We have all seen ad campaigns promoting workout fads and specialized exercise equipment. If it’s not a state-of-the-art indoor bike featuring more computer technology than a 1960s NASA control room, it is an exercise guru with a workout routine that only he knows about. The thing weekend warriors want to know is whether or not the type of exercise is all that important.
In other words, is the type of exercise we do less important than exercising itself? Yes and no. This isn’t a cop-out, it’s a recognition that different types of exercises achieve different things. If you are looking simply to improve your overall health and maintain your weight, pretty much any exercise that gets your heart working will do. But if you want to go beyond that, a little more thought is required.
A great 2017 piece from Harvard Medical School discusses four types of exercises the authors believe are most important. Read for yourself and see what you think. You may discover that one of them rings a bell for you.
1. Aerobic Exercise
What marketers and trainers call cardio, Harvard calls aerobic exercise. In the simplest possible terms, aerobic exercise is designed to increase both heart rate and respiration. The goal is to increase your body’s need for oxygen so that it can gradually adapt itself to use that oxygen more efficiently. Mcycle, an indoor cycling studio in Salt Lake City, explained it in a recent blog post discussing exercise goals.
Indoor cycling is a fantastic aerobic exercise that also qualifies as low impact. Brisk walking, swimming, jogging, dancing, and aerobics classes are all very good options for aerobic exercise.
2. Strength Training
Next up is strength training. If this is your goal, you’re looking for exercises that will build muscle mass. The more muscle mass you have, the stronger you are. Some people want to increase their overall strength. Others prefer to work on targeted groups of muscles. There is no right or wrong.
General exercises like squats, push-ups, and lunges are good for strength training. Working with weights is another option. Again, you choose your exercises based on the muscle groups you want to strengthen.
3. Exercises for Balance
Though we don’t hear a lot about them, there are exercises that can improve your balance. Such exercises are considered important as we age. Why? Because balance depends on three things: vision, muscle strength, and the vestibular system. All three tend to weaken with age.
Balance exercises are designed to strengthen those systems. They include things like squats, leg lifts, standing knee lifts, and walking heel to toe.
4. Stretching Exercises
Finally, stretching exercises are designed to help improve and maintain flexibility. Like balance exercises, they become more important as we grow older. These days, our generally sedentary nature makes flexibility more important than ever before.
You have undoubtedly heard the idiom ‘use it or lose it’. We know this is true in terms of muscle mass. If you don’t use your muscles, they decrease in size and strength. But guess what? They also lose flexibility. Stretching exercises restore lost flexibility by working certain muscle groups.
It is fair to say that the type of exercise you do is less important than the fact that you exercise regularly, at least if your only goal is to improve your general fitness and maintain your weight. But you can also focus on certain types of exercises if you are looking to achieve goals that go beyond general good health. If you’re interested and need help, a personal trainer is probably your best bet for designing a great workout.