Image credit: Wade Griffith
One of the questions I get asked a lot is “what is the best type of exercise?”. Generally, people who don’t know me seem to expect me to reply with either “running”, “interval training” or “lifting weights”, and whilst all of these are just fine as means of staying fit and strong, they are not the best. No. The answer to this question is simple. So simple that you’ll probably think I’m simple for spelling it out:
The best form of exercise in the world is the one you enjoy the most.
That’s it. Find something you love doing, and then keep doing it. Whether that’s swing dancing, taking your dog for long walks, chasing after your six year old, doing yoga, kickboxing, or cycling up and down mountains doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that you enjoy it enough to do it regularly, otherwise an active lifestyle and the health (and aesthetic) benefits that come with it will never last.
Let’s be honest, for most of us, this isn’t it:
Image credit: Penn State
Finding what this thing, or things, is isn’t easy. You’re unlikely to wake up one day with the realisation that learning to line dance is the answer to all your problems, but by doing some research, exploring what’s nearby and pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, you will get there. You could try a Boxercise class one week, a pilates class the next, a trip to a powerlifting gym with your meathead friend from work or even, heaven forbid, a Zumba class at the leisure centre down the road.
Image credit: Nero Dominus
“Enjoyment” isn’t just about fun, although that’s obviously big part, but also about other factors which will depend on your personality, what you want out of your spare time, and the things that drive and motivate you. These could include:
- meeting new people
- sweating like a pig
- hitting things
- moving gracefully
- being able to listen to music
- being on your own
- being part of a team
- lifting up heavy things
- developing a skill set
- looking cool (although my readers should all know that this one should never be a priority)
There is no right or wrong thing to do, just something that is right and wrong for you.
Which leads me to a sad fact of modern day life: gyms are not right for most people. I mean really, how many people (myself excluded) do you know who actually enjoy going to the gym? Who reach the end of the day and go “fuck yeah I’m going to go and do some bicep curls and run like a hamster on the treadmill in a sweaty room lit with white strip lights and a load of other miserable people, grunting and dripping everywhere”. Thought so.
Image credit: Lacs de l’Eau d’Heure
Gyms are not a natural place to be. They are not fun. They contain weird machines that make you better at using weird machines, and not at the stuff you care about. Even the more natural machines – bikes and treadmills – are very, very inferior to the real things. You can’t talk to people – no one wants to be interrupted when they’re trying to motivate themselves through an hour of unutterably tedious movement, devoid of meaning, and despite the upbeat music, they’re a pretty sad place to spend time.
So rather than feeling guilty about the gym membership you pay for but never use, just quit and plough your efforts into finding that thing you love doing, because once you do then you won’t even call it “exercise”.