Have you ever tried a new activity your friend has raved about, only to find yourself bored stiff ten minutes into it? There’s actually a scientific reason behind this. Studies have found that people who participate in activities appropriate for their personalities are more likely to enjoy and maintain a consistent exercise routine.
Based on this concept, James Gavin from Concordia University in Montreal wrote the paper Pairing Personality With Activity in 2004. His intention was to help physicians recommend appropriate activities for patients based on their personalities. He wanted to promote greater physical activity and the health benefits that go with it.
Gavin determined 7 different aspects of personality that can influence our choice in physical exercise. It’s important to identify your own traits so you can work with them rather than against them. This will help you find an approach to fitness that you’ll enjoy and can easily make a part of your life.
1. Social dynamics
Do you prefer solo activities, joining a team sport, or something in between? Where you land on the social interaction spectrum will affect your view of exercise.
Good options for soloists include jogging, cycling or swimming alone outdoors. Someone in the middle of the spectrum might enjoy workouts at a gym where there are people to talk to, but you can also have your own space. For a true people person, you’ll likely thrive with team sports, an interactive dance class or getting together with a buddy for tennis.
2. Disciplined vs. spontaneous
Those who are naturally disciplined and self-motivated tend to be goal-oriented and love tracking progress. They like to use pedometers, keep training logs or work with a personal trainer to achieve their fitness goals. Workouts like cardio routines, interval training or martial arts are often well-suited to this personality type.
This self-disciplined model is sometimes held up as a fitness ideal, but it doesn’t have to be. Spur-of-the-moment activities and a more casual approach to exercise are perfect for some personalities.
If structured workouts and goals turn you off, try an improvisational dance class or seasonal activities that change, such as skiing or mountain biking.
3. What’s your motivation?
Motivation can be either internal or external. Internal motivation would be how an activity makes you feel. Does it give you a feeling of satisfaction, excitement or a sense of mastery?
An external motivation is to reach a certain goal, such as weight loss or building muscle. You might not even enjoy an activity, but you’ll stick with it as long as you’re motivated to achieve a certain end.
Both of these motivations may be at play at different times in your life. It helps to be aware of them in order to keep your exercise routine on track.
How much you enjoy being assertive will also influence your enjoyment of an activity. Sports where you’re actively trying to beat the competition or workouts such as lifting weights require a certain level of aggression to power through them. This is perfect for those who like to rise to a challenge.
If powering through is just not your thing, more low-key fitness options like yoga, tai chi or golf would probably suit you better.
5. Competition, collaboration or going it solo
Where you land on the competitiveness scale is another factor in choosing a fitness program. Those on the higher end of this scale love competition and more specifically winning. The activity itself is almost secondary. Team sports and any kind of races or marathons are natural fits.
If you’re somewhere in the middle, group-oriented classes and cycling or skiing with friends are a good bet. And if you prefer to skip the win-lose paradigm altogether, you can try a Pilates or water aerobics class, or home options like a treadmill or Wii Fit.
6. Mental focus
Your focus can take many forms depending on what you’re doing. Dribbling a basketball down the court takes a lot of external focus, whereas focusing on your breathing during a long swim takes internal focus.
Another aspect of focus is what you’re actually thinking about. You could be completely focused on how to execute a karate sequence with nothing else on your mind. Or you could let your mind wander freely during your spin class.
Consider what level of focus leaves you feeling most energized. Keep this in mind when choosing a possible exercise routine.
7. Adrenaline junkie
Thrill seeking is a well-known personality trait. Some people love taking risks in various forms. It can be a physical risk, such as bungee jumping or hang-gliding. It can also be a psychological risk, such as the risk of embarrassment or seeming weak in front of others if you fail at a certain sports challenge.
You probably already know if you’re a thrill seeker. Respect your tendencies towards extreme sports, faster-paced activities and high-intensity workouts. Keep trying out new things to keep your routine fresh.
For those who prefer a more stable path without the unnecessary risks, focus on activities where you can unwind and get some mental space. Long distance running, hiking or other outdoor pursuits are good for this. Indoor classes where you can just show up and let a trusted instructor lead are also a great option.