Keep in Shape: Improve Your Health and Fitness in Any Situation

A general overview of various forms of aerobic activity and the benefits of trying new types of exercise.

It's easy to fall into workout ruts. Exercise is as mental as it is physical, and we each have different limitations which make it more or less difficult to do various types of exercise. But it is important to remember that different types of exercise all have different benefits and inherent risks.As we age, some activities hurt our bodies more than others, and some provide a greater reward for the same amount of effort. The key is to be willing to explore other workout habits if old habits begin to lose their effectiveness.

The cornerstone of any workout designed to be continued over the long term must be aerobic exercise. Aerobic activities boost the cardiovascular system and are an important part of weight control. They are also typically forms of exercise with the lowest risks of injury. The downside of aerobic activities is that they usually require adequate facilities for the exercise. Over a long period of time, however, they can provide the greatest health benefits.

Running is the simplest form of aerobic exercise, and it is used by military, paramilitary, police, and professional athletes as an easy way to boost fitness and max VO2 (the ability of the body to process oxygen). Running requires very little expertise, experience, equipment, or coaching in order to start, and it produces easy results after hard effort. Technique varies greatly and does not play as significant a role as other sports such as swimming. Like other aerobic sports, peaking does not occur until the late 30's and early 40's of the average person, and improvements can still be seen until this point. Running does have some injury risks. Over time, running can exaggerate already existing injuries, and some individuals believe that running is extremely hard upon the knees. Additionally, high-speed and maximum-effort running can result in muscle pulls (particularly of the hamstring muscles in males and occasionally the calves in females). Overuse injuries such as shin splints can also occur, but a proper mix of running on softer surfaces and adequate stretching and warmups can prevent these injuries or alleviate them if they do occur. A good benefit of running, however, is that it can be done anywhere, and running races are very common in most regions. Runners of all speeds can easily be found anywhere.

Biking is another popular endurance sport. In form, it is closest to running in that it relies upon muscular power and effort versus technique. Biking contains some pros and cons that running does not. While many people own bicycles, most own ordinary mountain bikes. Quality road and racing bikes can top $2,000, and while not necessarily essential in order to get a good workout, they do provide a racing edge that mountain bikes cannot compete with. Safety equipment is essential, and can include reflective and lighting equipment if biking at night. Another major difference from running is that biking is low-impact. This means that it places most of the stress upon muscles versus the increased stresses that running can often place on bones and joints. Biking also focuses the muscular effort mostly on the quadriceps and calf muscles, whereas running relies upon a greater variety of muscle groups including the quads, calves, hamstrings, hip flexors, and abdominal muscles. Some possible injuries in biking include crash-associated injuries such as broken collar bones and road rash, and some tendency toward muscle pulls. While cities usually have good provision for bicycling, minor highways and outlying areas typically are narrow and less than ideal for bikers. This means that bikers will often have to accept the risks of sharing the road with vehicles, which do not always respect the space of the biker. Biking still provides a good aerobic workout, however, and is a good alternative for those with knee or impact-related problems.

Swimming is another popular aerobic exercise. Like bicycling, it takes some equipment in order to start (a good swimming suit, some goggles, and a swimming pool). However, swimming is very different from running and biking in that it takes a great deal of technique to perform. This often requires a little coaching and a lot of patience. Additionally, pools have much more specific hours than roads and trails, and they can cause skin reactions to those unused to pool water. However, some sources point to swimming as one of the best activities for your heart. Additionally, swimming has almost no impact whatsoever, as the nature of the water makes for a smooth motion through most of the exercise. Besides being waterlogged, the greatest risk for injury in swimming is typically the shoulders, which have to completely rotate during exercises such as the freestyle or front crawl and can irritate the shoulder sockets.

There are a number of other forms of aerobic activity such as cross country skiing. Picking the right one for you based upon your fitness level and prior history of injuries is a choice that can be made with a little forethought. Experimenting with new forms of exercise is not a bad idea, either, especially if you are becoming bored with your typical routine and are curious to try something new.

Many individuals miss anaerobic and body weight forms of exercise when they attempt to put together their own workout programs. These forms of exercise include various types of weight training and lifting, and pushups and situps. Body weight exercises and weight training are very good for improving strength and flexibility, and they are also good for focusing improvement on particular muscle groups. Additionally, they can be used as a supplement to aerobic exercise in order to improve deficiencies and work muscles that don't receive much attention (such as doing arm exercises to supplement running). These types of workouts have a greater intensity than aerobic ones, so stretching is even more vital.

Whether you are new to exercise, returning after many years, or just trying a new form of it, don't be afraid to mix things up. New forms of exercise cause your body to work differently than it is used to, and can provide a mental boost as an excursion out of the ordinary regimes. Experimentation is never bad, because exercise in any form continues to provide health benefits. Always remember to consult your doctor before radically increasing your level of physical activity, especially if you have cardiovascular issues or other problems which could be aggravated by exercise.


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