How personality type affects your exercise preferences, and the health benefits of finding a good match
Are you a creative type or do you prefer structure and logical progression? The answer could have a strong bearing on the sort of exercise you should be doing so that you can better commit to reaching your fitness goals
True or false: Does your personality influence your exercise preferences?
The short answer: Yes
Suzan Salnikow, who is originally from the UK and has lived in Hong Kong for 27 years, exercises four or five times a week. The optometrist and mother of four does Pilates – which she believes is an extension of her “logical” nature – and a variety of group exercise classes at the gym.
“Pilates is just logical, and there’s progression,” Salnikow says. “After having four children, including twins, and being an optometrist who has to stand for most of the day, I can appreciate how Pilates engages my core and strengthens and elongates my muscles.”
Salnikow gravitates towards exercises that are aligned with the kind of person she is – sensible, logical and practical. In fact, a new study from the British Psychological Society (BPS) took this idea a little further and found that our preferred exercise setting – whether at the gym or outdoors – is closely linked to specific personality traits.
The research, presented in January at a BPS conference in the UK, revealed that extroverts and those with a preference for objective logic were more likely to follow a regimented and structured gym regime. Creative types, including those who liked working with new ideas, tended towards outdoor activities like cycling, running and hiking.
The results don’t surprise Karen Lo, a mental performance consultant who runs Inner Edge in Tsim Sha Tsui and works mostly with athletes.
“Personality does play an important role in decision making, which includes our choice of exercise,” Lo explains. “There have been studies on ‘fitness types’ that examine validity in personality-activity matching, where people express a strong interest in certain activities and a dislike for others. The two are related because different personality types exhibit cognitive styles that are connected with biases in the pattern of choices they make.
“So for instance, some people are risk-takers and may choose more ‘thrill-seeking’ sports like outdoor rock-climbing. Others who are not into socialising may choose to run alone or sign up for a yoga class where interaction is optional or minimal.”
So if you absolutely detest working out at the gym, blame it on your personality. But instead of forcing yourself to keep doing something you dislike, you can perhaps switch to outdoor exercise. After all, if you do something that is better suited to the type of person you are, you’re more likely to look forward to it, enjoy it, and, ultimately, stick to it.
“It’s important to choose what you like and to enjoy it, as this increases your motivation and incentive to exercise,” Lo says.
Of course, just because you are a creative-minded individual doesn’t mean you should only stick to outdoor exercises. And if you prefer exercising indoors, it doesn’t mean that you can’t, or shouldn’t, hit the hiking trails from time to time.
It is really about understanding your personality type and preferences and creating an exercise regime based around them – a regime that you like, and know that you will commit to.
Sometimes, however, no matter how much you enjoy a particular activity, you may fall into an exercise rut. For this reason, and also to make sure that you’re using every part of your body, Flex Studio director Heather Thomas Shalabi advocates balance.
“Balance really is the key,” she says. “If you only do one type of exercise – that is, the one to which your personality pulls you – you will not have uniform development. It’s like constantly favouring your strong side and defaulting to it; of course you wouldn’t therefore expect uniform muscle development.
“I think people should mix it up, so they don’t only gravitate to one kind of exercise. Challenging yourself and being a risk-taker can also lead to a bigger sense of accomplishment and achievement that’s more than skin deep.”
Lo recommends a similar strategy. She says that changing your workout choices can help balance your exercise style and even increase your tendency to exercise.
The key is to make the transition gradually. “First, get the exercise bug to bite,” Shalabi says. “When that’s established, create new mental and physical challenges by encouraging different types of workouts that challenge you.”
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Despite Salnikow’s preference for working out at the gym, she also believes that balance is important. That’s why she indulges her creative, sociable and outgoing side with regular hikes and treks.
“Once or twice a year I go trekking, usually for about seven days,” she says. “And I hike once a week for around four hours. In fact, I’m part of a Saturday girls’ hiking group. We never miss a Saturday, no matter the weather, as that’s our time to talk and catch up.”