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What does being physically fit mean?

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Maintaining a good level of physical fitness is important. However, it can be difficult to determine what fitness entails.

Experts define physical fitness as “one’s ability to execute daily activities with optimal performance, endurance, and strength with the management of disease, fatigue, and stress and reduced sedentary behavior.”

This description goes beyond being able to run quickly or lift heavy weights. Despite being important, these attributes only address single areas of fitness.

This article provides details of the five main components of physical fitness.

Fast facts on fitness:

  • Maintaining good physical fitness can help prevent some conditions.
  • With exercise, body composition can change without changing weight.
  • Athletes’ hearts show different changes depending on their chosen sport.
  • Muscle strength increases due to fiber hypertrophy and neural changes.
  • Stretching to increase flexibility can ease a number of medical complaints.
Luis Alvarez/Getty Images

Overview

Being physically fit depends on how well a person fulfills each of the components of being healthy.

When it comes to fitness, these components are:

  • cardiorespiratory fitness
  • muscular strength
  • muscular endurance
  • body composition
  • flexibility

The following sections will look at each of these components individually.

Cardiorespiratory performance

Cardiorespiratory endurance indicates how well the body can supply fuel during physical activity via the body’s circulatory and respiratory systems.

Activities that help improve cardiorespiratory endurance are those that cause an elevated heart rate for a sustained period of time.

These activities include:

  • swimming
  • brisk walking
  • jogging
  • cycling

People who regularly engage in these activities are more likely to be physically fit in terms of cardiorespiratory endurance. It is important to begin these activities slowly and gradually increase the intensity over time.

Exercising increases cardiorespiratory endurance in a number of ways. For example, the heart muscle becomes stronger so that it is able to pump more blood per heartbeat.

At the same time, additional small arteries grow within muscle tissue so that they can deliver blood to working muscles more effectively when needed.

How does heart health change with exercise?

The heart’s efficiency changes and improves after persistent training. However, recent research suggests that different types of activity change the heart in subtly different ways.

All types of exercise increase the heart’s overall size, but there are significant differencesTrusted Source between endurance athletes such as rowers and strength athletes such as football players.

The hearts of endurance athletes show expanded left and right ventricles, whereas those of strength athletes show thickening of the heart wall, particularly the left ventricle.

How does lung health change with exercise?

Although the heart steadily strengthens over time, the respiratory system does not adjust to the same degree. Lung size does not change, but the lungs do use oxygen more effectivelyTrusted Source.

In general, exercise encourages the body to become more efficient at taking on, distributing, and using oxygen. Over time, this improvement increases endurance and overall health.

Health benefits of cardiorespiratory fitness

Cardiorespiratory fitness can help reduce the riskTrusted Source of conditions including:

Muscular strength

There are a number of ways to measure muscular strength. Generally, lifting a set weight in a prescribed position and comparing the results against any given population is the best way.

In general, if a person works their muscles consistently and regularly, they will increase in strength.

There are various ways of putting the muscles through rigorous activity, but anything that works a muscle until it is tired will increase muscle strength over time.

How does muscle structure change with exercise?

Muscles consist of elongated muscle cells. Each muscle cell containsTrusted Source contractile proteins, called actin and myosin, that give the muscle its strength.

These fibers contract together, producing the so-called power stroke. The total force depends on the number of these units contracting in unison.

To build muscle, an individual must regularly exercise their muscles and take in enough protein.

Scientists do not fully understand the exact mechanism of muscle building, but the general principles are well known. Training causes the muscle cellsTrusted Source to expand, and there is an increase in actin and myosin production.

Also, in untrained muscles, fibers tend to fire in an asynchronous manner. In other words, they do not fire in unison. As a person trains them, however, they learn to fire together as one, thereby increasing maximum power output.

Muscular endurance

Fitness can also include muscular endurance, which is the ability of a muscle to continue exerting force without tiring.

As mentioned above, strength training builds bigger muscles. Endurance training, on the other hand, does not necessarily generate muscles of a larger size.

This is because the body focuses more on the cardiovascular system, ensuring that the muscles receive the oxygenated blood they need to keep functioning.

Another important change in muscles that people specifically train for endurance concerns the different types of muscle tissue: fast twitch and slow twitchTrusted Source fibers.

