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Tuesday, August 30, 2022

The One Best Exercise

Older Americans are not a very active bunch overall. But what if there were one best exercise to keep in shape? 

We know we should exercise more to stay in shape and ward off disease, but most of us are in denial. More than 80% of adults 60 and over don’t meet the Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines for physical activity: 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week, or 75 minutes of vigorous activity. Nearly half (40%) of those over 75 are completely inactive. 

So, what if everyone could start with just one exercise that could work a variety of muscles? Well, you can. We searched the web and found not one, but several exercises deemed “best” by a variety of fitness experts. The good news is that you can pick just one to try in order to start feeling better today. Honestly, it comes down to finding something that you will stick with over the years: the one best exercise for you is the one you’ll keep doing.

Interval Training Makes Any Exercise Better

Love to dance? Tired of your walking routine? Prefer to vary your workouts? Interval training may allow you to shorten your workout or keep it the same while improving your fitness. Interval training is nothing more than varying the intensity throughout your workout, forcing your body’s aerobic system to adapt. Push up the intensity for a minute, then back off to recover, and repeat. To get started, look for a 7-Minute HIT (High-Intensity Training) Workout on YouTube. 

Most of the mortality-reduction benefits you will get from exercise occur in the first 30 minutes, according to experts. A recent analysis of studies showed that for sedentary people, there was a 20% reduction in the risk of dying prematurely after taking up brisk walking for half an hour five times a week. Triple that, and the reduction fell only another 4%.

However, we wanted to give you a choice of activities for getting started. None of these moves requires any special equipment or a fancy gym (although you might want to check your Medicare or Medicare Advantage plan since many will cover the cost of a gym membership). 

It is always a good idea to check with your doctor before beginning any exercise program. Another caveat: good form can make all the difference between working appropriate muscles or simply giving yourself a backache. Check your form in a mirror or have someone knowledgeable evaluate it for you to make sure you’re getting the proper benefit from your workout. 

  1. Pushup to downward dog. You don’t have to be a yogi to perform this simple move that works your whole body. Start in a high plank position (like the highest part of a pushup) then push yourself into a “downward dog” position, like an inverted “V” with arms and legs straight and hips held high. Then move legs back and lower into the high plank to repeat. Beginners should start with knees on the floor, and maybe elbows on the floor as well. 
  2. Walking. Creaky though we may be, most of us can walk. Walking will strengthen your heart as it increases cardiovascular fitness, and you can start at any speed and distance. For some people, that may be going to the mailbox and back. Increase your time by five or ten minutes a day. A Japanese program that has participants walking three minutes quickly, then three minutes slowly, repeated ten times, shows aerobic power and thigh strength increased by 20%. Disease symptoms related to lifestyle decreased by 20%. Most amazingly, depression scores were cut in half.
  3. Squats. Fold your arms across your chest, bend your knees and lower your trunk until your thighs are parallel with the floor. Ow! “It’s a very potent exercise,” says one professor of kinesiology. Weight training moves like the squat are especially great to avoid the severe loss of muscle, or sarcopenia, that usually goes hand-in-hand with aging. It is also particularly effective for controlling weight and reducing waistlines. “I used to run marathons,” says one physiologist. Now he concentrates on weight training “and I’m in better shape.”
  4. Lunges. Working all the major muscles below the belt, lunges are exaggerated walking movements. Take a giant step forward, keeping your back straight. Bend your front knee to a right angle, keeping the knee over the ankle. Then bend your back knee toward the floor, keeping your weight on your back toes. Lunges can be a little harder than squats, so if balancing is difficult, go back and perfect your squat technique first. When you get proficient at forward lunges, try doing them out to the sides or back.