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Tips for choosing a fitness activity

Although the options seem endless, finding an exercise program that you can stick with can be challenging. When choosing a fitness activity, keeping a few factors in mind can help you develop a routine that works.

Ananya Banerjee, PhD, a registered kinesiologist with the Women’s Cardiovascular Health Initiative at Women’s College Hospital, recommends thinking about what you enjoy, what’s feasible and what’s accessible to you.

“Those are the three key traits: accessibility, feasibility and ability to enjoy the activity,” she says. “When those three criteria are met, a person is more likely to stick to a routine. You don’t want to make exercise hard.”

Even within that framework, multiple factors affect what’s feasible and what’s accessible.

“You have to think about someone’s personal circumstances, their social circumstances, the community they reside in, what’s available, and the factor that is becoming increasingly important is their built environment,” Banerjee explains.

The gym option

For some people, a gym membership makes sense if cost is not an issue. There may be a gym that’s convenient to home or work, depending on whether it’s most convenient to work out before work, at lunchtime, or after work. Gym chains with many locations can make all of these options possible.

Canada’s physical activity guidelines recommend 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity per week. That’s half an hour, five times per week. Strength and flexibility training are also recommended.

“If you join a gym, you have the luxury of going to a class – whether it’s Zumba or step aerobics or spinning – or simply doing machines,” Banerjee says. “Especially in the winter, a lot of people just want to do 30 minutes of vigorous walking or running, so the treadmill is a great option.”

Having all those different options helps keep workouts fresh and interesting, but Banerjee notes that for many, gyms can be a luxury.

“It is a financial cost,” she says. “We need to think about people who don’t want to put money into their exercise routine. That’s when you start to think about community-level factors and the built environment.”

Community resources

Community-level factors include programs that are available at little or no cost through local community centres or parks and recreation departments. Local programs often include activities for adults, children, families, and even women-only programs.

There may be other organizations geared towards enjoying sports and activities, but that aren’t necessarily competitive. For example, websites like offer opportunities to play sports like soccer or volleyball, or to join a hike or learn a new activity.

“That’s a great avenue for someone who is looking to be more active socially and is more motivated as part of a group or having a buddy,” Banerjee says.

The built environment includes neighbourhood features like local parks and public areas, and an area’s walkability score. A high walkability score indicates that an area is safe, has sidewalks, and is close to amenities.

For example, some neighbourhoods have walking and biking paths nearby. Local high schools often have tracks that can be used outside of school hours. Many malls have walking programs that allow indoor walkers to get a workout before the stores open.

There’s an app for that

Some neighbourhoods have an excellent built environment, but others don’t offer many resources.

“We have to think about people who have lower socio-economic status who may not live in the safest neighbourhoods and can’t afford to join a gym,” Banerjee says. “Sometimes these individuals are also more socially isolated, and may not have much social support to be active.”

For many people in this situation, Google and YouTube can be excellent resources.

“Most people are able to afford the Internet in one form or another, and there are actually great fitness ideas on YouTube,” Banerjee says. “There are walking programs on YouTube where you follow an instructor, there are Zumba classes on YouTube, strength training, yoga. It gives you that variety at no expense. For kids and families, there are videos called Just Dance, that teach you how to dance – a great indoor option for families on cold days.”

Fitness apps for smartphones and tablets provide even more choices, and can track progress or customize routines.

“You just need to be mindful that it comes from a credible and qualified source,” Banerjee says. “That goes for YouTube videos as well. Make sure it’s not a homemade video, but by a certified instructor. Credentials are usually listed in the video so you know you’re working out safely and you’re less prone to injury.”

Once you’ve found a routine that works for you, and you’re meeting the goal of 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise per week, it’s important to remember the benefits you’re getting.

“The key message is you’re exercising to be healthy and to prevent chronic disease,” Banerjee says. “A lot of people start exercising because they want to lose weight, and they give up if they aren’t losing weight. They need to know that if they’re overweight and active, their chances of developing chronic disease is actually lower than an individual who is not overweight and not exercising.”

This information is provided by Women’s College Hospital and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: Dec. 11 2015

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