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Five of the Best Exercises You Can Ever Do

Dec 12, 2014 02:34PM ● By Cate Reynolds
Our friends at Harvard Medical School always have our best interests at heart. Once again they cut right to the information we need most to live healthfully.

We all need to exercise and we all need all the help we can get to accomplish the task. Harvard has whittled the list down to five exercises that will really make a difference—and help whittle you down along the way:

Yet some of the best physical activities for your body don’t require the gym or require you to get fit enough to run a marathon. These “workouts” 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.

No matter your age or fitness level, these activities can help you get in shape and lower your risk for disease:

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 individuals with arthritis because it’s less weight-bearing,” explains Dr. I-Min Lee, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. Research finds that swimming can improve your mental state and put you in a better mood. Water aerobics is another option. These classes help you burn calories and tone up.

Tai chi. 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.”

Strength training. If you believe that strength training is a macho, brawny activity, think again. Lifting light weights won’t bulk up your muscles, but it will keep them strong. “If you don’t use muscles, they will lose their strength over time,” Dr. Lee says. Muscle also helps burn calories. “The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn, so it’s easier to maintain your weight,” says Dr. Lee. Before starting a weight training program, be sure to learn 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, increase that by a pound or two. If you can easily lift the weights through the entire range of motion more than 12 times, move up to slightly heavier weight.

Walking. Walking is simple yet powerful. It can help you stay trim, improve cholesterol levels, strengthen bones, keep blood pressure in check, lift your mood, and lower your risk for a number of diseases (diabetes and heart disease, for example). A number of studies have shown that walking and other physical activities can improve memory and resist age-related memory loss.

All you need is a well-fitting and supportive pair of shoes. Start with walking for about 10-15 minutes at a time. Over time, you can start to walk farther and faster until you’re walking for 30 to 60 minutes on most days of the week.

Kegel exercises. These exercises won’t help you look better, but they do something just as important—strengthen the pelvic floor muscles that support the bladder. Strong pelvic floor muscles can go a long way toward preventing incontinence. While many women are familiar with Kegels, these exercises can benefit men too. To do a Kegel exercise correctly, squeeze and release the muscles you would use to stop urination or prevent you from passing gas. 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 10-15 Kegel exercises each day.

For additional information about getting started on a healthy exercise program, visit www.health.harvard.edu for the Special Health Report Exercise: A program you can live with from Harvard Medical School.