Exercise can often be a scary word for many people, especially for adults who have not made personal fitness a priority. The idea of joining a gym with strangers or feeling self-conscious in spandex can be a stressor that prevents many of us from jumping into a new exercise routine.

Well, don’t sweat it – I have good news. Exercise does not have to be scary. In fact, it doesn’t even need to involve a gym or spandex!

And, the benefits of exercise can be enjoyed at any age. Exercise can be a helpful tool for managing joint health, like arthritis, and a powerful ally when it comes to combatting heart disease. Exercise is even being linked to improving our mindfulness, a technique to possibly improve our memory and cognitive function.

If you still need some convincing to get moving, here are ten exercise tidbits I have picked up from my patients, family members, and friends for you to consider.

  1. Set personal fitness goals. Set a short-term and long-term personal fitness goal. For example, a few years ago, I set a short-term goal to run three days a week for 30 minutes and a long-term goal to run a half marathon. Within a year, I achieved both goals. Now, I am using the same goal setting strategy with swimming laps.
  2. Tell your friends and family about your fitness goals. Making a commitment out loud is a helpful way to get support for your fitness and health goals. Plus, announcing your plans holds you more accountable to follow through.
  3. Start small. Remember that Aesop fable about the tortoise and the hare? Well, the short of it is, the tortoise won the race with his slow and steady approach. Don’t try to break world records right out of the gate. Pace yourself.
  4. Track your progress. Keeping a log of your progress is much like telling your friends and family about your fitness goals – it is all about accountability. You can log your progress in a journal or through one of the many fitness apps on your smartphone that are free to use.
  5. Think outside of the gym. If the gym is not right for you, that is okay. In the warmer months, my family and I love walking, running, and paddle boarding. In the winter, we avoid the ice and sand on the roads and walk our dog at Home Depot (they are very pup friendly). I also like to ski, but recommend you consult your doctor before trying new winter sporting activities. If you do decide to join a gym, take a few tours and shop around before committing to a contract. You have options.
  6. Find a fitness friend. Having a buddy to work out with is a great motivator and makes exercise a fun and social activity. Your friend could be a sibling, spouse, neighbor, or colleague. The trick is to find a friend who is motivated and on a similar schedule as yours.
  7. Lean on technology. Smartphone fitness apps, wearable technology, and pedometers are great tools to help you track your progress. I got a new device for Hanukkah and Christmas this year and it is pretty slick. It tracks my daily activity and even lets me know when I’ve been sitting too long. Try one and see if it works for you.
  8. Make it fun. There are a lot of intramural sports leagues for adults, walking clubs, and informal fitness networks in neighborhoods across Rhode Island. If you are a parent who spends the weekend at the soccer field, cheer for your kid on the move and walk laps around the field. Five and a half laps around a standard soccer field is roughly equal to one mile.
  9. Connect fitness to day-to-day activities. One activity I dread more than exercise is grocery shopping. My wife found a way to make it fun by appealing to my competitive side. We split up the grocery list and race each other to see who can check off all the items on their grocery list first. I am pretty sure she pads my list with obscure items, but nonetheless, it’s an activity that always gets my heart rate up.
  10. Celebrate fitness milestones. When you achieve a goal, celebrate your success. You worked hard! In many cases, health insurance companies will offer reimbursements for joining gyms or offer monetary incentives for completing personal health assessments. Treat yourself with these funds – new sneakers, a date night, or something as sweet and simple as an ice-cream sundae.

Eric M. Cohen, MD

Dr. Eric Cohen is the program director of the Total Joint Center at The Miriam Hospital. He is an adult reconstructive and trauma orthopedic surgeon at Lifespan Orthopedics Institute.