By Dr Victoria Chambers
There is no right or wrong way to exercise. Maybe if you’ve never done much exercise before, then jumping straight into a full triathlon isn’t a great idea, but when common sense is applied, there’s really no rights or wrongs when it comes to moving your body.
In fact the benefits of exercise are so vast and impactful on every aspect of your life and health, that you would be doing yourself a disservice if you avoided it. If you’re curious about the health benefits of exercise and how much to do, you can find our blog on the topic here.
So what are the best exercises for you? Well that depends on you! It depends on your experience and fitness level and what you like to do, as well as things like how much time you have.
In general, according to the WHO we should all be aiming for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week or 75 minutes of intense exercise. That means 150 mins of something that gets your heart rate up and gets you moderately puffed or 75 minutes of something which gets you really puffed.
We should also be trying to aim for three broad categories of exercise.
This is anything that gets your heart rate up and gets you puffed. It could be walking, running, swimming, skipping, playing Frisbee, dancing and so on. You get the drift.
You can also get the same benefits from other forms of exercise which aren’t technically cardiovascular exercise, but challenge your heart and lungs. Ever been to a fast moving yoga class where you ended up sweaty and puffed? That’s working your cardiovascular system in the same way going for a run would!
Strength exercises involve improving the endurance and power of your musculoskeletal system. It doesn’t only powerlifting at the gym though, there’s a great range of exercises that fall in this category. Basically anything which improves the strength of your muscles over time. This includes things like yoga, pilates, rock climbing, hiking and barre classes.
Strength exercises are also really great for other areas of health, like balance and stability. It’s good to try to target all major muscle groups in your week, so no skipping legs day!
Mobility, balance and movement
This isn’t technically one of the commonly recommended categories, but for me as a health professional, it’s important to include. With so many of us these days having jobs which involve static positioning (meaning you don’t move much) or repetitive load (meaning you do the same movement over and over), we need to move our bodies into planes and positions that we wouldn’t normally in our day.
All this means is that if you sit all day, you should spend some time at the end of your day rotating, bending to the side and stretching the front of your body; just unwinding the posture you’ve been in all day.
Again these types of exercises can be naturally inbuilt to your other forms of physical activity. Yoga can be an all-in-one that offers you mobility, strength and even cardio. Pilates, rock-climbing and swimming are also great examples of this.
So if you are someone who wants a one-stop-shop, there are the options above. If you’re someone who likes to mix up your exercises, then you have three major categories to be hitting in your week to provide you with a wide variety of exercises to keep you interested.
Exercise for Fitness Levels
So let’s get into it. How do we best exercise for our experience and fitness level?
Inexperienced with exercise / Low level of fitness
If you are someone who has never had much experience with exercise and doesn’t necessarily feel like a marathon is in your future, then this is your category.
The key for you is to take it slow and aim to do something every day that’s within the categories. Walking is a great starting point for your cardiovascular exercise and a beginners pilates class will hit the other two categories.
Classes with an experienced instructor are a great place to begin. Let the instructor know you’re new and they’ll be able to help you along the way and offer modifications.
If you’re unsure, seek help. Ask your health professional where to begin. This is especially important if you’re dealing with any injury or health concern.
Intermediate and experienced level of experience and fitness
If you know your way around exercise but are looking to get into something new, then apply common sense and the same rules as someone who’s never exercised before.
Bodies like progressive increases in load. Think of load as any type of force applied to the body. We have various forces acting on our bodies all of the time (think gravity, mass and momentum, ground reaction forces) and our bodies have to expend energy, manage muscle tensions and stretch and balance ourselves to act against those forces.
Consider the movement of sitting to standing. You have to work against gravity and combat mass and momentum to ensure that you:
- Stand up effectively and balance yourself once you’re up.
- Don’t shoot yourself up without controlling the movement, resulting in you falling over.
Okay, physics lesson over. What does this have to do with exercise management?
We build tolerance for certain movements, so they become very easy. Getting up from a chair is very easy for most people for example. If you try a brand new set of movements (or a new exercise) with a totally different load to what you’re used to though, you’re likely to be very sore for a few days afterwards, or may even hurt yourself.
So, if you’re a really experienced yogi who wants to run a marathon, that’s great! You’ll need to:
- Start with a mixed walk/run program
- Progress to jogging
- Slowly increase your distance (load) over an appropriate period of time and build your load tolerance up to marathon distance.
Then you’ll work on speed at that distance. Distance and speed are different types of load, so while you may work on speed at shorter distances, you’ll work up your distance load and then focus on your speed load at that distance.
So, if you’re great at one type of exercise and planning something new, consider the different types of load and increase each over time.
Your body will give you cues for what you can manage. If you’re very sore after a strength session, back off the sets/reps/weight next time.
If you’re ever unsure, consider visiting a health professional and asking for advice. After all, we’re here to help everybody move through life.