The Different Types of Exercise


There are different types of exercise, and each type has different effects on your body. Some types of exercise improve flexibility and muscle strength. Others use the large muscles in your body to build heart strength. Still others increase endurance. Exercises fall into three categories—aerobic, strength conditioning, and flexibility. Which type is best for you? Ideally, you should include all three types of exercise to achieve a complete fitness program but, if you have time for only one, aerobic exercises provide the most health benefits.

Aerobic Exercises

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Aerobic exercises are any type of activity that uses oxygen to fuel your muscles. When you engage in aerobic exercises, your muscles and joints send messages to your brain, which stimulates your heart to beat faster and your breathing rate to increase so you take in more oxygen. Because aerobic exercises make your heart work harder, they improve the heart’s ability to pump, even when you are at rest. Any exercise that repetitively uses the large muscles of your arms and legs for a sustained period of time can be aerobic. Aerobic exercises are sometimes called endurance-training exercises because they make your muscles able to sustain the activity for longer and longer periods as they build muscle strength. Examples of aerobic exercises include brisk walking, running, jumping rope, bicycling or stationary cycling, swimming, stair climbing, rowing, and cross-country skiing. Sports that involve continuous running, such as basketball and soccer, also are aerobic exercises.

Regular aerobic exercises are a great way to burn calories and help control your weight. They also lower the proportion of fat on your body and increase the proportion of muscle. Men who maintain a healthy weight are less likely to develop diabetes and other chronic health problems that have been linked to obesity and being overweight.

For optimal health, doctors recommend engaging in aerobic exercises for at least 30 minutes every day. But you don’t need to exercise for one 30-minute period. Three 10-minute sessions are just as effective and provide the same health benefits as 30 minutes of sustained exercise. Breaking up your exercise periods may make it easier for you to fit them into your daily activities. When you exercise, you should strive to reach a heart rate that is 50 to 80 percent of the maximum heart rate for your age. This rate is called your target heart rate. If your heart rate does not fall within this range, adjust your activity level so it will increase or decrease your heart rate until it falls within the recommended range.

Don’t forget to warm up for 5 minutes before every exercise session and to cool down afterward. Start by stretching the muscles and joints in your spine, arms, and legs. Then begin moving your body repetitively by walking or slowly jogging or biking to elevate your heart rate slightly in preparation for your more intense activity. Warm-up and cool-down exercises can help prevent injury to muscles and joints.

Be aware that, if you don’t keep doing your aerobic exercises, the hard-won health benefits you have worked for will not stay with you for very long. To remain at the healthier level you have attained, you must stick with your exercise program, whether it involves running, stair climbing, swimming, biking, or simply brisk walking.

Strength-Conditioning Exercises

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Strength-conditioning exercises complement aerobic exercises by building muscular strength. Weight training, using either free weights or weight machines, is an efficient way to strengthen your muscles, but sit-ups, push-ups, and leg lifts accomplish the same goal. Strength-conditioning exercises are sometimes called resistance exercises because they force your muscles to work against, or resist, an object, such as a 5-pound weight.

You don’t have to join a health club or buy an expensive weight-training machine to reap the benefits of strength conditioning. For example, simply add some push-ups and sit-ups to your exercise routine, or do some leg lifts on the floor while you are watching television. You can also purchase inexpensive hand weights in various sizes. Take a pair of 3-pound weights with you when you walk or jog to increase your level of exercise intensity. Use 5- or 10-pound weights to exercise the biceps and triceps muscles in your upper arms. Start with the heaviest weight that allows you to perform six to eight repetitions without stopping— even if it is only a 1-pound weight—and gradually work your way up to heavier weights. (Lighter weights will increase your endurance but not your strength.) Continue using the weights until you can repeat a set of six to eight lifts two or three times without stopping. Rest between sets of repetitions.

Men who are experienced weight trainers might find it helpful to seek advice from an exercise physiologist or a doctor who specializes in sports medicine when planning a new exercise routine or training for an upcoming athletic event. Remember that anabolic steroids (see other post for more info) are prescription drugs that may build muscle mass but also lead to serious health problems, including abnormal breast development in men, baldness, shrinking of the testicles, and a reduced sperm count, and therefore should not be used.

Even if you are older—in your 80s or 90s—weight training will increase your muscular strength. This type of exercise can help you to perform daily tasks, such as lifting grocery or trash bags, that often become more difficult as you get older. Strength conditioning can mean the difference between leading an independent life and relying on friends, family, or healthcare workers to meet everyday needs.

Flexibility Exercises

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As you age, your ability to move your muscles and joints through their full range of motion diminishes. “Use it or lose it” is the principle that applies here. You may not be able to blame the stiffness you feel after sitting for long periods solely on arthritis. As it becomes more difficult to move about, you will probably want to move even less. Such immobility can threaten your ability to perform everyday tasks. Flexibility exercises such as stretching can help you to maintain the ability to move your muscles and joints easily. Stretching also protects your muscles from the normal wear and tear of both exercise and your daily routine.

Some men are more flexible than other men, and certain joints in your body may have more flexibility than other joints. But whatever your individual differences may be, you can increase your overall flexibility through stretching. Make stretching a regular part of your warm-up and your cool-down routines. The muscle cramping or pain that can occur after vigorous exercise, especially when you are just beginning to exercise after having been inactive or have been overexercising, can often be relieved by doing stretching exercises.

The most important muscles to stretch include the hamstring (rear thigh), lower back, and shoulder muscles. When you are stretching, keep the following tips in mind. First, do not stretch to the point at which you feel discomfort or pain. Stay within a comfortable range; any discomfort is a signal that you have stretched too far. Second, stretch slowly and smoothly, and never bounce or make jerking movements. Third, sustain the stretch. Pause for 10 to 20 seconds when you have reached a full stretch, and hold the position so your muscles and joints have enough time to benefit from the stretch.

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