If you exercise regularly, you know the health benefits it brings: improved energy, increased self-confidence, better sleep, weight control, stress management, and more.
Beyond these more immediate benefits, it can also help you fight off serious health conditions like high blood pressure and high cholesterol, and reduce your risk for diseases like heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and more.
You might wonder if certain exercises are better for you than others. The answer to that is ... it depends. You want to make sure whatever activity you do, it accomplishes the following:
According to the American Heart Association, you should aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise at least five days a week to achieve good cardiovascular health. If 30 minutes a day, five days a week is hard for you, remember that some exercise is better than no exercise.
When you begin a new exercise regimen, start out slow and build yourself up. Each time you exercise warm up and cool down your muscles by stretching. This can help reduce your risk of injury.
To get the most benefit for your heart from exercise, you need to get your heart rate up and be breathing a little faster. You should be able to talk – but if you can sing, you need to pick up the pace. Finding your target heart rate can be tricky, but this table can help you estimate the heart rate you want to try and hit.
Here's a list of exercises to incorporate into your routine:
1. Walking: The Great Standard
Nearly everyone can, and does, do it. It’s cheap and you don’t have to go anywhere special or use fancy equipment – unless you want to. Changing up your routine can be as easy as walking a new route, inviting a friend to join you, increasing your speed and/or distance, adding in arm movements, and more.
Although it’s a low-impact exercise, you still need to prepare your body for it. Wear shoes that properly support your feet. Warm up and cool down your body and muscles by walking slow for five to 10 minutes, performing ankle circles (lift one leg at a time and rotate your ankle in a circular motion), and stretching your calves and shins.
2. Cycling: You've Done It Since Childhood
This can be an excellent option for people who suffer from pain in their joints and muscles when they walk. Biking outside is a great way to get fresh air, stimulate your brain, and have some fun. If you’re unable to get outdoors, cycling indoors on a stationary bike at home or in the gym can offer the same health benefits.
Cycling at a rate of about 15 miles per hour is a great workout for most people. If you’re new to biking or haven’t done it in a while, work up to it.
3. Skiing, Stepping, and Elliptical Movements: Getting the Whole Body Going
Skiing outside or working out indoors on machines, stair steppers, and elliptical machines gives your entire body a great workout. If you’re not in the best shape, these activities can be exhausting when you first start out since they require your body to use more energy. Start out at a lower level and build up your endurance.
It may take time to find which activity is best for you. Depending on your body, certain exercises may be more comfortable than others. So experiment to find what you like doing most.
4. Water Activities: in the Swim of Things
You’ll need a pool, but most communities/gyms have them. Swimming is a good option for people with arthritis or joint pain. It may take some time to be able to swim 30-60 minutes, but be patient and don’t get discouraged. Swimming isn’t as easy as it looks – it requires you to use all of your muscle groups. If swimming is hard for you, try aerobic water exercises or water walking. The natural resistance of water will make it a good workout.
5. Yoga: the Oldest and Newest “Heart-Healthy” Exercise
Yoga has been around for thousands of years as a way to improve balance, flexibility, state of mind, and more. But newer research shows it might be just as useful for reducing heart-related illnesses as cycling or brisk walking. And it’s great for people who might not be able to do other kinds of aerobic exercise.
If you’re interested in getting started, find a local class or teacher and work with them to make sure you're doing it right.
Talking to your doctor before starting any exercise program is always recommended, especially if you’re not in good shape or have health issues. They can help you get off on the right foot and make sure that what you’re doing is safe.
If you’re joining a club or other exercise facility, make sure the instructors are well trained and know what they’re doing.