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These Are The Best Exercises You Can Do, According to Harvard

We all know that exercise is good for you. And we all know that Harvard knows what’s up — so when the world’s top university publishes a list of the five best exercises, it’s time to listen up. Published for Healthbeat, an online health publication by the experts at Harvard medical school, the article breaks down the best types of workouts to help us get in shape and prevent disease. 

While some of the options included seem obvious, there are a few surprises in the mix as well. Keep reading to discover what made the cut and to find out how to incorporate it into your everyday life. We’re not sure about you, but we’ll definitely be adding these into the rotation of our weekly workout routines.

Swimming

To see that swimming made the list as one of the best exercises is no surprise. Unlike running or walking, swimming requires the use of all muscle groups, making it a near-perfect workout. In addition, the workout takes the strain off of painful joints, letting people who usually suffer during exercise work out without the pain. “Swimming is good for individuals with arthritis because it’s less weight-bearing,” Dr I-Min Lee, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School shared.

To incorporate swimming into your workout routine, begin by learning the basics. If you don’t know the strokes, signing up for a class at your local gym or recreational centre is a great option. Once you’ve got the technique down, it’s all about putting it to practice. When you’re first getting into it, Active recommends that you begin by just pressing go. Hop in and commit to thirty minutes, counting the laps as you go. Try to swim for as much of that time as possible, but don’t be afraid to take a break if you need. Most pools have lanes differentiated by speed, so start off in the slow lane and work your way up from there. Once you improve, you can increase your swimming sessions to multiple times per week; or focus on increasing the number of laps you can complete or the duration of your exercise.

Tai Chi

Admittedly, we didn’t expect to see this one on the list — but seeing as it’s considered “meditation in motion”, it’s understandable how this workout made the cut. Good for the mind and body both, Tai Chi is similar to yoga in that the focus is on connecting different positions in a fluid, graceful way.  Tai Chi is beneficial for all ages, but Dr Lee especially encourages older people to give it a try: “It’s particularly good for older people because balance is an important component of fitness, and balance is something we lose as we get older.”

If you are keen to give it a try, check to see if it’s offered at your local health club or rec centre. It’s best to start off with a teacher, not only so that you can get the correct form, but also because some practitioners believe it an essential component of the practice. Whether or not you can learn on your own is a highly-debated topic within the tai chi community, but if you’re feeling too nervous or embarrassed to sign up for a class just yet, there are plenty of videos on YouTube which can give you a taste for exercise and make you more prepared to give it a go.

Strength Training

Strength training has been all abuzz lately, but as it turns out, this isn’t just another health-industry fad — and Harvard is here to back it up. Where the weights section used to seem like the part of the gym only open to big, macho guys, it’s important that everyone incorporates some level of strength training into their exercise regime. “If you don’t use muscles, they will lose their strength over time,” Dr Lee says. “The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn, so it’s easier to maintain your weight.”

When you first start out, it’s important to perfect your form in order to get the best results and reduce the risk of injury. Consult a trainer, or search a few videos on YouTube and start off in front of a mirror so that you can make sure you’re moving in the correct way. Begin by using light weights, gradually working your way up as you improve. 

Walking

The best part about this exercise is that you can do it anywhere, anytime, with anyone. Alone on the beach or around the neighbourhood with your partner, walking can be a solo or social activity that shouldn’t be overlooked as essential to your health. In addition to being a good way to get around, studies have shown that walking has many benefits. It will help you “stay trim, improve cholesterol levels, strengthen bones, keep blood pressure in check, lift your mood, and lower your risk for a number of diseases.”

The only thing you need to get started here is a good pair of shoes and you’re out the door. Start by walking ten minutes per day, gradually increasing to half an hour to an hour each day. If work is within walking distance for you, replace your morning commute with a walk and you’ll be reaping the mental and physical benefits in no time at all.

Kegel Exercises

We definitely didn’t expect to see this one on the list, but while this exercise isn’t so much about fitness, it’s still something that everyone can benefit from. Doing kegel exercises every day will strengthen the pelvic floor to help prevent incontinence later on down the line. Especially for women who have had children, or aging adults, learning to do kegel exercises will benefit you greatly.

Men and women alike can practice kegel exercises,  and they can easily be done in the comfort of your own home. “To do a Kegel exercise correctly, squeeze the muscles you would use to prevent yourself from passing urine or gas” Harvard Healthbeat states. “Hold the contraction for two or three seconds, then release. Make sure to completely relax your pelvic floor muscles after the contraction. Repeat 10 times. Try to do four to five sets a day.”