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Fitness programs: 6 steps to guide your selection

Finding the right fitness program may be your ticket to getting in shape. Set your goals, consider your likes and dislikes - then go for it!

By Mayo Clinic staff

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 best for you? Use these six simple steps to find out.

Step 1: Assess your 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 after a one-mile walk
  • How long it takes to walk one mile
  • How many push-ups 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 navel
  • Your body mass index

You may also want to consult your doctor before beginning an exercise program, especially if you've been sedentary or you have any chronic medical conditions.

Step 2: Determine your fitness 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.

Step 3: Consider your likes and dislikes.

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 spinning 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 and like to be active with others, 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.

Step 4: Think variety.

Varying your activities (cross-training) can 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.

Step 5: Do the math.

By now, you probably have a sense of which type of physical activities might be best for you. But you also need to make sure that your 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 consider buying used exercise equipment - or sharing the cost with a friend.

Step 6: Go for it!

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! Remember to start slowly and build up intensity gradually. 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.

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