Exercising consistently

To maintain health benefits and build fitness, it is necessary to take regular consistent exercise that gradually becomes more difficult. People who exercise a few times every week will see more improvement in their general health and fitness levels, than erratic exercisers who exercise frequently for short periods and then do no exercise at all. The infrequent exerciser risks injury if she starts exercising again at the same level of intensity that she had reached previously.

There are many reasons why an individual may fall into an erratic, ‘stop-start’ pattern of exercise. The most likely reason is that she is doing more exercise than her weekly timetable allows, in which case she should re-schedule other commitments or find an easier, more realistic programme. An individual with an external locus of control is likely to find a solitary exercise programme difficult to maintain: joining a class or making a standing arrangement with a friend, say to play tennis twice a week, may provide useful motivation.

Exercising with others provides social contact and useful motivation to exercise regularly. Individuals with what is described as an external locus of control may find it difficult to adhere to a programme of solitary activity. They are more likely to persevere with an exercise programme if they arrange to exercise with others.

Setting long-term goals

An individual who misses an exercise session one day should not feel discouraged. It is important that she focuses on making exercise a long-term part of her life, rather than a short-term means to an end. An occasional day off does not do any harm, but if an individual gives up exercising, long-term health benefits are reduced and her body gradually declines in fitness.

Some individuals may find it useful to work towards a goal, aiming, for example, to improve fitness in preparation for a skiing holiday. Others may be planning to play more golf when they retire; their long-term goal will be to remain fit, healthy and flexible into later life. Keeping a record of progress made may provide extra encouragement. Unrealistic short-term goals can only lead to disappointment, and may encourage over-training. A good approach is to set a long-term goal – one year ahead, for example – and then to set several interim goals, perhaps at one-month intervals. This approach helps the individual to progress at a pace that makes the final goal enjoyable and attainable.

Practical Choices When Starting New Exercise

Some forms of exercise, such as swimming, involve relatively few practical considerations; others require careful choices, especially if large amounts of money are being spent. Before embarking on any type of exercise, the individual should consider clothing, location, whether she requires initial or regular supervision from a fitness trainer and, if exercising at home, what type of equipment is appropriate.

The most basic consideration is what to wear during exercise. An individual also needs to consider where she will carry out her chosen exercise; whether she needs a trainer; and, if she exercises at home, which equipment provides the best performance.

WHAT TO WEAR

When buying sportswear, comfort, practicality and suitability for the chosen activity should be the main considerations. Safety equipment may be needed for some sports.

Clothing

Good quality sportswear is usually durable, but old T-shirts, sweatshirts, shorts and jogging pants are perfectly adequate. Sports-wear should never be tight or constricting.

Aerobic exercise causes perspiration, which means that exercise clothes should be able to withstand frequent washing. Natural fibres, such as cotton, are always preferable to synthetic since they allow heat to escape, and absorb rather than trap perspiration. Some sportswear is available in special lightweight fabrics with an inner layer that repels water, dispersing it to an outer layer where it spreads out and evaporates. This material cannot disperse heavy perspiration, so individuals who perspire heavily may find it more comfortable to wear ordinary sportswear and keep a spare set of clothing to change into, if necessary. Some water-resistant fabrics, designed for outdoor sports, also allow the skin to breathe.

For women, a good-quality, well-fitting sports bra is essential because vigorous exercise can lead to breast pain. Ideally the bra should be bought from a store that offers a professional fitting service. Both men and women can suffer from a condition known as ‘jogger’s nipple’, which is caused by abrasion from clothing during exercise. This may be avoided by applying petroleum jelly to the nipples before setting off.

The body cools down very rapidly after exercise, so it is important to take an insulating top, such as a sweatshirt, which keeps heat next to the body. This is particularly important in cold weather. Cold-weather clothing to conserve body heat should also include a long-sleeved sweatshirt, jogging pants, gloves and a hat that covers the ears.

Footwear

Cheap sports shoes are a false economy. People who train several days a week will find that their shoes wear out very quickly, and worn shoes can cause injuries. However, provided that a good-quality shoe from a reputable manufacturer is chosen, there is no need to spend excessive sums of money. Go to a sports supplier, rather than a shop selling fashion trainers.

Beginners who are unsure about what form of exercise they will be doing should buy cross-trainers (all-purpose training shoes), which are designed to offer a good compromise between lightness, cushioning, stability and breathability. More specialized shoes are available for specific sports: running shoes should be light and breathable, and may have specially designed air cushioning in the soles; shoes for tennis, basketball or other activities that involve jumping and frequent stops and changes of direction should offer good lateral support so that the foot is stable as it strikes the ground, and should clasp the foot so that it cannot move around inside the shoe. For indoor games, soles with extra traction help to grip the floor surface. When working with weights, good ankle support is important. Shock-absorbing insoles should be worn for high-impact work.

When trying on trainers, check that they do not rub the heels, and that the feet feel supported and cushioned. The soles should flex quite easily. The way your training shoe fits is very important – during a 15-minute jog, for example, a runner’s feet make impact with the ground thousands of times and uncomfortable abrasions can quickly become disabling. The trainers should be spacious enough for feet to expand in the heat.

Sports socks are thicker and softer than ordinary socks. Although they help to absorb impact, they are not essential, and ordinary cotton socks are adequate. Some types of exercise are best performed barefoot. These include gentle stretching, Yoga and some other Eastern exercise disciplines.

Safety equipment

In addition to wearing regular sportswear, some sports require the individual to wear protective safety equipment. Helmets, for example, are recommended for cycling, inline skating and climbing. Protective pads that cover the elbow, wrist and knee joints may also be necessary. When exercising outside at night, especially on busy roads, wear bright clothing and reflective strips.