If exercise is not a regular part of your life, you’re not alone. In fact, a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found only 18.7 percent of women ages 18 to 64 meet guidelines for both aerobic and muscle-strengthening exercises.
And while there are reasons galore to explain this, one factor rarely considered is your “exercise personality.” That means finding the type of activity that connects with you personally. We often pick an activity based on the latest trends or a friend’s preference, with little thought to whether we actually enjoy it.
It makes perfect sense that when you choose activities you enjoy and connect with, you’re much more likely to stick with it for life. Yes, exercise can and should be fun!
Just like “one size does not fit all” when choosing an eating plan, it’s exactly the same for an exercise routine. I’m going to break it down for you and help you figure out your true exercise personality to help set you up for long-term fitness success.
The solo exerciser
Signs this is you: You like alone time with your thoughts and often use activity as a way to have personal time focused exclusively on you. Whether it’s cardio (like walking, running, biking, hiking or swimming), strength training (like lifting weights) or flexibility (like yoga or Pilates), you’re most comfortable being on your own. You are accountable to yourself and don’t need other people to motivate you, nor do you like competition as any part of your fitness routine. You gain pleasure and peace with this dedicated time, outside of your hectic day.
Top tip: To avoid single-activity burnout, rotate your solo activities to include cardio, strength training and flexibility. To be prepared (and avoid injury) for any new activity, get some one-on-one advice from a pro, or choose an app or video for instruction of proper form.
The bring-a-buddy exerciser
Signs this is you: You like the interaction with one (or maybe two) people. This helps you stay engaged, but doesn’t distract you. With an exercise companion the time passes more quickly, and you can focus both on your fitness and enjoy limited social interaction. You are most comfortable with someone at a similar fitness level and have shared goals.
Top tip: The same sets of activities work for partners as for the solos, whether it’s cardio, strength training, or flexibility. You might like tennis or golf (but be careful that your partner is focused on the activity and enjoyment, and not one-on-one competition).
The social butterfly exerciser
Signs this is you: You like a more social environment and enjoy interacting with a variety of fitness levels. You also like that a social interaction is built-in, and a sense of camaraderie develops over time. This can be a plus when trying out a new activity, to observe others around you, and learn, instead of only relying on the instructor.
Top tip: The world is your oyster! There are so many different classes at gyms and boutique fitness studios offered for all levels of fitness, as well as types of activities spanning cardio, strength training, and flexibility – from the ever popular Zumba, to spinning, to boxing and yoga or Pilates. Not sure where to start? Consider ClassPass to mix up your routine and find out what you like best.
The game-on exerciser:
Signs this is you: You like the balance of both individual and team contributions. You like the idea of exercising as part of an activity, and not being restricted to machines or in structured sets of repetitions. You like moving your whole body, as a unit, and don’t like “isolating” different body parts for a work out. You might have been a team sport participant in school and want to extend that experience.
Top tip: Sports teams often are a great fit for exercise. Adult leagues for soccer and softball are popular, in either mixed-gender or single-sex teams. Tennis and golf also fit your personality.
The bottom line: Making exercise a part of your life takes a little pre-planning. When you match your natural temperament to your activity, you’ll always be more likely to remain committed for the long term.
(And remember to always check with your doctor before making any major changes in your activity.)
Madelyn Fernstrom, Ph.D. is the NBC News Health Editor. Follow her on Twitter @drfernstrom.