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How to find an exercise you love – and will stick with

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If regular exercise is one of the most important keys to good health, the trick is finding a way to move that you genuinely enjoy so that you’ll want to keep doing it day after day. Here’s how to find your perfect fit.

As far as exercise goes, running is one that ticks a whole lot of boxes. It’s free to do, doesn’t involve a lot of expensive equipment and certainly delivers when it comes to improving everything from fitness to muscle tone and bone density. Which is great news – if you like running. 

If you don’t, then choosing to pound the pavement as ‘your’ exercise isn’t likely to deliver the results you’re after for your health and wellbeing, even though you know it’s an effective choice in theory. In order to deliver benefits, exercise has to be done regularly – and who wants to regularly do something they don’t like? 

Research backs this up, finding that people who choose types of exercise based on theoretical results rather than enjoyment do significantly less activity as a result. 

So, a much better tactic is finding an activity or two (or three!) that you like doing. But don’t just take our word for it. Behavioural scientists have done a lot of research into what helps create an exercise habit that sticks. One of the things that consistently pops up is that if you get genuine enjoyment out of being active, you’re more likely to prioritise it and keep doing it long term. 

Enjoyment means different things to different people, but researchers agree that what matters most is how you feel when you’re actually doing it – or in other words, how much fun an activity is for you, in the moment. 

To find that ‘fun’ factor, ask yourself these questions.

 

What suits your personality?

While some research suggests that people enjoy physical activity more when they do it alongside others, how much that applies to you can come down to your personality. In fact, University of Florida sports scientists say it’s personality type that has a big impact on how much you do, or don’t, enjoy a particular exercise. Key findings from their research include that extroverted, social people benefited most from action-packed, gym-based classes; conscientious personality types responded well to scheduled workout sessions but didn’t like being told what to do (bye bye bootcamp!), and agreeable personalities preferred morning workouts. Learn more about using your personality type to tailor your exercise options.

What bonus benefits does it deliver?

What makes an activity enjoyable isn’t always inherent in the activity itself. For example, going for that hour-long walk at sunrise might be your opportunity to listen to your favourite podcast, playing a sport might give you the chance to flex your competitive streak or spend time with friends, and doing tai chi might zap your stress levels. Considering what extra benefits different types of exercise ‘give you’ can change and even increase how enjoyable they seem to you.

What energy levels do you prefer?

While activities that trigger an adrenalin rush might spell enjoyment for some, for other people, it’s high-energy exercises, or conversely ones that are serene and calming, that are most enjoyable. Your preferences will decide whether you choose to go mountain biking on a tricky track, take a spin class or do a yoga session. Bear in mind, too, that you’ll probably find different energies enjoyable on different days – and that’s more than fine. Mix it up: research shows that people who vary the workouts and physical activities they do enjoy them 20 per cent more and are 15 per cent more likely to exercise regularly, compared to people who do the same thing over and over again. 

What's your body telling you?

If you’ve got an old knee injury that flares up whenever you do high-impact activities, even though you might genuinely enjoy playing basketball, the pain it causes you may not be quite so enjoyable., Listen to your body and choose activities that nourish and improve it rather than those that may only make any pre-existing niggles worse.  

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