Everyone knows that exercise is good for us, and that regular exercise will improve not only our physical, but also our mental health.

In an earlier blog post, I explained the importance of being personally involved in your exercise program, or the “who” of a successful program.

See Designing an Exercise Program to Avoid Disuse Syndrome: The Who

In this post, we will discuss 3 other important components of designing a successful exercise program.

Love being in the pool? Exercise there! See Getting Started with Pool Therapy

The “why,” "where,” and “what” of exercise

First, let’s start with the “why.”

The first part of designing any exercise program is becoming educated about the importance of exercise in general, and for general health. If you don’t believe exercise has value, you won’t do it. If you have a particular medical problem, learning the benefits for exercise (for both physical and mental wellbeing) is important. With chronic pain, the exercise will help with both the pain the depression.

See Depression and Chronic Back Pain

And now for the “where.”

Next, determine “where” the exercise will occur. Some people find it more convenient to exercise at home. Others may find they have fewer distractions at an exercise facility. In many cases there may not be an option. For instance, many issues can prevent someone from even having the option to go to a gym (physical status, transportation, cost). All of these must be taken into account in terms of where the exercise will occur.


If you choose to exercise at a gym, your first assignment is to get a membership. Be sure to pick a gym that is nearby since you will be less likely to exercise at a club that is further away. Be sure the gym has equipment and facilities appropriate to your needs (research it).

See Specific Exercise Strategies

And now for the "what."

Make the exercise fun and convenient. The “what” aspect of the equation is choosing an exercise that provides for the physical needs while also being enjoyable and convenient. If you hate water and running, trying to swim laps or jog is not going to work. The “what” aspect does not need to be a formal exercise regimen. It might be a sporting involvement (e.g. tennis, golf, etc.) or something else (a class versus individual). While building a plan behind the exercise program, consider all of these issues in detail. Questions to ask yourself might include:

  • What types of exercise have I enjoyed in the past?
  • How often did I do this exercise?
  • Did I generally exercise with a friend or alone?
  • What made me keep going with the exercise?

Once the type of exercise is decided upon, the aspects of just getting started are important. Any behaviorist will suggest that you design a program that is “rigged for success.” Therefore, the first few workouts should be brief and well within your abilities. In fact, with some patients, I have had them just go to the gym even without exercise, just as a first step. Once the person starts exercising, one should gradually increase the duration and intensity of the program until the desired level is obtained. Again, you should always work within the bounds of physician recommendations and restrictions.

See Physical Therapy after Spinal Fusion: Weeks 6 to 9

And finally, for the “when.”

Another important aspect of an exercise program is “when” to exercise. If you simply design an exercise program that will be done “3 times per week”, the actual compliance rate will be low. It is preferable to have the exercise regimen a regular part of the person’s schedule (e.g. Monday, Wednesday, Friday at 8 AM before work).

Once you decide to make exercise part of your lifestyle, focus on all of these things for the best chance of success, and don’t get discouraged if you fall off the exercise bandwagon every once in an awhile. Resolve to get back on and get moving!

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