Choosing Fitness: Solo, or Social?

By Tracy Morris

You’ve decided to get active and get fit. Or maybe you already are both of those things, but you’re ready for a change of pace. How do you choose an activity that’s both effective and enjoyable? Here is how to start exercising.

First, do you do what virtually every magazine, website, and book says you should do first — see your doctor before beginning a new exercise regimen?

pic1Probably not. Unless you’re going for a marathon, triathlon, Iron Woman, or scaling the Himalayas, you’re likely to assume that your starting pace will be safe enough to keep from killing yourself, at least the first few times out. While that’s true, it’s also safe to say that you could easily acquire a minor injury, even if only strained muscles, if you’re attempting an activity that’s entirely new to you. Even little aches can make it tough for you to continue. So having a physician give you the go-ahead before starting out is an idea really worth considering.

Next, there’s a whole list of variables to weigh when pondering exercise options. The renowned Mayo Clinic website suggests you keep the following in mind:

• Consider your goals – Weight loss? Training for a race? Cardiovascular health?

• Think about activities that you like and dislike – Whittle them down.

• Plan for gradual progression of activity – Don’t jump into daily exercise right away.

• Build it into your daily routine – Schedule exercise like any other appointment that’s for your benefit.

• Try to do more than one type of exercise – To prevent both boredom and muscle overuse.

• Think in advance about recovery – Especially at first, know that your body will space between sessions to regain strength.

Here’s a consideration not listed by Mayo : are you a solo or social exerciser?

For the past 30 years, I’ve engaged in several types of fitness activities – from running to walking, swimming to weight lifting, biking and yoga and aerobic dance to kayaking. With the exception of kayaking, I’ve exercised with and without friends along. I’ve tried each at varying times of day, in different seasons and weather, on empty stomach and well-fed, with music and without – all the while gauging the responses of my body and mind.

What I’ve learned from my not-so-systematic study of myself as an exerciser is that when it comes to the question of solo or social, I far prefer solitude during my endeavors.

I use exercise for equal parts body and mind health. When I exert myself alone, I find that I am more engaged in the activity, more focused, and therefore, achieve my goals without distraction more often. I also reap the reward of a meditative experience, even if it’s only for a few minutes within a longer session.

pic2For some, there’s nothing they dread more than the solo run, walk, swim, or bike trek. Following instructions of a DVD at home is simply not going to happen. Solitude equals boredom. For them, exercise is an opportunity to connect to others.

Being a social exerciser may present the challenge of finding others with whom to be active. It’s safe to say, though, that most women who are fired up to get fit with friends come to that conclusion after a discussion with others of like mind. Community running or walking groups often get started through existing networks like the workplace, at churches, or at mothers’ groups. Gyms often provide bulletin boards or even concierge-like trainers who can clue you in to groups welcoming newcomers.

pic3It doesn’t really matter whether you’re like me and seek primarily to push yourself with solitary focus, or like the duos I meet on the path each week who process their days’ events aloud while they jog. The important thing is that you know what you like best about the experience of the activity, even before you get whatever results you’re hoping to get from exercising. Whatever it is, if you enjoy doing it, it’s easier to do, and your results are destined to follow.

Here are a few more ideas on getting started with fitness activities:

Exercise Success Stories from the Arthritis Foundation – The article addresses obstacles that even those without arthritis encounter when trying to exercise.

How to Exercise without Damaging Your Joints and Other Body Parts from Donna Gates’ Body Ecology Diet.

Women and Physical Activity from, a good overview with some superb links to more resources at bottom.

Other Single Minded Women’s Health Articles

Get A Hold of Your Heart

The Heat Is On! Tips for Keeping Cool

The Environment and Breast Cancer