It’s no surprise to anyone that exercise is good for us, but, What’s the best exercise? If you have limited time (and who doesn’t) and you want good value for your money, what’s the way to allocate these precious resources?
We’ve got some suggestions to help you figure out what’s best for you.
Seek a Balance
There are three primary types of exercise to incorporate into a well-rounded approach to well-being: strength, range of motion, and cardiovascular. So the first answer to this question of "What’s best?" is, Make sure you have a combination of all three of these types of moving.
A straightforward example of strength work is lifting weights. Weight-bearing exercise keeps your musculoskeletal system strong, it helps with certain hormonal regulation, and it helps keep your bones strong. Keeping your whole body strong is also very helpful for preventing and overcoming injuries.
Range of motion exercise (which inherently involves stretching) includes practices like yoga and Pilates, but can be any other activity where you using your joints to their full expression, or as full as you're able. This helps keep joints and surrounding tissues flexible, and can really help with reducing aches, pain, and stiffness. A regular practice that involves full range of motion will also keep you moving well as you age.
And of course, cardiovascular exercise is anything that gets your heartrate up: running or fast walking, cycling, dancing, and kayaking are all examples of cardiovascular exercise. It is this type of exercise that will benefit your heart health, lungs, and your circulatory system. In essence, it will help keep your body running well.
A combination of all three of these modes of movement in your life will help keep you in good overall health. A sample week could include two to three strength training workouts with a personal trainer, one or two Pilates classes, and three or four runs or brisk hikes that cover two or three miles each.
It Doesn’t All Have to Be Formal and Measured
Always remember, all movement counts. Certainly, it is excellent to get instruction from trained professionals, especially when you’re starting a new type of exercise program. Good form, knowing when to push yourself more and when to ease up, and what specific movements will help your specific needs best are all really important functions a fitness professional will provide. They also help you progress over time, and keep things fresh.
But when life circumstances make it such that you can’t get that personal instruction, one-on-one or in a class, there are options, and they count, too.
Maybe you can’t get to a yoga class, but you could do two 15-minute stretching sessions on your own, one at the beginning and one end of the day. Maybe you can’t get to your Spin class, but you can brisk walk to get your errands done. Or maybe you can jump on your bike instead of drive your car somewhere.
If you’re away and can’t meet with your trainer, you can always take a few exercise bands in your luggage and use those along with some body-weight strength exercises so that you have an on-the-go strength routine you could do just about anywhere. Or maybe it snowed today and your strength work is going to take the form of 45 minutes of shoveling.
There are ways to work movement and exercise into your life, even when the unexpected pops up or when you’re out of your regular day-to-day.
When all’s said and done, the best exercise is going to be exercise that you can do, even if it doesn’t look exactly like you had planned on or are used to.
Variety Isn’t Only the Spice of Life
If you’re getting the picture here that there’s not really one answer to this question of what’s best, you’re right. Of course, keeping in mind those three basic pillars of strength, mobility, and cardiovascular movement is key. But within that framework, you have so many options. And changing things up is great.
Incorporating new types of movement and exercise into your life can not only help keep you more interested and engaged, it can help to keep your body in balance and moving well as a whole.
An important reminder here is to ease into new activities because you will be using different muscles and moving in ways you may not be used to. Blasting out of the gate too fast can result in injuries or excessive soreness. But that aside, adding some variety to your routine is fun and beneficial.
The Best Exercise is the Exercise that Feels Best
Exercise should at its core be enjoyable. Sure there may be days when you’re not totally psyched to do ten more reps at the gym (although we believe there are always reasons to love your gym workouts), but overall, the efforts you make to stay healthy should be both enjoyable and make you feel great.
If you find yourself dreading your movement routine, it’s time to look around for something that gets you excited. Try some group classes, join a friend in an activity they do, or join a meet up group that sounds like fun. Also, over time, what you enjoy is very likely to change. Go with it.
There are myriad ways to move your body to maintain health and wellness. Strike a balance of staying strong, moving completely, and getting your heart pumping. Discover the combination that feels best in your body, and lights up your enthusiasm, and that indeed will be the best exercise, for you.