Mention keep fit to most people and an image of gyms and hard repetitive slogs tends to spring to mind. But that doesn't have to be the case. There are lots of ways to make the benefits of sport, exercise and fitness more pleasurable. Not only can they be good for your health they can improve your social life too.

Even if you weren't particularly active or sporty at a younger age, it's never too late to start. These days there are clubs for all kinds of activities, abilities and ages. Local listing guides should give you lots of ideas as to what's available in your area. The secret is to find something you enjoy doing and to think of it as a leisure activity.

Joining a sports or health club is a great way to meet new friends, discover new interests and feel better about yourself. Group classes can provide great motivation and fun. Having an 'exercise buddy' to go for walks, swims or to the gym with can make you more inclined to go - and you can spur each other on. You can search online for gyms in your area at www.gymuser.co.uk or www.gyms.co.uk.

Getting your heart rate going for 20 minutes 3 times a week is generally recognised as the minimum you should be doing. But you don't have to do the same thing each time. Variety is the spice of life, after all.

Music is a great way to make exercise more effective and more enjoyable. Lose yourself in your favourite CD and 20 minutes of exercise can fly by. Why not take up dancing or dust off your old bike and ride to the shops instead of taking the car? Encourage yourself and others to go for a walk around a local park or a stretch of nearby countryside with the reward of a nice healthy lunch at the end of it.

Remember, it's all worth it. Regular exercise can help with...

  • Keeping your heart healthier
  • Bolstering mental health and helping you to manage everyday stress
  • Achieving and maintaining an ideal weight, or may just make you feel happier about your appearance
  • Strengthening bones and muscles and can help with digestion, posture and sleep

Above all, stick with it. If you can keep up your motivation for a couple of weeks, it will become a habit - and you'll really begin to see and feel results. The feel-good chemicals released in your body through exercise will make you want more!

Don't give yourself any excuse to stop:

  • Exercise at a time that fits your schedule so you don't inconvenience yourself or others. You want exercise to enhance your life - not mess it up
  • Find somewhere that's easy to get to so you don't have to go far out of your way. If it's an effort to go there, you won't!
  • Make your exercise time something that others know about, so you won't be disturbed or have people make arrangements that force you to skip doing it
  • Prepare in advance so you always have clean kit ready to wear
  • The more you 'talk up' what you do and the benefits you feel to other people, the more you'll inspire yourself to carry on doing it

If you are suffering from long term complaints or have health concerns, before beginning any new exercise regime or changing your diet, it may be advisable to consult your doctor for their opinion.