Dr. Sheehan Answers the Question, “What’s the Best Exercise?”
Binky is getting his exercise out on the trail!
One of the most common questions I get is “what is the best exercise? The short answer is “the one that you are going to do.” Here are a couple of questions to ask yourself one embarking on an exercise program. When determining the best exercise for you, make sure you write down the answers to these questions. Writing them down really clarifies them. When you finishing these questions, the perfect exercise for you will be apparent, from a real life, common sense approach. Next week, we’ll see what science says. Just remember, never argue with science, it’s always right. Unless it’s wrong for you.
One-What do you like to do? People always ask me what the best exercises are for them, but if I tell them that they should walk, but they love biking, they’re probably not going to want to walk. Make a list of what exercises you like to do. This could include walking, jogging, running, sprinting, weightlifting, swimming, biking, yoga, tai chi, gardening, whatever.
Two-How fit are you? If you haven’t exercised much in the past five years, and have never been to the gym, you either want to start with something more gentle, like walking, or, if you want to go to the gym, you’d probably want to take it slow, and get a trainer. I used to run a training program for new members at a local gym here. Less than 10% of the members actually used the gym. The most common reason why people quit or did not use the gym was because they injured themselves. Don’t let this be you. Start off slow, and gradually increase the intensity of your exercise if desired.
Three-What are your goals? Low intensity exercise such as walking, yoga, and tai chi are very relaxing, especially if done out in nature. They lower stress hormones, and help with insulin sensitivity by lowering stress hormones. They are gentle on the body, ideal for people just starting out. The only downside to low intensity exercise is that they must be performed for longer durations in order to get significant benefit. Low intensity exercise works best when done 3 to 5 hours per week. If you were in better shape, and time is not of the essence, more moderate exercise such as jogging, biking, and weightlifting might be more of your speed. To get the most benefit out of moderate exercise, you need around three hours per week of these types, although you could do more if you want to. If time is of the essence, or maximum benefit is desired, then high intensity interval training, or HIIT, or circuit training in the gym is for you. This type of training need not be more than 10 minutes, maximum 20 minutes per day. The benefits of high intensity interval training or circuit training is that they use large muscle groups, and intensity, for maximum calorie and fat burning, and maximum insulin sensitivity. The downside of this training is that if you’re not already in shape, it can be rough on your body and you can get injured.
Four-How long does it take you to get prepared for exercise, and how accessible is the exercise? The longer it takes one to get ready to exercise, unless likely you are to do it. Even though I am a member of a gym about 15 minutes away, it takes me about 15 minutes to get there and five minutes to get prepared. My work out generally takes 30 minutes then it takes me 15 minutes to get back home, for a grand total of 65 minutes minimum. Oftentimes, I don’t have 65 minutes, so I put a gym downstairs in my house. It takes me one minute to get ready and one minute to walk back upstairs, and 30 minutes to work out, for a total time of 32 minutes. Therefore, I hardly ever go to the gym, I usually go downstairs. I also like to walk for relaxation, and to get out in nature. It takes me one minute to get ready, and one minute to get my shoes off when I get back. I often walk 2 to 4 miles per day. I like walking so much that I actually bought a treadmill to put in my sunroom facing east, so that if it was raining or cold I could walk and watch the sun come up. Not only is it beautiful, but it also helps to regulate your circadian rhythm and sleep. So in addition to identifying what exercise you like to do most, your fitness level, and your fitness goals, keep in mind what exercise is easiest for you to prepare for. One of the biggest problems I see with people is that they like to walk, but they don’t like to walk in the rain or cold. You have to have a plan B for this, otherwise you won’t exercise in the winter, or if it’s been raining a lot you won’t get to exercise. I find that it’s best to get into the habit of exercising every day, so that you get used to it. If you only exercise two or three days a week, it’s kind of like stopping and starting a program again and again, and it doesn’t really work.
Five-What’s your budget? Depending on your budget, you may want to stick to cheaper things like walking, jogging, yoga podcasts, and the like. For less than $50 a month, you can get a monthly gym membership. If you have a planet fitness near you, it’s less than $20 a month. If you have a little bit more money, you may want to spring for some personal training sessions. Even though seems kind of obvious, always keep in mind your budget.
Remember, the best exercise program is the one that you’ll stick with, preferably every day. Join me next week as we delve into which exercise programs are the best for different conditions. Thanks for joining me.
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