Taking Fitness Personally

Before you beat yourself up about not going to the swanky gym you joined last year or using your home treadmill as a second closet, think about whether you truly enjoy exercising in the traditional sense. If the idea of working out in the weight room or taking a weekly aerobic class evokes dread, it may be time to reconsider your definition of exercise.

“The most important thing about exercise is consistency.” says Dr. Bryant Stamford, a professor and director of the Health Promotion Center at the University of Louisville in Kentucky. “So you need to choose things that are realistic, comfortable and that are going to inspire you to keep coming back.”

One of the best ways to figure out what kind of exercise is right for you, Stamford says, is to try to match an activity to your personality. If you’re not into team sports or activities you’re probably not going to go to volleyball practice after a long day at work. A more contemplative or introverted person might have better luck with walks in the woods, tai chi or martial arts. But volleyball might be a great activity for someone who is competitive or likes the camaraderie of a team.

A goal-oriented personality, Stamford says, is often drawn to a single activity, like swimming or running. That way, he or she can train like an athlete and excel at a particular sport. But alternating between different activities might also be a good idea, especially for older adults who don’t want to overstress their joints, or those who are easily bored.

“If I’m sort of a dilettante about exercise and on Monday, I’m swimming, and on Tuesday, I’m walking, and on Wednesday, I’m biking, then I’m probably not getting very good at one thing.” Stamford says. “But in terms of being active, that’s perfect.”

Even a coach potato can make a gradual transition to exerciser, as long as he or she begins with realistic goals such as opting for the stairs rather than the elevator whenever possible. Or people can make time to do household chores, such as gardening or scrubbing the tub, for the sake of their health.

“The key is getting away from this one-size-fits-all exercise idea and ask yourself, ’What am I willing to do?’” Stamford says. “Then the truth about your willingness to commit is going to come out.”

While people tend to think a small commitment is a waste of time, any amount of exercise is a good starting point. And choosing activities you enjoy is likely to motivate you to make more time in your schedule for them. “If we can get you locked into hiking in the woods on Saturday and Sunday, then you may end up saying, ’Maybe on Wednesday I can carve out some time for exercise’” says Stamford.

Studies confirm that exercise doesn’t have to be painful to be effective, so pick an activity that gives you some joy, whether it’s walking around your local mall, yoga or ballroom dancing, and stick with it.


Physical Activity Tailored to Your Personality


Pilates, walking, yoga, martial arts, swimming, home gym


Sports such as tennis, hockey, basketball


Group activities such as golf, mall walking, hikes, public health club




Hiking, in-line skating, mountain biking, ice skating, skiing or snowboarding


Housework, gardening, lawn-mowing

Coach potato

Anything: get off a stop or a floor early and walk the rest, walk to the store instead of driving

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