Fast twitch fibers contract quickly but get tired quickly. They use a lot of energy and are useful for sprints. They are whitish, as they do not require blood to function.

Slow twitch fibers are best for endurance work, as they can carry out tasks without getting tired. They are present in core muscles. These fibers appear red, as they rely on a good supply of oxygenated blood and contain stores of myoglobin.

Different exercises will promote fast twitch fibers, slow twitch fibers, or both. For example, a sprinter will have comparatively more fast twitch fibers, whereas a long distance runner will have more slow twitch fibers.MEDICAL NEWS TODAY NEWSLETTERKnowledge is power. Get our free daily newsletter.

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Body composition

Body composition measures the relative amounts of muscle, bone, water, and fat an individual has.

A person can potentially maintain the same weight but radically change the ratio of each of the components that make up their body.

For instance, people with a high muscle (lean mass) ratio might weigh more than those with the same height and waist circumference who have less muscle.

How is body composition calculated?

There are several methodsTrusted Source for calculating body composition. For example, a doctor can measure a person’s body fat using tools such as calipers or through bioelectrical impedance analysis to detect fat cells.

The above methods are prone to inaccuracies, however.

Flexibility

Flexibility refers to the range of movement across a joint.

Flexibility is important because it improves the ability to link movements together smoothly and can help prevent injuries. It is specific to each joint and depends on a number of variables, including the tightness of ligaments and tendons.

Various activities that stretch the joints, ligaments, and tendons can increase flexibility.

There are three common types of stretches that people use to increase flexibilityTrusted Source:

  • Dynamic stretching: This refers to the ability to complete a full range of motion in a particular joint. People use this type of stretch in standard warmup exercises, as it helps prepare the body for physical activity.
  • Static-active stretching: This refers to holding the body or part of the body in a stretched position and maintaining that position for a period of time. One example of static-active stretching is the splits.
  • Ballistic stretching: People should only engage in ballistic stretching when the body is already warmed up and limber from exercise. It involves stretching in various positions and bouncing.

There are a number of ways to improve flexibility. Having a daily stretching regimen can be the simplest and most efficient way of achieving whole body flexibility.

Summary

In general, fitness means different things to different people.

The important message is that embarking on any regular exercise will be of benefit to a person’s health. The more exercise they do, the healthier they will look and feel.

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Last medically reviewed on May 3, 2021

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What are the best exercises for overall health and fitness?

The powerful combination of cardiovascular exercise and strength training can help a person build muscle strength and improve their heart, lung, and circulatory health.

Exercises that target multiple muscle groups are particularly effective. These include various exercises that require little to no equipment and can suit a range of fitness levels.

Here, we look at 13 of the best exercises for overall health and fitness. We explain what areas of the body each exercise primarily works and provide step-by-step instructions.

Doing the exercises

A person swimming in a swimming pool.
Trevor Williams/Getty Images

People can do the following exercises individually or as part of a circuit. Some require basic fitness equipment, such as dumbbells or an exercise ball, but people can do many of them with no equipment.

The American Council on Exercise recommend that people continue doing repetitions until they reach muscle fatigue or can no longer maintain proper form.

However, they note that endurance athletes, such as runners and cyclists, should stick to about 20–30 repetitions rather than working to the point of muscle fatigue.

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommend doing 8–12 repetitions of 8–10 strength training exercises on at least 2 days of the week.

The ACSM also recommend at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity a day, 5 days per week. Alternatively, they say that people can perform 20-minute sessions of vigorous physical activity on 3 days of the week.

Pushups

Pushup

Pushups work multiple muscle groups, strengthening the arms, chest, and shoulders.

How to do them:

  • Start in a plank position with the arms straight and the body lifted in a straight line horizontal to the floor. Keep the feet together and the toes flexed to support the body.
  • The palms should be flat on the floor shoulder-width apart, with the fingers facing straight ahead or slightly inward.
  • Keeping the head in line with the spine, slowly bend the elbows outward and lower the body down to the floor.
  • Try to keep the hips and lower back in line.
  • Lower as far as possible, aiming to touch the chest or chin to the floor.
  • Use the arm muscles to press the body back up into the starting position.
  • Keep the abdominal muscles engaged throughout to help support the back.
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Bodyweight squats

Squat

Bodyweight squats can increase lower body and core strength as they work the abs, buttocks, hips, thighs, calves, and shins.

