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5 of the best exercises you’ll ever do

No matter what your age or fitness level, these exercises can help you get in shape and reduce your risk for disease.

A walk through your local health club can be daunting. All of those perfect physiques huffing and sweating on treadmills, stationary bikes, and weight machines can intimidate you enough to make you cancel your membership and head straight back home to the couch.

Yet some of the best exercises for your body don’t require the gym, or an overabundance of sweat. Five simple exercises can do wonders for your health. They’ll help keep your weight under control, improve your balance and range of motion, strengthen your bones, protect your joints, prevent bladder control problems, and even ward off memory loss.

These could be five of the best exercises you’ll ever do.

1 Swimming

You might call swimming the perfect workout. The buoyancy of the water supports your body and takes the strain off painful joints so you can move them more fluidly. “Swimming is good for women with arthritis because it’s less weight-bearing,” explains Dr. I-Min Lee, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.

In addition to increasing your aerobic fitness, swimming can improve your mental state by putting you in a better mood, research finds. You can also take a water aerobics class, which both burns calories and helps tone you up. Plus, the cool water makes it much more bearable to work out during those hot summer months.

2 Tai chi

Many exercise programs work your body, but few get your brain in on the action too. Tai chi—a Chinese martial art that incorporates movement and relaxation—is good for both body and mind. In fact, it’s been called “meditation in motion.”

Tai chi is made up of a series of graceful movements, one transitioning smoothly into the next. The speed and intensity of those movements varies depending on the class you take. Because classes are offered at various levels, tai chi is accessible—and valuable—for people of all ages and fitness levels. “It’s particularly good for older people because balance is an important component of fitness, and balance is something we lose as we get older,” Dr. Lee says.

Although tai chi is generally a safe fitness program, Dr. Lee recommends taking a class to help you get started and learn the proper form. You can find tai chi programs at your local YMCA, health club, community center, or senior center.

3 Strength training

If strength training brings to mind sweaty, muscle-bound men pumping iron at the gym, it’s time to change your thinking. Lifting light weights won’t bulk up your muscles, but it will keep them strong. “If you don’t use them, they will lose their strength over time,” Dr. Lee says.

Muscle has an important function—it helps burn calories. “The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn, so it’s easier to maintain your weight,” says Dr. Lee. Strength training might also help preserve your ability to remember. One recent study in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that weight training twice a week for six months significantly improved memory in women with early cognitive decline.

Strength training can also

  • relieve the pain of knee osteoarthritis

  • improve balance and prevent falls

  • increase bone density and reduce the risk for fractures

  • enhance sleep quality.

Ideally, when you first work out with weights, you should have a trainer show you the proper form. Start light with just one or two pounds. You should be able to lift the weights 10 times with ease. After a couple of weeks, add a pound or two and see how you feel. If you can easily lift the weights through the entire range of motion more than 12 times, graduate to a slightly heavier weight.

4 Walking

Walking is the simplest exercise you can do, and one of the most effective. It can help you

  • manage your weight

  • lower unhealthy (LDL) cholesterol and raise healthy (HDL) cholesterol levels

  • strengthen your bones

  • lower blood pressure

  • improve mood

  • decrease your risk of several chronic diseases.

Before you start walking, make sure you have a pair of sneakers that fits and supports your feet. When you’re first getting started, walk for only about 10 to 15 minutes at a time. Gradually increase the pace and length of your workouts until you’re walking for 30 to 60 minutes on most days of the week. At the start of each exercise session, walk slowly for about five minutes to warm up. Cool down afterward with a five-minute stretch.

5 Kegel exercises

They may not be part of a traditional workout program, but Kegels are among the most important exercises you’ll ever do. These exercises strengthen the pelvic floor muscles, which support your bladder. Keeping them strong can prevent—and treat—bladder control issues.

To do a Kegel exercise correctly, squeeze and release the muscles you would use to stop urination. If you can’t find the muscles on your own, your doctor can help you find them during a routine pelvic exam. Alternate quick squeezes and releases with longer contractions that you hold for 10 seconds and then release for 10 seconds. Work up to three sets of 10 to 15 Kegel exercises each day.

Finding your perfect routine

Dislike all of the exercises on this list? Then find an exercise you do enjoy. Raking the yard counts as activity. So does ballroom dancing, and playing with your grandchildren. As long as you’re doing some form of aerobic exercise for at least 30 minutes a day, and you include two days of strength training a week, you’ll stay active.

No matter what exercise you pick, start slowly. Add more time and intensity with each session, or when you feel ready for it. Always listen to your body. If an exercise hurts, stop. Never try to push past the point of pain.

Overhead press

Overhead press

Using 1 – 5 pound weights, bend your elbows, raising your hands towards your chest with your palms facing in. Straighten your arms over your head. Repeat 12 – 15 times.

Side leg lift

Side leg lift

Lie on your side with your knees, hips, and shoulders in a straight line. Prop your head on your hand or lie it on your bent arm. Lift your leg no higher than hip level. Then release it back down. Repeat 8 – 10 times.

Repeat on the other side.

Tricep kickback

Tricep kickback

With a dumbbell in each hand, lean slightly forward while keeping your back straight. Bend both elbows behind you. Holding your elbows still, straighten your right arm up. Bend your elbow, bringing the weight back toward your shoulder. Do this exercise 12 -15 times. Repeat on the left side.

No time for exercise?

Here are a few simple ways to incorporate more activity into your daily routine.

  • Walk the stairs twice in a row instead of once.

  • Play hide-and-seek with your kids or grandkids.

  • Park in the farthest spot from the stores where you shop.

  • Walk in place, do leg lifts, or lift light weights during the commercial breaks of your favorite TV show.

  • Vacuum and dust your house.

  • Stand up and pace whenever you talk on the phone.

Posted by: Dr.Health

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