First let me say that it is impossible to out-exercise a poor diet. You would have to run 33 miles to lose 1 pound of fat so if weight loss is your primary goal, healthy eating must be a part of your plan along with exercise. That being said, let’s focus on the benefits of the various forms of exercise.
Cardio, HIIT (high intensity interval training), strength training, yoga, pilates. The list goes on. I don’t know about you but I can get overwhelmed by all of the information out there these days. So what do we need to know? I thought I would start by outlining the benefits of each of the most popular exercise styles then let you know what I do personally.
Cardio, short for cardiovascular exercise is any movement that gets your heart rate up and increases blood circulation. There are various forms of cardio and each has its own benefits and guidelines. In general, any form of cardio aids with weight loss by burning calories. The reason to include cardio exercise does not end with fat loss though. Here are some of the benefits from a regular cardio program.
1. Improved heart health— The first one is an improved condition of your heart. Your heart is a muscle just like any other and in order for it to become strong it must be worked. If you fail to work it, it will weaken over time and this can cause a variety of negative health effects. By getting the heart pumping at a faster rate on a regular basis you will keep it in shape and healthy. Too many people are getting winded just performing simple exercises such as walking up the stairs and the primary reason for this is because they are neglecting to work their heart muscle.
2. Increased metabolism— Another reason to perform cardio is for its effects on the metabolism. Along with speeding up your heart rate, cardiovascular exercise also increases the rate of various other processes in the body, also known as your metabolism. Generally speaking, the more intense the cardio session, the more noticeable increase you will see with regards to your metabolic rate. Intense interval sprints increase the metabolism; the highest with a process called EPOC (Excess Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption). An increased metabolism means an easier time maintaining your weight (or losing weight as the case may be).
3. Improved hormonal profile— Performing cardiovascular exercise also changes the hormonal profile in your body considerably. It releases ‘feel good’ hormones that will help ease symptoms of depression and fatigue as well as releasing hormones that decrease the appetite. Individuals who partake in regular cardio exercise often have a much more positive outlook on life simply because they are getting the stress-relief benefits from these hormones.
Strength training is not just about bodybuilders lifting weights in a gym. It can benefit people of all ages and may be particularly important for people with health issues such as arthritis or a heart condition. Yes, strength training will add definition to your muscles and give men and women alike more fit and toned bodies. But working out with weights does so much more:
1. Weight loss— Not only does strength training aid in shedding pounds, it helps maintain weight loss, too. A recent study revealed that women who followed a weight-training routine 3 times a week increased the amount of calories burned in normal daily activity (in addition to those burned during exercise), helping them to maintain their current weight.
2. Protects bone health and muscle mass— After puberty, whether you are a man or a woman, you begin to lose about 1 percent of your bone and muscle strength every year. “One of the best ways to stop, prevent, and even reverse bone and muscle loss is to add strength training to your workouts,” advises Troy Tuttle, MS, an exercise physiologist at the University of Texas Medical School in Houston.”
3. Develop better body mechanics— Strength training has benefits that go well beyond the appearance of nicely toned muscles. Your balance and coordination will improve, as will your posture. More importantly, if you have poor flexibility and balance, strength training can reduce your risk of falling by as much as 40 percent, a crucial benefit, especially as you get older.
4. Disease prevention— Studies have documented the many wellness benefits of strength training. If you have arthritis, strength training can be as effective as medication in decreasing arthritis pain. Strength training can help post-menopausal women increase their bone density and reduce the risk of bone fractures. And for the 14 million Americans with type 2 diabetes, strength training along with other healthy lifestyle changes can help improve glucose control.
5. Boosts energy levels and improves your mood— Strength training will elevate your level of endorphins (natural opiates produced by the brain), which will make you feel great. As if that isn’t enough to convince you, strength training has also been shown to be a great antidepressant, to help you sleep better, and to improve your overall quality of life.
High-intensity interval training (HIIT or Tabata) describes any workout that alternates between intense bursts of activity and fixed periods of less-intense activity or even complete rest. For example, a good starter workout is running as fast as you can for 1 minute and then walking for 2 minutes.
1. Efficiency— Super-efficient HIIT is the ideal workout for a busy schedule- whether you want to squeeze in a workout during your lunch break or to get in shape for a fast-approaching event. Research shows that you can achieve more progress in a mere 15 minutes of interval training (done three times a week) than jogging on the treadmill for an hour. And according to a 2011 study, just 2 weeks of HIIT improves your aerobic capacity as much as 6-8 weeks of endurance training.
2. Simplicity— It can be done anywhere without any equipment. Running, biking, jump roping and rowing all work great for HIIT, but you don’t need any equipment to get it done. High knees, fast feet, or anything plyometric like jumping lunges work just as well to get your heart rate up fast. It is my favorite workout to do when we go camping for this very reason. In fact, it is so simple, I have taught my special needs son to do it with me.
3. Increase metabolism— HIIT stimulates the production of your human growth hormone, or HGH, by up to 450 percent during the 24 hours after you finish your workout. HGH is not only responsible for increased caloric burn but also slows down the aging process, making you younger both inside and out.
4. Challenging— This format offers seasoned exercisers a new challenge and new exercisers a quick way to see results. You may be sucking wind, but you definitely won’t be bored. I personally don’t like to push that hard but because it is so short, I can do it.
It is my opinion that since each has unique benefits, it is important to incorporate different exercise formats into your routine. Not only do you get an array of health benefits, but by adding variety, you decrease the likelihood of boredom and give your body a chance to recover from the higher intensity workouts.
My personal routine includes all of these, sometimes in the same workout. As I mentioned earlier, I involve my fourteen year old son (who has autism) as often as I can. Among the other benefits listed above, having him do 20-30 minutes of sweat producing activity most days has greatly improved his mood and ability to handle the challenges that he faces every day.
So here is my routine. One day a week, I do the P90X core synergistics video. This is strength training with a focus on the core and really gets your heart rate up as well. One day a week, I do another P90X video that targets specific muscle groups. This is pure strength training. One day a week, my son and I go for a walk/run (interval training) then I finish that workout with a full body strength training workout that also gets my heart rate up so I get the benefits of cardio. This is one that I designed and is described here. Two days a week, my son and I do a HIIT routine. I will be writing a post on that one in the future so keep coming back. Two days a week, I take off and he has swimming lessons.
Some important things to remember when beginning an exercise program. Check with your doctor first. Then, just start where you are; do what you can. This may seem obvious but it is so important. If you overdo it, a couple things may happen. You may get hurt or you may be so miserable that you will find it hard to motivate yourself to keep going. By exercising at a level that is challenging but not too challenging, you will be able to see progress and you will find it more enjoyable. That will keep you coming back for more. When I first started, I could only do 20 minutes on the elliptical three times a week. As my tolerance and strength improved, I was able to add in some strength training and then change up some of the cardio to HIIT.
I would love to hear from you what your favorite workouts are. Leave a comment below.