Finding a Movement Plan You Can Live With
So many types of exercise, so little time! Of course, not all of the types of exercise in the following sections will appeal to you, but maybe you'll get some new ideas. Here are brief descriptions of some of the more common types of exercise. Don't be afraid to try something new, especially if you feel like you are in an exercise rut or need inspiration to get you started.
If you are very overweight, have a health problem, or haven't exercised in over six months, please consult your doctor before beginning any exercise program.
Walking is great. It's easy, fun, and can get you out in the fresh air or can provide an opportunity for socializing with friends while you all shape up together. Walk at a brisk pace for 30 to 60 minutes at least three times each week, and preferably five to six times per week.
From 1975 to 1995, walking declined among American adults by 42 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. Some blame urban sprawl, or spread-out suburbs in which walking is unsafe and/or impractical. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is studying the connection between urban sprawl and the 60 percent increase in obesity in adult Americans in the past decade.
Swimming is great for people who love the water, people with joint or orthopedic problems, and people who have a lot of weight to lose. The water buoys the body so that joints, bones, and muscles don't feel the impact of exercise, making injuries less likely for people who are vulnerable to the impact. Work up gradually to 30 to 60 minutes of steady swimming. Varying your strokes — freestyle, breaststroke, backstroke, sidestroke — will help work all your muscles.
Water aerobics is very popular and fun, too. Water aerobics can be tailored to any fitness level. Check your local pool or health club for water aerobics classes. Some areas even offer water yoga classes.
Join a Gym
For some people, joining a gym is the inspiration they needed all along. A gym provides fellowship, a wide range of fitness possibilities from aerobics classes (step aerobics, cardio funk, kickboxing, and many other types of aerobics are offered these days) to yoga to racquetball to swimming to weight lifting to the latest in exercise machines, from high-tech treadmills to no-impact elliptical trainers. In many clubs, you can also find personal trainers, nutritionists, sports leagues, child care, as well as other amenities such as massage therapists, saunas, spas, steam rooms, and snack bars filled with healthy fare.
Plus, if you've paid for a membership, you might be more inspired to get your money's worth. Going to the gym can be a mini-break, a special treat, something you look forward to every day.
A recent Duke University Medical Center study showed that 30 minutes of brisk exercise three times per week was just as effective as drug therapy in relieving the symptoms of major depression. A follow-up study revealed that only 8 percent of the study's exercise group experienced a depression relapse, while 38 percent of the drug-only group and 31 percent of the exercise-plus-drugs group experienced a depression relapse.
Yoga is an ancient Indian method of exercise designed to “yoke” body and mind. Yoga involves specific postures, breathing exercise, and meditation. Hatha Yoga, most popular in the West, consists primarily of the postures and breathing exercises.
Yoga is an excellent fitness activity on its own and also makes the perfect complement to other fitness activities because it increases strength, flexibility, circulation, posture, and overall body condition. Yoga is great both for people who have a hard time slowing down (you'll learn how great it feels and how important it is to move your body with slow control) and for people who have a hard time engaging in high-impact or fast-paced exercise (yoga is adaptable to all fitness levels and it's decidedly low impact).
Yoga is among the more perfect stress management exercises. Its original purpose was to gain control over the body and bring it into a state of balance in order to free the mind for spiritual contemplation. Yoga can help you to master your body so that it doesn't master you.
Pilates is an increasingly popular core-strengthening routine that uses either special machinery or a simple mat. Pilates concentrates on strengthening and gaining control over the body's core, or the torso, especially the abdominal and back muscles. Many fitness centers and certified individuals offer Pilates classes. The exercises are part yoga, part gymnastics, and part ballet.
Because Pilates have become so popular, classes and even do-it-yourself Pilates books are widely available. However, nothing beats the expertise of a certified Pilates instructor to help you get the exercises right. Many Pilates exercises are advanced and doing them incorrectly could cause injury, so be careful. Once learned from an expert, Pilates can easily be practiced at home on your own.
Tai chi and its precursor, Qigong, are ancient Chinese Taoist martial arts forms that have evolved to fit the twenty-first century. Rarely used today as methods of defense, tai chi consists of a series of slow, graceful movements in concert with the breath designed to free internal energy and keep it flowing through the body, uniting body and mind, promoting good health and relaxation. Tai chi is sometimes called a moving meditation. Qigong involves specific movements and postures as well as other health-maintenance procedures such as massage and meditation to maintain and improve overall health and balance the body's internal energy (called “chi” in China).
While the average life expectancy is in the mid to upper seventies today, the longest a human has ever lived, according to documentation many believe is authentic, is 120 years. Shirechiyo Izumi of Japan died of pneumonia at 120 years old in 1986, leading some scientists who study longevity to speculate that under the right conditions, humans could feasibly live to 120 or beyond.
The Great Outdoors
If you feel particularly inspired by great views, fresh air, and the lovely and varied smells of the natural world, choosing an outdoor exercise can inspire you to keep up the habit. Whether you walk, jog, run, bicycle, roller blade, cross-country ski, hike, or climb mountains, exercising outdoors is good for your body and soul. And who says you can't take a walk in the rain or the snow? Exercising outside, even for just a little while each day, can also help to keep you in touch with the natural world, which helps to put things in perspective — and that all on its own can relieve a lot of stress!
Whether you take an organized class — ballet, jazz, tap, ballroom dancing, swing dancing, country dancing, square dancing, Irish dancing, to name a few — or go out dancing with your friends every weekend, dancing is great cardiovascular exercise and also a lot of fun. Something about music makes exercise seem less like exercise, and dancing, especially for fun, even alone in your house with the music blaring, is about as “unexercise-like” as you can get, but with all the benefits. Vigorous dancing can also be an excellent way to relieve tension and anxiety. So, get up and shake it!
For people who like to play on a team and are motivated and energized by the energy of others, team sports can be an excellent way to get exercise and a social life at the same time. Weekend football games, tennis leagues, racquetball tournaments, playground basketball games, beach volleyball, or whatever else is available in your area and interesting to you can be so much fun that you'll forget you're exercising!
Variety Is the Spice of Exercise
No matter what types of exercise you choose, you'll work a wider range of muscles and reap a wider range of benefits if you vary your exercise. Try a different kind of activity once a week.
Also, varying your pace can add up to increased health benefits. Author and exercise physiologist Greg Landry, M.S., suggests interval training, a simple way to vary any exercise you're already doing. Landry suggests warming up for five minutes, then exercising at your regular pace for four minutes, then stepping up the pace for one minute. Then, for the rest of your workout, work four minutes at a regular pace, then one minute at a fast pace, and so forth.
Interval training can help you to break past a weight loss plateau, help get you in shape faster, increase your energy and your body's rate of calorie burning by raising your base metabolism rate, and keep your workout more interesting. Changing pace every five minutes may also help to keep you more focused on your workout, too, which is a nice break for your busy brain.