Exercise involves engaging in physical activity and increasing the heart rate beyond resting levels. It is an important part of preserving physical and mental health.

Whether people engage in light exercise, such as going for a walk, or high intensity activities, for example, uphill cycling or weight training, regular exercise provides a huge range of benefits for the body and mind.

Taking part in exercise of any intensity every day is essential for preventing a range of diseases and other health issues.

In this article, we explain the different types of exercise and their benefits, as well as the considerations for designing a fitness regime.

People divide exercise into three broad categories:

  • aerobic
  • anaerobic
  • agility training

We describe each of these categories below.

Aerobic exercise

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There are several types of exercise, and they provide a range of benefits for health and well-being.

Aerobic exercise aims to improve how the body uses oxygen. Most aerobic exercise takes place at average levels of intensity over longer periods.

An aerobic exercise session involves warming up, exercising for at least 20 minutes, and then cooling down. Aerobic exercise mostly uses large muscle groups.

Aerobic exercise provides the following benefits:

Anaerobic exercise

Anaerobic exercise does not use oxygen for energy. People use this type of exercise to build power, strength, and muscle mass.

These exercises are high-intensity activities that should last no longer than around 2 minutes. Anaerobic exercises include:

  • weightlifting
  • sprinting
  • intensive and fast skipping with a rope
  • interval training
  • isometrics
  • any rapid burst of intense activity

While all exercise benefits the heart and lungs, anaerobic exercise provides fewer benefits for cardiovascular health than aerobic exercise and uses fewer calories. However, it is more effective than aerobic exercise for building muscle and improving strength.

Increasing muscle mass causes the body to burn more fat, even when resting. Muscle is the most efficient tissue for burning fat in the body.

Agility training

Agility training aims to improve a person's ability to maintain control while speeding up, slowing down, and changing direction.

In tennis, for example, agility training helps a player maintain control over their court positioning through good recovery after each shot.

People who take part in sports that heavily rely on positioning, coordination, speed, and balance need to engage in agility training regularly.

The following sports are examples of ones that require agility:

  • tennis
  • American football
  • hockey
  • badminton
  • volleyball
  • basketball
  • soccer
  • martial arts
  • boxing
  • wrestling

Stretching and flexibility

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Yoga can help improve a person's flexibility and relieve stress.

Some exercises combine stretching, muscle conditioning, and balance training. A popular and effective example is yoga.

Yoga movements improve balance, flexibility, posture, and circulation.

The practice originated in India thousands of years ago and aims to unify the mind, body, and spirit. Modern yoga uses a combination of meditation, posture, and breathing exercises to achieve the same goals.

A yoga practitioner can tailor a course for individual needs.

A person looking to manage arthritis might need gentle stretches to improve mobility and function. Someone with depression, on the other hand, may need more emphasis on the relaxation and deep breathing elements of yoga.

Pilates is another stretching option that promotes flexibility and core strength. Tai chi is also an effective option for exercise that promotes calm stretching rather than intensity.

Here, learn more about yoga.

A sedentary lifestyle can increase the risk of the following health problems:

It can also contribute to an increased risk of premature death from all causes, including the complications of being overweight and obesity.

In many parts of the world, including the United States, the number of overweight and obese people continues to increase rapidly.

According to the most recent National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, that researchers did in 2013–2014 across the U.S., more than 2 in 3 adults are overweight or obesity.

The same survey found that around 1 in 13 adults have extreme obesity and face an increased risk of severe health complications.

Discover how to prevent cardiovascular disease.

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Taking the stairs instead of an elevator can be a great way for busy people to meet exercise guidelines.

Fitting exercise into a busy schedule can be a roadblock to a successful regime. However, people do not need to dedicate large amounts of extra time to exercise to see the benefits.

Here are some tips for fitting physical activity in a busy schedule:

  • See which car journeys you can replace with walking or cycling. Is driving to work necessary? If so, try parking half a mile away from the office and walking the final bit.
  • People who commute to work by public transport could try getting off their bus or train a few stops early and walking the rest of the way.
  • Consider walking up and down the stairs at your office instead of taking elevators or escalators.
  • Try to think about the amount of time spent watching television and avoid binge-watching TV shows. While watching television for extended periods, light exercises, such as stomach crunches or jumping jacks, can help a person include more physical activity in their day.
  • If a person enjoys video games, they could consider playing games that encourage physical activity, such as exercise routines on a Nintendo Wii.
  • Vigorous housework, gardening, and going up and down the stairs while doing chores also qualify as physical activity and can help people meet the guidelines productively.

People will likely gain the most benefit from exercises they enjoy that fit their lifestyle.

  • Some of the examples below are the easiest to fit into a daily routine:
  • Go for a brisk 30-minute walk five times every week.
  • Walk your dog more often or go for walks and jogs with friends.
  • Try to add swimming to your weekly routine, even if it is not every day.
  • Join some exercise classes that are fun, collaborative, and educational.
  • Become a member of a martial arts club. Beginner's sessions can be gentle and fun.

Exercise is sometimes a gradual learning curve. A person should spread sessions across the week and scale up the intensity slowly.

It is important for people to ensure they drink plenty of water during and after exercise. Checking with a doctor is a good precaution to take if someone has a health condition or injury that could impact exercise levels, or that exercise could make worse.

While a combination of aerobic and anaerobic exercise provides the most benefit, any exercise is better than none for people who currently have an inactive lifestyle.

Guidelines

Current U.S. guidelines recommend that people do one of the following:

  • at least 150–300 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a week
  • a minimum of 75–150 minutes of vigorous-intensity, aerobic physical activity
  • a combination of the two types of exercise

Toward these goals, it is worth remembering that even 10-minute bursts of physical activity during the day provide health benefits.

Exercise may be difficult to maintain for some people. Consider the following tips to achieve long-term success:

  • Have a clear goal: Whether for health reasons or otherwise, try to always keep in mind the reason you started increasing your exercise levels.
  • Work at your own pace: Doing too much too quickly can increase the risk of injury and the chance to develop a stable routine. Set targets based on the goals you established at the start of the regimen and celebrate small wins to boost confidence.
  • Enjoy yourself: A regimen is more sustainable if a person enjoys the physical activities that it involves.
  • Join a club with a friend: If you join a fitness club with a friend, or exercise with a friend, you may enjoy the sessions more. Some people prefer not to have the stress of someone else around. This depends on you.
  • Trainers and teachers can be helpful: People just starting a regimen or looking to step up their routine may benefit from a personal trainer or teacher. They can provide motivation and guidance, helping people track their goals and stay dedicated.
  • Vary your exercises: Change your exercise program every few weeks. Mixing it up can help a person work on different muscle groups and increase the range of benefits. If you enjoy one particular exercise, such as running, try changing the speed and distance of a run, or follow a different route with more hills.
  • Make it a habit: After a few weeks of regularity, an exercise routine starts to become a habit, even if you find it difficult or boring at first.

The benefits of regular physical activity are wide-reaching and should form a part of every person's day to help them remain healthy.

Q:

I have a prohibitive physical impediment that prevents me from exercising in the standard way. What is the best course of action for getting started?

A:

It depends on what type of impediment it is. I would encourage you to obtain medical clearance first from your primary healthcare provider, and then seek the services of a Certified Personal Trainer, especially if you have never exercised before.

Without knowledge of how to properly execute various exercises, a person can cause further injury to themselves.

Also, proper use of exercise, depending on the type of physical impediment, can possibly help improve this situation.

Daniel Bubnis, MS, NASM-CPT, NASE Level II-CSS Answers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.