What is the best type of exercise?

What is the best type of exercise?

According to the MOH website (https://www.health.govt.nz/your-health/healthy-living/food-activity-and-sleep/physical-activity/how-much-activity-recommended) adults should do at least 2 ½ hours of moderate or 1 ¼ hours of vigorous physical activity spread throughout the week. Moderate intensity activity causes a slight, but noticeable, increase in breath and heart rate but you can still carry on a conversation. Vigorous intensity activity makes you out of breath – you can’t do these activities and chat at the same time. However, it is even better to aim for 5 hours of moderate or 2 ½ hours of vigorous physical activity spread throughout the week, and do some muscle-strengthening activities on at least 2 days each week.

This may sound like a huge amount to some people, so where do you start? Firstly, the best exercise is the one that gets done. Unless you are extremely dedicated, if you hate going to the gym and pushing weights, you are not likely to do this as often as you should, and thereby won’t get the benefit from it. The best place therefore to start is that with something you enjoy, or at least don’t dislike as much as others.

The next thing is to set realistic goals. These are determined partly based on your history of exercise in the past and what you are currently doing. I like to start people on something almost stupidly small. Say you decide you are going to start walking and decide to do a 30 minute walk 4 times each week. However, during the first week there is a cyclone hanging over the country, it is pouring down all week and you only manage to get out twice. This means you have already failed – not a great start. Instead decide you are going to do two 20 minute walks. This should be achievable. Get this done regularly over the next few weeks and you are already being successful. Have a bit of extra time over the week and you may even get a third one done. After a couple of weeks increase your goals gradually.

Though I said above the best exercise is the one you do, some types of exercise when done regularly and properly have greater benefit than others. Strength training tops the list as best for adults of any age or sex. This can be done in a gym facility or with a group, or even just using body weight exercises initially. The important thing with strength based exercise is that you have to progress your load and make things harder over time. Being able to lift 10kg multiple times without tiring or getting a degree of fatigue won’t be sufficient to make much difference. Yes, it’s better than doing nothing, but if you are there doing it, your benefits are going to be much better by challenging yourself – in as safe and controlled way.

Strength training is useful not only for maintaining strength in your muscles. It also helps keep your bones strong and stimulates your brain. It is important for maintaining your balance and function, especially as you get older. If undertaken in a circuit based environment, it also stimulates your fitness. Benefits therefore include reduced risk of diabetes and high blood pressure. There are also benefits for your mental health, and there is even some evidence it helps reduce risk of some cancers.

So, get out there on your bike, or feet, or whatever you enjoy doing. Start small and build gradually so you start to challenge yourself. Seek advice from a health professional if you have underlying health issues or don’t know where to start. Add some strength exercises to what you are doing to maintain your function long term. Enjoy being fit and strong and maintaining the ability to enjoy life.

Hamish Ashton – Senior Physiotherapist / Strength Coach

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