Often when people think of exercise, they imagine strenuous activities such as running, biking or long weightlifting sessions — the ones that make you breathe hard, drip with sweat or make you unbearably sore. But there are many types of exercise, and although cardiovascular and resistance exercises are critical for boosting fitness, there are actually other types of exercise that are also important: balance training and flexibility training are equally important.
Each type of exercise is essential in its own way, and doing all four types is the way to maximize your fitness and wellness and it will also help prevent injury.
“While aerobic exercise is very important, it's not optimal for overall health when done alone compared to when people include all four types of exercise in their routine.” in a report from Mayo Clinic Sports Medicine Center in Rochester, Minnesota. The four different types of exercise are like the legs of a chair, if you take one away you don’t have the support you need.
For example, strength training makes muscles stronger, which helps to support and protect joints, this will help prevent injury during aerobic exercise, day to day activities and leisure time pursuits. Meanwhile, balance exercises use muscle strength in a coordinated fashion to stabilize your movements, and can reduce the risk of injuries. Balance exercises are also key in preventing falls, which is extremely important in our aging population.
Flexibility helps you do strength training, because it improves your range of motion around your joints, ensuring you can perform lifts and other strength moves effectively.
Here is an overview of each type of exercise, as well as how much you need to do and how to avoid injury during the activity.
Aerobic exercises, such as running, swimming or dancing, are activities that work your cardiovascular system — they get your heart rate up and make you breathe harder. This type of exercise strengthens your heart and reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure, and may even lower the risk of cancer. It is also a powerful anti-depressant and anti-anxiety tool.
According to the most recent physical activity guidelines from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, adults should do at least 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of moderate-intensity physical activity per week. There are many ways to divide up those 150 minutes over the course of a week, but most experts recommend breaking up that time into 30 minutes of physical activity, five days per week.
Strength exercises, such as weight lifting, push-ups and pull-ups work your muscles by using resistance, like a dumbbells, barbells or your own body weight. This type of exercise increases lean muscle mass, which is particularly important for weight loss, because lean muscle burns more calories than other types of tissue. In addition it helps you live a fuller happier life by keeping you strong, capable and independent. Among one of the many benefits of strength training is that it reduces people's blood sugar levels and improves sensitivity to the hormone insulin, which helps blood sugar get inside cells. People naturally lose muscle mass as they age, so resistance training is important for older adults. The Department of Health and Human Services’ physical activity guidelines recommend doing resistance-training exercises at least two days per week.
Using resistance bands
Using your body weight for resistance, by doing push-ups, pull-ups, crunches, leg squats or push-ups against a wall
Using weight machines at a gym
Joining a group fitness class or hiring a personal trainer are good ways to get started.
No you don't have to do a headstand! (but you can work up to it!)
Balance exercises improve your ability to control and stabilize your body's position. This type of exercise is particularly important for older adults, because balance gets worse with age. But balance exercises can be beneficial for everyone, including people who have gained or lost a lot of weight or those who become pregnant, which can throw off your center of gravity.
Examples of balance exercises include:
Shifting your weight from side to side
Standing on one foot
Walking heel to toe
Using a balance board or stability ball
Doing tai chi, yoga or Pilates
Doing simple weight lifting movements standing on one foot (like a bicep curl or a lateral raise)
There's no limit to how much balance training you can do safely. A 2015 review study found that doing three to six balance training sessions per week, with four balance exercises per training session, was effective in improving people's balance.
Flexibility exercises stretch your muscles and improve your range of motion at your joints. They can reduce your risk of injury during sports and other activities. Flexibility is also a keep in keeping good posture which is especially important as we age. There are two types of flexibility exercises: static stretching, in which you stretch a muscle without moving, and dynamic stretching, which combines stretching with movements.
Examples of static stretches include:
Stretching the hamstring muscles by sitting on the ground with your legs straight, and leaning forward
Stretching the calves by stepping forward with one leg, and shifting your weight toward the front leg
Stretching your thigh muscle by bending one leg back toward your buttock, and holding on to your foot
Examples of dynamic stretches include:
High steps: Raise your knee toward your chest, hold on to your shin and then bring your leg back down. Then, do this with the opposite leg. You can do this while standing in one place or while walking.
Ankle stretch: Raise one foot up slightly off the ground, keep your leg straight and flex your foot with your toes pointed up. Repeat with the opposite foot.
Arm swings: Start with your arms straight out in front of you, with your palms facing down. Walk forward, and swing your arms together to the right so that your left arm goes across your chest. Then, swing your arms the opposite way as you keep walking, and repeat a few times.
Arm circles: Hold your arms straight at your sides, parallel to the floor. Do arm circles in each direction, making bigger circles as you get more flexible.
You should make stretching part of every workout. Many experts advise doing dynamic stretching as part of a warm-up before a workout, and static stretching after a workout. For static stretching, you should hold each stretch for 10 to 30 seconds, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Try Yoga and Tai Chi classes to learn how to do this type of exercise.
Putting it all together
Ideally, you should include all four types of exercise in your workouts. But that doesn't mean you have to do four separate workouts,you can combine some exercises together, like strength and balance training.
Tai Chi and Yoga both work on flexibility,strength and balance.
H.I.I.T. (High Intensity Interval Training) Incorporates all elements in a 45 minute workout.
Zumba is a fantastic and fun cardiovascular and core exercise class. It is also proven to reduce anxiety and depression.
Water Aerobics works on cardio and strength and it is a great low impact workout.
CrossFit incorporates all aspects of fitness and has a certified coach on hand at every class to ensure good form and prevent injury.