How to do them:

  • Stand with the feet slightly wider than hip-width apart, angling the toes slightly outward.
  • Keep the hands down by the sides, with the palms facing in and keep the shoulders back.
  • Engage the abdominal muscles to support the back.
  • Shift the hips back and bend the knees as though taking a seat, keeping a flat back.
  • Keep lowering down to the ground until the thighs are parallel with the floor.
  • Push through the feet to straighten back up into the starting position.
  • Inhale into the squat, then exhale when standing back up.

Lunges

Lunge

Lunges work the thighs, buttocks, hips, and abdominal muscles.

How to do them:

  • Stand upright with the feet together.
  • Step one leg forward into a long stride, bending the knee and placing the foot flat on the floor.
  • Bend the knee of the supporting leg toward the floor.
  • Use the muscles of the forward leg to push back to standing.
  • Repeat with the opposite leg.

Running

Running is a form of aerobic exercise, and it can help improve cardiovascular fitness and bone strength. Jogging is a less intense form of running and may be best for beginners.

People can often improve their running endurance through interval running, which involves running for a certain distance or time and then switching to walking before running again. Alternatively, people can switch between running and sprinting.

Sprint interval training may help decrease body fat, increase aerobic capacity, and increase peak running speed.https://207a6d863c2b5bcd8a2ba45dc680fa31.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

Side planks

Side Plank

Side planks help build core strength, which can help reduce lower back pain. Side planks work the buttocks, hips, and abdominal muscles.

How to do them:

  • Lie on the right side with the legs outstretched directly on top of each other and the elbow under the shoulder on the right arm.
  • Engage the abdominals and lift the knees and hips off the floor, keeping the head and body aligned.
  • Hold the position for 15–20 seconds, focusing on not letting the hips, head, or shoulders drop.
  • Slowly return to the floor, switch to the left side, and repeat.

Planks

Postpartum Planks

Planks strengthen the back and abdominal muscles and help build core strength.

How to do them:

  • Start with the elbows and lower arms on the floor, keeping the elbows in line with the shoulders.
  • Lift the body so that it forms a straight line horizontal to the floor.
  • Keep the feet together and the toes flexed to support the body.
  • Hold for 20–30 seconds.
  • Slowly lower to the floor and rest for 1 minute, then repeat 3–5 times.

Once people feel strong performing this exercise, they can try a high plank. This move uses the same body positioning, but the person keeps their arms straight with their palms flat on the floor, directly underneath the shoulders.

Knee tucks

Knee Tucks

Knee tucks work the abdominals, calves, and shins. People will need an exercise ball, sometimes called a stability ball, for this exercise.

How to do them:

  • Lie on the stomach on top of the stability ball with the hands and feet on the floor.
  • Walk forward on the hands until the knees are resting on the ball and the feet have lifted off the floor. The hands should be directly underneath the shoulders.
  • Roll the knees forward to curl them into the chest.
  • Slowly push the knees back to return to the starting position.

Glute bridge

Glute Bridge

The glute bridge is good for the muscles in the back of the body, known as the posterior chain.

How to do it:

  • Lie on the back with the knees bent and the feet flat on the floor.
  • Contract the buttocks and abdominals to lift the hips off the floor, bringing them in line with the shoulders and knees. Avoid arching the lower back.
  • Slowly lower back to the starting position.

Standing overhead dumbbell presses

Overhead Shoulder Press

This exercise helps strengthen the shoulder muscles. People will require two dumbbells.

How to do them:

  • Stand with the feet hip-width apart.
  • Hold a dumbbell in each hand with the inside of the wrists facing forward, then bend the arms to bring the weights to shoulder height.
  • Engage the abdominal muscles and exhale while extending the arms straight up to lift the dumbbells in a straight line above the shoulders.
  • Inhale to bend the elbows and slowly lower the dumbbells back down to shoulder height.
  • Try to avoid arching the lower back.

Dumbbell rows

Bent Over Rows

Dumbbell rows can strengthen the back and increase muscle growth. An increase in muscle strength also causes the body to burn more calories when resting. People will need two dumbbells for this exercise.

