Do you have a favorite workout or sport? Or do you need constant variety? I’m in the former camp where if I find something I like, that becomes my tried-and-true for years. Running and yoga were my primary fitness modalities for years in my twenties, and then it was barre. In the past several years, my workouts have been 98% dancing, with 2% walking, biking, and hiking thrown in. But as it turns out, not all activities are equally beneficial to your health. While simply getting some movement is of course better than non-movement, some workouts offer more cognitive benefits, while others are great for your cardiovascular health. It makes sense—we get different nutrients from different fruits and vegetables. It wouldn’t make sense to eat just the same few veggies and fruits for years. So how could we get the exact same benefits from different workouts?
If you’re convinced enough to switch up your workout “diet,” consider these 5 fitness activities recommended by a study from the Harvard Medical School. These workouts “maintain weight, improve movement performance, support bone health, protect joints, and even prevent memory loss.” HMS goes on to advise that these exercises are some of the best to keep you in shape and safe from illnesses. In terms of intensity and frequency, HMS advises 30 minutes of cardio a day and two anaerobic sessions per week.
Without further ado, here are the activities in order. (I’m surprised none of my regular workouts made the list—even running and yoga!)
Five physical activities recommended by Harvard
Long believed to be one of the most beneficial sports, swimming increases your metabolism and strengthens your muscles without pressure on your joints. (Running, looking at you!) Many people also experience a meditative benefit from being in the water and tuning out the rest of the world. During summertime, nothing is quite so refreshing.
Not every physical activity has to be intense, Ironman-worthy affair. Tai chi is especially good for balance, which is lost during the aging process. When older people suffer a fall, it can be serious and even deadly—so exercises like tai chi are more essential than you’d think. Tai chi also promotes relaxation and mental health.
HMS points out that the more you build muscle, the more calories you burn, leading to easier weight maintenance. Weight training also preserves cognitive function as we get older. Starting from just a few pound weights is perfectly fine, and build up your reps until you can do 10 times easily.
HMS highly values walking’s ability to keep you in shape, lower your cholesterol, support bone health, and improve heart health. It also lowers your risk of various diseases like diabetes and improves your memory. Try walking 30 to 60 minutes a day, several times a week, for maximum benefits.
Wow, unexpected! HMS stresses the importance of supporting your pelvic muscles, which have a host of other benefits besides improving sexual function. Your pelvic floor supports all your internal organs—kind of important! Try contracting your muscles as if preventing yourself from peeing, and repeat 10 times. Amazingly, HMS recommends doing this set four to five times a day. Sounds like a lot, but whatduhyaknow?
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