The Best Exercise and Fitness Program To Maintain Overall Health

Julie Shenkman
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To achieve the maximum health benefits from exercise, you need to create a varied fitness program that keeps you focused and targets the three basic areas of conditioning. Any good exercise program includes aerobic exercise to promote cardiovascular health and burn calories, strength training to build and tone muscles, and flexibility work to keep joints supple. Choosing your favorite workouts from these three areas can help you create the exercise program that's the best for you.

Exercise for Aerobic Conditioning and Heart Health

Swimming is one of the best forms of exercise available. It gives your heart and lungs a good workout, increasing your cardiovascular health. It's also gentle on your joints and bones because your body is supported by the water. If you have any joint problems, including arthritis, consider making swimming your primary workout choice. Opt for water aerobics if you find swimming laps a bit tedious. As an added bonus, studies show that swimming boosts your mood.

Swimming is one of several exercise options that are excellent for anyone wanting to lose weight. Aerobic exercise is helpful for those wanting to burn calories and increase metabolism. Walking, running, cycling and dancing are all good aerobic choices that increase cardiovascular health.

When starting an exercise program for cardiovascular fitness, plan on exercising 20 to 30 minutes per day at least five days a week. Figure out your target heart rate, and wear a heart monitor or check your pulse regularly during your workout to make sure you're hitting your goals.

Exercise Programs to Build Strength

Strength-building exercise programs can focus on either building muscle or toning muscles. If your primary goal is to build strength and muscle, then resistance training of some sort is required. Often strength training involves a routine using bodybuilding and weight-lifting machines at a gym, sometimes with a personal trainer involved. However, strength training can also be designed using your own body. Squats, planks, bridges, lunges and push-ups are crucial components of a strength-building program, and none of these exercises require extra equipment.

Toning exercises focus more attention on increasing the definition of muscles than on building strength. Resistance training is crucial here as well, though it make take the form of Pilates training or workouts using kettlebells or exercise balls. Often people want to tone particular parts of their bodies, such as their abs, calves or arms.

Exercise Programs to Increase Flexibility

Stretching is important to keep muscles and joints flexible. While the claim that stretching reduces muscle injuries doesn't have enough evidence to support it, stretching is good for your overall health. When you stretch, make sure to pay attention to all the major muscle groups, including your arms, leg, back and abs.

Specific exercise programs that focus on flexibility include yoga and tai chi. These disciplines are excellent for people with limited strength or mobility due to injury or age. They also help the body maintain its sense of balance.

The Must-Haves in Any Exercise Program

No matter what type of exercise program you choose, you should follow some basic rules. Always warm up before you start exercising, and make time to cool down when you're done, especially if you've been working out strenuously. Spend at least five minutes warming up, more if you're older. Cooling down after your workout keeps your muscles from cramping and prevents a sudden drop in blood pressure.

Don't let yourself become dehydrated. Drink fluids during your workout, and keep drinking afterward.

Pay attention to signs from your body during your workout. If you experience an unusual heartbeat, nausea, shortness of breath or dizziness, stop your exercise session and see a doctor. Don't push yourself when you're tired, and don't force yourself to exercise if you're ill or fighting something off. If you exercise outdoors, you want to pay attention to the weather as well, and adjust your exercise program accordingly.

The best exercise program for you is the one you can stick with. Consider the options available to you, and make sure you incorporate the key building blocks of aerobic conditioning, strength training and flexibility exercises to keep your whole body fit. Don't be afraid to change a program if something isn't working until you find just the right combination for your overall health.

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  • Erica  T.
    Erica T.

    I vary my workout routine with strength training exercises and yoga. I alternate every two days by taking a yoga class and using home gym equipment. I found that by varying my routine I was able to complete entire workout sessions without becoming bored or restless. I really enjoy my yoga class because I also get to socialize with people afterwards - I try to make exercise as much fun as possible. I think I'm going to try swimming next - thanks for the recommendation!

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    Thanks for the comments. @Tara doctors say that it doesn't matter how you get the exercise in as long as you get 30 minutes a day. So yes, you can break it up however it works best for you. Thanks @Kellen for that information.

