Experts say there is no magic to exercise: You get out of it what you put in. That doesn’t mean you have to work out for hours each day. It just means you need to work smart.That said, experts agree that not all exercises are created equal. Some are simply more efficient than others, whether they target multiple muscle groups, are suitable for a wide variety of fitness levels, or help you burn calories more effectively.
If you’re not an athlete or serious exerciser — and you just want to work out for your health or to fit in your clothes better — the gym scene can be intimidating. Just having to walk by treadmills, stationary bikes, and weight machines can be enough to make you head straight back home to the couch.Yet some of the best physical activities for your body don’t require the gym or ask you to get fit enough to run a marathon. These “workouts” can do wonders for your health. They’ll help keep your weight under control, improve your balance and range of motion, strengthen your bones, protect your joints, prevent bladder control problems, and even ward off memory loss.
No matter your age or fitness level, these activities can help you get in shape and lower your risk for disease:
You might call swimming the perfect workout. The buoyancy of the water supports your body and takes the strain off painful joints so you can move them more fluidly. “Swimming is good for individuals with arthritis because it’s less weight-bearing,” explains Dr. I-Min Lee, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.
Research has found that swimming can also improve your mental state and put you in a better mood. Water aerobics is another option. These classes help you burn calories and tone up.
2. Tai chi
This Chinese martial art that combines movement and relaxation is good for both body and mind. In fact, it’s been called “meditation in motion.” Tai chi is made up of a series of graceful movements, one transitioning smoothly into the next. Because the classes are offered at various levels, tai chi is accessible — and valuable — for people of all ages and fitness levels. “It’s particularly good for older people because balance is an important component of fitness, and balance is something we lose as we get older,” Dr. Lee says.
Take a class to help you get started and learn the proper form. You can find tai chi programs at your local YMCA, health club, community center, or senior center.
3. Strength training
If you believe that strength training is a macho, brawny activity, think again. Lifting light weights won’t bulk up your muscles, but it will keep them strong. “If you don’t use muscles, they will lose their strength over time,” Dr. Lee says.
Muscle also helps burn calories. “The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn, so it’s easier to maintain your weight,” says Dr. Lee. Similar to other exercise, strength training may also help preserve brain function in later years.
Before starting a weight training program, be sure to learn the proper form. Start light, with just one or two pounds. You should be able to lift the weights 10 times with ease. After a couple of weeks, increase that by a pound or two. If you can easily lift the weights through the entire range of motion more than 12 times, move up to slightly heavier weight.
Any exercise program should include cardiovascular exercise, which strengthens the heart and burns calories. And walking is something you can do anywhere, anytime, with no equipment other than a good pair of shoes. It’s not just for beginners, either: Even the very fit can get a good workout from walking. “Doing a brisk walk can burn up to 500 calories per hour,” says Robert Gotlin, DO, director of orthopaedic and sports rehabilitation at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York. Since it takes 3,500 calories to lose a pound, you could expect to lose a pound for every seven hours you walk, if you did nothing else.
Don’t go from the sofa to walking an hour day, though. Richard Cotton, a spokesman for the American Council on Exercise, says beginners should start by walking five to -10 minutes at a time, gradually moving up to at least 30 minutes per session.
5. Interval training
Whether you’re a beginner or an exercise veteran, a walker or an aerobic dancer, adding interval training to your cardiovascular workout will boost your fitness level and help you lose weight.
The way to do it is to push the intensity or pace for a minute or two, then back off for anywhere from two to -10 minutes (depending on how long your total workout will be, and how much time you need to recover). Continue doing this throughout the workout.
Strength training is essential, the experts say. “The more muscular fitness you have,” says Cotton, “the greater the capacity you have to burn calories.”
And our experts tended to favor strength-training exercises that target multiple muscle groups. Squats, which work the quadriceps, hamstrings, and gluteals, are an excellent example.
“They give you the best bang for the buck because they use the most muscle groups at once,” says Oldsmar, Fla., trainer David Petersen.
Form is key, though, warns Petersen.
7. Dumbbell rows
Not only will these make your back look killer in that dress, dumbbell rows are another compound exercise that strengthens multiple muscles in your upper body. Choose a moderate-weight dumbbell and ensure that you’re squeezing at the top of the movement.
8. Side planks
A healthy body requires a strong core at its foundation, so don’t neglect core-specific moves like the side plank. Focus on the mind-muscle connection and controlled movements to ensure you’re completing this move effectively.
Although they get a bad rap as being too basic, situps are an effective way to target your abdominal muscles. If you have lower back problems, stick with a crunch, which requires just your upper back and shoulders to lift off the ground.
A great exercise to work your back is the pull-up. This exercise targets the latissimus dorsi (lats) and rhomboids muscles of the back, however due to the nature of the movement, other muscles such as the biceps and deltoid are also utilised in the pull up. To complete a pull-up with good technique, place your hands shoulder width apart on a bar with your palms facing towards or away from yourself. Then pull your body weight up towards the bar, so that your chin is over the top. If you find that your legs are swinging when completing this exercise, cross your feet over to prevent unnecessary movement.
The trouble is that poor form can change the whole exercise, putting emphasis or even strain on different areas than intended. This can hurt, rather than help you.So especially if you’re a beginner, it’s a good idea to seek the advice of a fitness trainer – whether it’s a personal trainer or a trainer at your gym — to be sure your form is safe and correct.