How to do them:

  • Stand with the knees slightly bent and tilt forward from the hips, keeping the back straight.
  • Hold the dumbbells out in front with the arms straight and the inside of the wrists facing each other.
  • Pull one hand toward the rib cage, then move it back to the starting position.
  • Repeat with the opposite arm.
  • Keep alternating sides for 8–10 repetitions per set.
  • Repeat for 3 sets, with a 45-second rest between each set.

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Pike roll-out

Pike roll outs

A pike roll-out works the abdominal, arm, and shoulder muscles. People will need a stability ball.

How to do it:

  • Lie on the stomach on the ball with the hands and feet on the floor.
  • Roll forward on the ball to rest flexed toes on it. Keep the body in a straight line, with straight arms directly under the shoulders and the palms flat on the floor.
  • Hinging at the hips, lift the buttocks toward the ceiling, keeping the legs straight and the toes flexed on the ball.
  • The hips will be in line with the shoulders, with a straight back and head between the arms.
  • Slowly lower back down to the starting position.

Crow Stand

Crow Pose
joci03/Getty Images

The Crow Stand is a yoga pose that improves balance and can help build wrist, arm, and core strength.

How to do it:

  • Crouch on the floor and place the palms flat on the mat with the fingers spread and the arms slightly bent.
  • Bend the knees into the triceps, close to the armpits, and place both feet behind the hands. The lower inner thighs should rest just above the elbows.
  • Balance on the toes and shift the weight into the hands.
  • Start by lifting one foot off the floor at a time.
  • When able to, lift both feet off the floor, touch the big toes together and balance on the hands.
  • Slowly release the feet back to the floor.

Swimming

Swimming uses almost all the muscle groups but is a low impact exercise. Therefore, it may suit people with certain injuries or health conditions.

A person should swim in a public pool or a safe, supervised environment, particularly if they are a beginner.

How to progress exercises

People can take a few steps to make these exercises more challenging as their fitness improves. These steps include:

  • adding more weight
  • increasing the number of repetitions, sets, or both
  • increasing the frequency of workouts

People can also work alongside a personal trainer or fitness instructor. These professionals can safely increase difficulty levels and help people maintain proper technique.

Summary

Regular exercise is important for overall health and fitness. A combination of resistance and cardiovascular training is a powerful tool to help prevent many health conditions.

People can start slowly and increase the frequency of workouts or the number of repetitions and sets in each one as their fitness levels improve.

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Last medically reviewed on December 21, 2020

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The 10 best fitness blogs

Want to get fit this year, but don’t know where to start? We have chosen the best fitness blogs to empower you and help to get you started on your journey to tip-top physical fitness.

woman looking at phone in gym
Fitness blogs aim to inspire, empower, and motivate you to reach your health and fitness goals.

Getting up off the couch and taking part in regular physical activity is one of the most important things you can do to ensure you remain healthy.

Regular exercise can help to control your weight, strengthen your bones and muscles, and reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers.

Furthermore, being active improves your mood, mental health, mobility, and ability to complete tasks as an older adult, as well as increases your chances of living longer.

Adults are recommendedTrusted Source to do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each week to achieve substantial health benefits, and increase to 300 minutes for more extensive benefits.

If you are stuck on where to begin or are worried about getting injured, the good news is that aerobic activity — such as brisk walking — is considered to be safe for most people.

Hundreds of fitness blogs are also available to help you on your way and provide tips, ideas, and information on the best types of activity to boost fitness and instructions on how to do them.

Medical News Today have trawled through the many fitness blogs out there to bring you the top 10 fitness blogs for 2018.

MyFitnessPal Blog

MyFitnessPalLogo

MyFitnessPal is a smartphone app and website that records physical activity and diet. The app works out the optimal intake of calories and nutrients for the user to accomplish their goals, and it uses elements of gaming to motivate them.

MyFitnessPal’s blog focuses on providing easy-to-read information on eating psychology, nutrition, weight loss, fitness inspiration, workout guides, and motivational support through the victory stories on the blog.

Fitness posts include seven tips to lift weights without causing injury, songs that should feature on your 2018 running playlist, and brain- and body-boosting moves that you should add to your next walk.

