“Walking is the best medicine.” Hippocrates Circa 450 BC

One of the first thoughts people have when beginning an exercise program is what type of activity or activities they should do. Things like joining a gym or exercise class, starting up jogging, playing tennis with friends, going swimming, buying a home exercise machine come to mind. All of these are great activities and there are many more, but when it comes right down to it, the best type of activity is the one (or ones) that you enjoy and can keep doing regularly. For example, swimming is a fantastic whole-body activity that is easy on the body’s joints, but if it is not something you like, it doesn’t matter how great it is for the body, you won’t stick to it.

Common for a lot of people is the purchase of a home exercise machine like a stationary bike, treadmill or elliptical machine spending upwards of $200 to $500. These can be good investments as it’s convenient to exercise in the home, cheaper than joining a gym in the long run and you can do it even in the bad weather. However, a lot of time these machines get used for a few weeks and never again for a number of reasons. Many people place these machines out of the way like in their basement making it uninviting to use them. In addition, some people get bored of using them. This is because they don’t like doing the same exercise or looking at the same wall all the time- not enough variety. One way to combat that it is to put a TV in front of the machine or use a tablet to watch your favourite shows and pass the time.

For others, being social is important, so joining a gym, exercise class or meeting up with friends works the best. For these people, the activity becomes secondary to the socializing. It also adds an element of accountability as your friends help support you in keeping to the routine.

Commuting on foot (walk/jog) or by bike or other active modality means that you can accomplish two tasks in one. For people who pay for parking, commuting can reduce your day-to-day expenses, and for those who commute to a busy downtown centre, often getting there by bicycle can be faster, so you save time as well. If you are considering commuting, there are some logistics things to think of. Is there a shower and place to store your gear if you arrive sweaty and need to change? Can you store clothes/shoes and a towel in your office or in a locker so you don’t have to carry as much with you? If you are riding your bike, is there a safe (and dry) place to lock it up, and is the route safe for cyclists?

Ideally when considering an activity, the best ones from a fitness perspective are ones that use large muscle groups such as your legs and upper body. Activities that give a whole body workout such as swimming, cross-country skiing and elliptical trainers are fantastic. The more muscles involved the better as it gives your heart and lungs a better workout too.

Be careful, though, not to overdo it. When first beginning an exercise program you’ll feel fresh and excited but starting too hard and too often may lead to pain and discomfort after a week or so. For activities that are repetitive, progressing slowly can help avoid overuse injuries. This is especially true for weight-bearing activities such as jogging/running. A good rule of them is to only increase your duration by 10% per week, so if you are running a total of 2.5 hours (150 minutes) one week, to increase by a maximum of 15 minutes the next week. For this reason, and to add more variety, many people participate in more than one activity such as jogging twice per week, swimming twice per week and playing tennis once. This is referred to as cross-training and can be helpful in involving as many muscle groups in your exercise program as possible, while not be too draining.

In the end, you’ll be the best judge of what activities you like and what works for you.

In the next blog I will discuss how to monitor your exercise.

This is Part 4 in a series of blog posts entitled Being Active While Living an Active Life.