Have you been caught up in the wave of polarised generalisations relating to health and fitness? Debates such as whether we should be running in our structured shoes or going barefoot, whether villainous sugar is the ultimate cause of rising obesity levels or is the low-carb and high-fat diet the universal solution?
Bold claims and prophet-like exclamations may be more effective at catching our attention but most of the time these are only half-truths.
For example; weight-resistance training is very effective for shifting excess fat and the many miles covered on the treadmill may indeed be doing you more harm than good. However, we shouldn't leap to broad generalisations and label either of these activities as right or wrong for everyone. Simplicity might be easier to sell but in reality we are individually complex with unique preferences.
Avoiding the rigid X vs Y mentality and embracing instead our individuality reveals that there are many ways to achieve weight-loss, better athletic performance and or improvements in physical health.
Well, there is no harm in hearing the views and opinions of others as long as we can maintain some broad perspective based on our own individual experience and knowledge and so avoid erratically bouncing from one idea to the next. We know our own bodies and our understanding of self improves when we take the time to observe and reflect on our progress. Hearing statistical averages in health and fitness is fine for raising our awareness but at the end of the day it is what works for each that is more relevant. So we should not think anything is wrong if we are obtaining results from a method that may be contradictory to what a friend or a headline in the media is suggesting.
Having said all this about individuality I am actually going to share what is quite logically the 'best' exercise anyone can do. Stay with me here because this really does apply to everyone.
We know regular exercise is good for us but a common obstacle to exercise for many people is a lack of time. With the availability of time being such an important issue many people want to know what is the most efficient form of exercise that can reveal the greatest amount of health benefit in the shortest space of time.
Let's look at two good examples of time-efficient exercises
The leg squat
An exercise usually performed in a gym with a weighted bar held across your shoulders and with good technique you lower yourself down into a squatting position and drive upwards back to standing. This is repeated for a number of repetitions and sets. The squat is considered a full body movement, engaging the main leg muscles as well as the core and back muscles. This single exercise is considered a real powerhouse offering tremendous benefits such as strength gains, weight-loss and improving overall stability. The squat movement is very functional where the strength gained will make some everyday tasks easier such as getting in and out of chairs (or that soft sofa) and lifting objects from floor height. If you have had back or hip issues in the past, best to review with a Chartered Physiotherapist before starting this exercise.
High-intensity interval training
This is a type of routine involving a cycle of brief periods of very intense exercise followed by a brief rest. These cycles are then repeated continuously a number of times. As an example an interval routine performed on a stationary bicycle, one minute of very hard cycling followed by one minute of easy/restful cycling and then repeated ten times. This could offer the same physiological benefits to your body as simply cycling at a steady pace for ninety minutes. So that's a twenty minute workout as opposed to a 90 minute one. A considerable time saving. If you have a history of heart or lung problems, review with your GP to discuss your suitablity for higher intensity cardiovascular exercise.
Maybe you feel intimidated in the free-weight section or don't have a gym membership making the leg squat an unsuitable option for you. Perhaps you feel a bit embarrassed performing frantic, one minute bursts of running sprints in the local park.
So what is the best exercise then for you (and everyone else)?
The one you will show up for!
Looking beyond all the marketing hype, technical benefits and or social influence as to the benefit of an exercise type, at the end of the day the best form of exercise is the one that you will actually do, regularly.
If a lack of time is preventing you from exercising I'd like to remind you of the simple but good advice that it is better to try and keep moving each and every day in any way possible rather than succumb to a totally sedentary lifestyle. Taking the stairs instead of the lift, walk to the next bus stop instead of the closest one or taking a lunchtime stroll can be effective ways to squeeze in some additional daily exercise.
Why must we keep moving? Because it is probably the best thing we can do for our health. Read more about the many benefits, how much to do and why you can even exercise too much - Why Exercise Is So Important?
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