There is no single type of exercise that can take care of all your needs. In fact, to get the most benefits from your routine, you want a mix of activities during the course of a week. Otherwise, it’s like a diet consisting only of fruit—healthful as far as it goes, but lacking a lot of the nutrients you’ll find in other foods, such as fish, vegetables, nuts, and whole grains.
Developing a balanced exercise plan
So what does a balanced exercise plan consist of? The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services urge all adults to include the following types of exercise in their weekly routines:
- 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise per week (for example, 30 minutes on each of five days)
or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity (or an equiva- lent mix of the two).
- two or more strength training sessions per week, with at least 48 hours in between to allow muscles
- balance exercises for older adults at risk for falls.
If this all sounds overwhelming, remember that workouts can be broken up into smaller segments. For example, three 10-minute walks can get you to your daily goal of 30 minutes of aerobic exercise.
Each workout should also include a simple warm-up at the beginning and a cool-down at the end. The warm-up should consist of gentle exercise, such as marching in place, to loosen up your muscles and get more oxygen-rich blood flowing to them. To cool down, slow your activity and the intensity for five to 10 minutes, then finish off with stretches to help prevent stiffness.
Read on to learn more about each component of a balanced exercise program in greater depth and suggest a mix of activities and exercises to get you going.
Aerobic exercise (cardio)
Often called cardio or endurance activities, aerobic activities are great for burning calories and paring down unwanted fat. They consist of activities that make the heart and lungs work harder: think of walking, biking, running, and swimming, for example.
Aerobic exercise temporarily boosts your heart rate and breathing, allowing more oxygen to reach your muscles and tuning up cardiovascular endurance. These are the activities that are associated with lower risk for many diseases and longer life span.
How much should you do?
The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend accumulating a weekly total of at least two- and-a-half hours of moderate aerobic activity, or one hour and 15 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity. (Note: If you prefer a mix, 10 minutes of vigorous activity equals roughly 20 minutes of moderate activity.) Raising your weekly goal to five hours of moderate activity, or two-and-a-half hours of vigorous activity, nets additional health benefits, especially weight loss. Each session should last at least 10 minutes.
Walking is usually safe for people of any age or level of fitness and can easily be adjusted to a comfortable speed. It doesn’t jar joints or raise your heart rate to dangerous levels. For a greater challenge, you can add time, distance, or hills to improve endurance or use resistance bands to tone while you walk.
Follow these tips to get the best workout from your walks:
Find a safe place to walk. Quiet streets with side- walks, park trails, athletic tracks at local schools, or shopping malls are often good choices.
Buy a good pair of shoes. Look for supportive but flexible soles that cushion your feet. Comfort is the key when buying shoes for walking. Shop at the end of the day when your feet are at their largest size. Choose shoes with “breathable” uppers, such as nylon mesh.
Dress for comfort and safety. Wear lighter clothes than you’d need if standing still. Dress in layers so you can peel off garments if you get hot. Light-colored clothes and a reflective vest help drivers notice you.
Do a five-minute warm-up and cool-down. Start off at a slower pace for your warm-up. At the end of your walk, slow down to cool down (even if you’re not sweaty).