Hop, skip or jump? Which is the best exercise?
Absolutely everyone is aware of the need to exercise regularly. Most of us focus on the benefit to our thighs and bingo wings, but without it, our health suffers and we put ourselves at a much higher risk for chronic and even acute illness. You don’t need to start running marathons or scaling mountains (unless you’d like to of course) just 30 minutes, five times a week, will make an enormous difference to how you look and feel.
So, the million dollar question is what is the best way to spend those 150 minutes a week? Obviously you want to get the most bang for your buck but still have fun doing it. There’s no point in joining a gym if you’re not going to go, and although I think running is great, I know it’s not for everyone. It’s important to have variety not only to prevent boredom but also because different exercises have different benefits.
Types of exercise
You need to have a mix of all the following types of exercise:
Weight bearing exercise
Astronauts suffer from osteoporosis while they’re in space because zero gravity allows calcium to leave the bones and head back into the blood stream, causing the bones to become fragile. The same thing happens to us earthlings when we spend too much time sitting around and not enough up and about doing weight bearing exercise, so called because it’s exercise in which we put weight onto the larger bones on our body. For instance, running is weight bearing because your legs have to support your body, but swimming isn’t because the water takes the pressure instead of your bones.
It’s important that everyone gets a healthy amount of weight bearing exercise but because women are more susceptible to bone loss, it’s essential that we do it to prevent osteoporosis.
These are the ones which get your heart pumping and so benefit your cardiovascular system, helping to prevent heart attacks and strokes and lower cholesterol. They burn the most calories too. You need to be active enough that you’re perspiring but could still hold an, albeit slightly puffy, conversation. You don’t want to feel out of breath though and working out too hard doesn’t provide any further benefits.
Resistance exercise helps us to build and maintain muscle tone. You don’t have to want to look like a body builder to do resistance exercise, having well toned muscles helps us look fitter and younger, supports our posture preventing back problems and it helps to burn more calories. If you have good muscle tone, you will continue to burn calories, and therefore fat, for much longer after you stop exercising than if you are on the flabbier side.
There’s no point in being trim, taut and terrific if you’re as stiff as a board. Joints seize up if they aren’t put through their paces and muscles become tight and more prone to injury unless they’re given a good stretch occasionally.
Main forms of exercise
Cheap, accessible, fun and it burns more calories than any other form of aerobic exercise (except for cross country skiing which is a little tough around your local park). Studies have shown that far from being bad for your joints, as is commonly believed, running is actually better for you than being sedentary. It can be social if you decide to join a running club or head out with mates, and if you want some competition, you can enter races. You can do it anywhere, and all you need is a decent pair of running shoes. If you haven’t run before but would like to start, start off by mixing walking and running until you can run for the entire time. The Runner’s World website has loads of information on how to get started.
Not quite as good as running, walking is still a valid form of exercise so long as it’s a bit more than a leisurely stroll. Stride out at a pace which makes you perspire and swing your arms, or better still, get yourself some wrist weights to give you arms a workout on the way. It’s much better way of getting from A to B than driving, so you should endeavour to walk as far and as frequently in your daily life as possible. A pedometer is a really terrific way of either frightening yourself about how inactive you are, or giving yourself a reason for self congratulation. 10,000 steps a day is what you should be doing: easier said than done!
Very meditative for some people, swimming gives your cardiovascular system a good workout and there is a low risk of injury. It provides a workout for the whole body and burns plenty of calories. Freestyle is thought to be the best form of swimming but whatever you’re comfortable with will still do the job. If you’re not the most stylish of swimmers though, I’d suggest attending some classes to brush up your skills otherwise you may make yourself susceptible to neck problems.
Great for the environment if it’s replacing your car or a way of being active while watching telly if it’s done indoors, cycling does require having equipment of some form. It’s another great calorie burner and again, can be sociable if you join a club or take the whole family out. It’s a low impact exercise so if you have existing joint problems they will be supported while you work out. They have a slight tendency to become expensive clothes racks, but stationary bikes are excellent for working out at home once you make a habit of it.
Not just for the kids or teeny tiny Eastern European girls in the Olympics, trampolines are actually a really good form of exercise especially when you use hand weights at the same time. There are various exercise videos available but having a good bounce a few times a week will also do the trick in providing a low impact, medium intensity workout.
This is considered to be one of the best all over workouts as it works all the main muscle groups but while the body is supported. Make sure though that you are using a good technique or you will be liable to put too much pressure on your back and neck muscles.
A workout for the body and the mind, there are several different types of yoga, from the gentle basic Hatha to the active Ashtanga. It’s a good idea to start with a few classes if you’re completely new to yoga to get the hang of the basics but otherwise you can do it in the comfort of your own home with the help of a dvd.
You can use free weights, such as dumbbells, or hydraulic machines, like the ones found in a gym, for this form of exercise. Many people avoid using weights because they’re concerned that they’ll end up looking bulky or masculine but as long as you keep the weights light and repetitions high, you’ll build long, lean muscles and not short, stocky ones.
∙ If you’re female, invest in a decent sports bra designed for the level of impact you’re doing especially if you’re running.
∙ Mix it up, don’t get into a rut and try something you haven’t done before; you might just like it.
∙ Recruit friends and family and take it in turns to decide what the activity is going to be.
∙ Research has shown that women work out for longer if they listen to music so get those tunes on.
∙ It’s best if the exercise is done all at one time but if you really can’t find 30 minutes, break it into 2 blocks of 15 minutes.
∙ Keeping an exercise diary is really motivating and will stop you telling fibbing to yourself about how much you actually do.