  • Tara Avery
    Tara Avery

    Sometimes I think the most daunting thing about beginning any kind of fitness regimen is the amount of time required--or the perception of the amount of time required. Is it possible to break these sessions into smaller pieces while retaining some of the benefits? Are three ten-minute sessions as helpful as one 30-minute one, for someone who doesn't have 30 minutes all at one time?

  • Kellen P.
    Kellen P.

    Yoga is definitely a great option to improve overall fitness. If you haven't tried it, you're in for a treat, especially if you stick with it. The first time you do it, you might not "get it." I recommend going to a yoga retreat and doing it in a large group. That's the best way to learn about its many benefits.

  • Jacob T.
    Jacob T.

    This article does a great job outlining a wide of variety of exercise programs. It is too easy to get caught up in trends or somebody else's idea of what the correct exercise program is that we can lose sight of what is good for our own budget, time allotment and physical needs. Building a program that works for you and that keeps you engaged, whether running, swimming or strength training is the best way to reap the benefits.

  • Jay Bowyer
    Jay Bowyer

    I think it's important to clarify which types of fluid really benefit you during and after exercise. Sports drinks used to be the go-to exercise re-hydration fluids, but recent studies (including one published in the British Medical Journal in 2012) have found no discernible advantages to drinking commercially-available drinks like Gatorade, rather than water. Now, many experts agree that it's best to just drink water and to use thirst as a guide to how much (and when) to drink.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    Thanks for the comments. @William it might be worth it to hire a personal coach/trainer - even if only for one or two sessions. That would be the best way to know what exercise is right for you in your circumstances. @Abbey warming up and cooling down is always a debate when it comes to exercise. Some experts say it's necessary while others shun it. Personally, I do quite a bit of working out at home and I have walk at home videos where I walk for about 5 minutes while gradually adding in different movements so that at the end I have warmed up all parts of my body. Cool down at the end was slower walking and then stretching. So again it depends upon your fitness level, what you want to accomplish and what you are warming up or cooling down from.

  • Abbey Boyd
    Abbey Boyd

    The article gives some really good tips for exercise and includes a variety of ideas to ensure there is something for everyone. I wonder though, about the warming up before and cooling down after exercising. What types of things can you do to warm up before working out? What does cooling down after a workout entail?

  • Duncan  Maranga
    Duncan Maranga

    I believe the best exercise is the one that I can handle enthusiastically. There is a time my soccer coach forced the team to make fifteen laps every morning but, honestly, I personally found it so uncomfortable that I decided to leave the team altogether. Such kind of exercise does little improvement on one's health.

  • William Browning
    William Browning

    What are some good ways to research the types of exercise you should do? I know getting a health professional's recommendation is a great way to go. However, there are so many articles, websites and books written by experts that can help you design a workout best for you, even if you don't have any health limitations. It's always best to start slow, under the supervision of someone else, so you know your physical limitations.

  • Katharine M.
    Katharine M.

    I've never been as strong physically as when I was on the swim team in high school- it works every part of your body, gets your heart rate up, and is gentler on your knees than running. I also loved it because it felt meditative- having your head under the water, you could block out distractions and clear your mind. This has inspired me to make it a priority today.

  • Laura Winzeler
    Laura Winzeler

    I disagree with Lydia’s comment, “I don't believe that anyone should self-prescribe their exercise regimen.” Of course people with health concerns will be in dialogue with a medical care provider about their abilities, but for many of us, getting out every day for a 30- to 50-minute power walk to clear our heads is healthy, safe and sane.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    Thanks for your comments. Always best to get an all clear sign from your doctor prior to starting any exercise routine @Lydia. @Shannon it probably is true that your body becomes accustomed to a particular routine and then it doesn't work as hard. It's always good to mix things up.

  • Lydia K.
    Lydia K.

    I don't believe that anyone should self-prescribe their exercise regimen. Some people have medical conditions or physical limitations on what they can do. For example, I had an ankle sprain that kept me from doing my normal aerobic routine for months. Physical conditions also change all the time. The exercise routine you did last year might not work for you this year and so it's also a good idea to get a doctor's opinion each year.

  • Shannon Philpott
    Shannon Philpott

    I love the variety here. I, personally, get bored with the same old exercises each day. Is there any truth in the idea that your body can get used to the same activities? For example, are people who use a stationary bike for 30 minutes a day but do not engage in any lifting or strength training limiting their health benefits?

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