An individual’s choice of activity – or combination of activities – can be crucial to the success or failure of an exercise programme. The right choice could mark the beginning of years of enjoyment, with all the benefits in health and wellbeing that exercise can bring; the wrong choice may lead to frustration, wasted effort and injury. Careful consideration of factors such as motivation and budget can help an individual to choose suitable activities.
The first step in choosing an activity is to understand the underlying motivation for exercise. Other factors such aslevel and personality should also be taken into account. Whatever the chosen activity, working at the right level, exercising consistently and setting realistic goals make for a rewarding and enjoyable programme.
THE MOTIVATION FOR EXERCISE
Many individuals embark on an exercise regime or join a gym or a class only to find a few weeks later that their enthusiasm has waned. Busy schedules and family and career commitments may be to blame, but often the reason is a loss of motivation, perhaps because the expected results have not materialized, or because of a mismatch between the individual and the programme – a class that is too advanced, for example.
The reasons that motivate people to exercise are numerous, but wanting to lose weight and achieve a toned body are two of the main ones. Others include increasing long-term fitness, preventing or overcoming health problems, relaxing and overcoming stress, setting aside time for individual activity, meeting people and a desire to compete professionally. When devising a training programme, an individual needs to be clear about her motives so that she can choose an activity that brings the desired result.
Losing weight and toning the body
If weight-loss is the aim, fat-burning activities, such as running, step aerobics or aerobics up to five times a week, plusbring results. Muscle toning exercises, such as weight training, floor exercises such as sit-ups and push-ups, or circuit training, are good choices for achieving a toned body. If vanity is the primary motive in exercise, these muscle-toning exercises deliver visible body improvements. By making regular exercise part of her life (in combination with a healthy balanced diet), an individual can also prevent excess weight from being gained in the first instance.
Increasing long-term fitness
If an individual’s aim is increasing long-term fitness, she should work on making gradual improvements to general health and all-round fitness. To achieve this, the body must be worked in three ways – aerobic work to strengthen the heart and lungs, muscle exercise to increase strength and muscular endurance and stretching for increased. An aerobic workout at least three times a week, plus weight training and stretching, can form the basis for all-round fitness.
Overcoming health problems
Many people follow an exercise plan as part of their rehabilitation after an injury or to treat a variety of health problems. This type of exercise, known as remedial exercise, can consist of a course of ordinary aerobic or muscular exercise or a special exercise system, such as the Alexander technique or the Feldenkrais method. Remedial exercise plans should always be devised by an expert.
Preventing future health problems
For many people, the prevention of future health problems influences their decision to pursue an active lifestyle. Regular physical activity is recognized as a major factor in reducing and delaying the risk of developing chronic diseases, including heart disease; hypertension and stroke; some types of cancer; diabetes; arthritis; and osteoporosis. Exercise promotes longevity and a person who takes regular exercise is likely to remain active until late in life. To maximize these benefits, an individual should include aerobic, muscle strengthening and flexibility elements in her physical activity. Exercise is also psychologically therapeutic, reducing anxiety and depression. In this respect, Eastern exercise disciplines can be particularly helpful.
Relaxing and overcoming stress
Exercise can provide an outlet for releasing a build-up of stress. Regular activity helps to combat tensions on a day-to-day basis, thereby preventing stress from building up to dangerous levels. Activities that focus the mind, such as Tai Chi or Yoga, can help to relieve stress. Aggression that has built up during the course of the day can be released in a controlled way in activities such as the martial arts or boxing. Some researchers believe that all forms of exercise increase the brain’s production of endorphins. These pain-relieving, morphine-like substances can lift mood and bring feelings of euphoria.
If the social aspect of exercise is important, the type of activity matters less, provided it can be pursued at a club or class. Team sports, such as football and volleyball, are an ideal way of meeting people, and the social aspect of individual sports, such as running or, can be increased by joining a club.
For some individuals, the overriding motivation for exercising is a desire to compete at professional level in a particular sport. In this case, it is beneficial to seek advice from a trainer who specializes in the chosen sport. Professional advice should enable the individual to work on weaknesses, improve performance and avoid over-use injuries.