3 Ways to Keep Exercise Fun and Rewarding – Variety, Variety, Variety

They say variety is the spice of life, but it’s also pretty darn integral to exercise, both in terms of keeping your mind engaged in the activity at hand and ensuring that your dedication to exercise continues to pay off, be it in gains of physical strength, endurance, or simply just feeling good about your body.

On the mental front, variety in your exercise routine can be one of the most important predictors of adherence to exercise. To test this theory, researchers from the University of Florida assigned 114 people to one of three exercise programs; one where the type of exercise varied between workouts, a second where members were required to perform the same exercise at each workout, and a third where exercisers where left to their own devices in terms of schedule and exercise type. At the end of the eight week program, 53 participants had left the program, leaving 24 people in the first group, 22 in the second group and 15 in the third group. In addition, participants in the first group enjoyed their workout sessions 20 percent more than the members of the second group and 45 percent more than members of the third group.

Still need proof that changing up your routine is good for mental health? According to a 2005 study conducted by Johns Hopkins University researchers, changing up the types of exercise you do may reduce your risk of dementia, with those who participated in 4 or more activities exhibiting signs of dementia at less than half the rate of those who participated in one or fewer activities.

Now, let’s make like Jane Fonda and get physical (or at least talk about getting physical). The bottom line is that variety in both the type of exercise you do (be it anaerobic, aerobic, or strength training) as well as the mode you use to perform these activities (as in, whether you’re out running, biking, playing a pick-up game of hoops, etc), is important for physical gains. Specifically, using a variety of exercises and changing them frequently can keep your body from stagnating and help prevent – or breakthrough – a plateau as well as improve strength, endurance and overall performance.

Offering proof of this theory, a 2005 study in the Journal of Applied Physiology finds that performing only 2 weeks of interval sprint training – with participants performing bike sprints for 30 seconds, then either stopping or pedaling gently for four minutes – doubled endurance capacity during intense aerobic cycling in recreationally active individuals (in this case, fit and healthy college-age men and women). A control group who did not do any interval training, meanwhile, showed no improvement in endurance.

A second study, also in the Journal of Applied Physiology, found that two weeks of high-intensity aerobic interval training improves cardiovascular fitness as well as the body’s ability to burn fat, even during low- or moderate-intensity workouts in moderately active women. In addition, measure of the participant’s cardiovascular fitness improved by 13 % across the two week study period.

So how can you break free from your exercise rut? Take a tip from Mark, whose own fitness routine alternates between running (though not necessarily long distances), bike rides and resistance training with free weights, and activities that range from hiking and yoga to snowboarding and playing sports.

However, it should be noted that when transitioning to a new routine, you should proceed with caution. When training for the 2005 New York Marathon, even Lance Armstrong, seven-time Tour de France winner, admitted that he had to transition slowly and that his running routine had “been harder physically than [he] expected.”

But adding new activities can be a breeze if you follow these simple tricks:

* Start out slow and take it easy. Rome wasn’t built in a day, so don’t put the pressure on yourself to master a sport or new activity in the same period – these things take time!

* Used to biking 800 miles a week like Lance? Than you’ll be surprised to know that his longest run was just 13 miles about a month out from the race. The bottom line? Keep your intensity and your duration lower in new activities than you would in your regular ones. Doing so will allow your mind and your body the time to adapt to the sport!

* The saying “there’s no point in doing it if you don’t do it well,” definitely applies to new activities. Learn the rules, the skills and the techniques necessary to successfully carry out the activity safely and effectively.

* View your new activity as a supplement to your regular routine until you have mastered it, then begin experimenting ways to fit it into your existing routine, be it splitting your workouts to mix the old and the new, varying your workouts day-by-day or however else you choose to mix it up!

* Don’t force it. Some activities you’re going to enjoy and some you’re going to find just aren’t for you. Certainly give it a try – sometimes we initially dislike activities because we can’t do them (and we all know how damaging a bruised ego can be!) – but if it’s still not jiving, pick up and move on because there are certainly plenty of other activities out there!

* Remember that adding variety to your workout routine doesn’t have to mean changing the activities you like. Like long distance running? Try changing it up by adding sprint intervals. Love free weights? Try using resistance bands to challenge new muscles or just change up the order in which you perform your exercises – you’ll be amazed at the differences even little changes can make!

How do you keep your workouts fresh and exciting? Drop us a line.

obo-bobolina Flickr Photo (CC)

Further Reading:

CrossFit – Ever Heard of It?

Dear Mark: Chronic Cardio

Ririan Project: 18 Ways to Supercharge a Boring Gym Session

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