We all know that exercise is essential for health and peak performance. It’s a foundation for everything else we want to do. Those of us who do it regularly also know how good it makes us feel. Most of us are also very busy and want to make the most of the time and energy we put into our exercise routines. So, what is the best exercise?
The fact is that each form of exercise gives you different effects, so it’s important to find the right balance in your exercise choices so you reap the benefits of each form.
In my work as a personal trainer for the past 30 years, I’ve divided exercise into four types: aerobic, strength, flexibility, and active relaxation (inner body or mind-body training). A balanced workout week incorporates some of each of these exercise forms.
Aerobic exercise is any continuous, rhythmic, full-body motion that elevates your respiration and heart-rate for a period of time. Examples include walking/hiking/running, swimming, biking, or any of the various cardio machines, such as Stairmaster®, elliptical, or rowing machines. The benefits of aerobic exercise include improved cardio-vascular health and function, increased oxygen delivery resulting in more energy, improved immune response, stress reduction, and better brain function.
Strength training is progressive resistance exercise designed to increase muscle tone, bone density, joint integrity, and connective tissue strength. Strength training also stimulates the release of growth hormone, improves posture and balance, and keeps you able to do all the other activities you love to do in your life. You can do strength training with bodyweight, free weights, or machines.
Flexibility training or stretching is best done after your other exercises. It helps your muscles recover from activity, stimulates muscle growth and repair, improves range of motion, posture, and joint integrity, and releases chronic tension. Even five minutes of stretching after every workout can make a huge difference.
Active relaxation is using your mind to actively release tension in your body and stimulate your natural relaxation response. In the speed and intensity of modern life, it is absolutely essential to have a daily practice of bringing your mind and body down into relaxation and out of chronic tension, stress, and anxiety. You can practice active relaxation through yoga, t’ai chi, qigong, meditation, deep breathing, and progressive relaxation techniques.