Visit the MyFitnessPal Blog.

Natalie Jill Fitness

Natalie Jill Fitness logo

Natalie Jill Fitness was founded after Natalie Jill gained weight straight after losing her house, retiring, and ending her marriage. She turned her life around, and, in the process, became an inspiration to others.

Natalie specializes in fitness, weight loss, healthy lifestyles, and body weight training. Natalie coaches, motivates, and empowers people to stop making excuses, and instead make solutions to become the best version of themselves.

Recent posts on her blog include a booty-building workout to activate your glutes, an upper body workout using just your body weight, and how to do a chin up.

Visit the Natalie Jill Fitness blog.

ACE

ACE logo

ACE is an acronym for the American Council on Exercise. ACE are a nonprofit organization that certifiy exercise professionals and health coaches.

ACE’s vision is to get people moving and provide scientifically backed education to fitness professionals and health enthusiasts to make an impact on preventable diseases related to inactivity by 2035.

Their expert articles cover fitness topics such as exercises to improve agilitylower body exercises to complete instead of doing squats, and the many types of strength and their benefits.

Visit the ACE blog.

Born Fitness

Born Fitness logo

Adam Bornstein developed Born Fitness with the aim of taking the stress out of health, nutrition, and fitness. Whether you hope to lose weight, gain muscle, eat more healthfully, or live longer, Born Fitness provide solutions to fit your needs.

The Born Fitness team will help you to identify the diets, strategies, exercises, and workouts that are best suited to you, so that you can apply them to your life, achieve your goals, and live stronger and longer.

Activities are available on the blog to suit all levels of fitness — from beginner to advanced. Training posts include how to incorporate resistance bands into your routine, preventing knee, back, and shoulder injuries during your workouts, and the truth about the 7-minute workout.

Visit the Born Fitness blog.

The Fitnessista

The Fitnessista logo

The Fitnessista is a healthy lifestyle blog written by Gina Harney, who is a fitness instructor, personal trainer, and weight loss specialist based in San Diego, CA.

Gina is a mom of two, and she shares snippets of her family life on the blog along with quick, effective workouts and healthful recipes that are super speedy to put together.

The latest posts on The Fitnessista include things to help with fitness motivationthe barre HIIT workout that you can practice anywhere, and a strength and cardio workout that can be completed on a park bench.

Visit The Fitnessista blog.

Suzanne Bowen Fitness

Suzanne Bowen Fitness logo

Suzanne Bowen compiled all of the training that she had received and given over the course of 16 years and created Suzanne Bowen Fitness. Suzanne is also the creator of BarreAmped, which is an internationally taught barre fitness technique.

Regardless of whether you haven’t exercised for a while or if you are a seasoned expert, Suzanne has workouts that range from 10 minutes to over an hour that are effective for everyone.

The blog provides challenges and workouts to boost your fitness levels, such as the crunchless abs workout, a light weight routine for the upper body, and a rebounding workout and its benefits.

Visit the Suzanne Bowen Fitness blog.MEDICAL NEWS TODAY NEWSLETTERKnowledge is power. Get our free daily newsletter.

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Knocked-Up Fitness

Knocked-Up Fitness logo

Erica Ziel is a mother of three and the founder of Knocked-Up Fitness. Erica is a personal trainer and expert for fitness-infused Pilates.

With more than 10 years’ experience training numerous clients, Erica is an expert in prenatal and postnatal training, and teaching women how to strengthen their core muscles for an easier pregnancy, delivery, and recovery.

The Knocked-Up Fitness blog delivers real and relevant topics to the busy mom or mom-to-be with articles such as why it’s important to properly strengthen your corehow to prevent and relieve back pain during pregnancy, and how movement can prepare your body for birth.

Visit the Knocked-Up Fitness blog.

Workout Mommy

Workout Mommy logo

Lisa Gulley established Workout Mommy in 2007 to provide health and fitness information for moms. Lisa says that as a mom of four boys, she is fully aware of how being a mom requires you to look after someone other than yourself 24/7 and that finding the time to exercise is a challenge.

Lisa aims to provide the inspiration, motivation, and ideas you need to fit fitness, exercise, and health into your busy schedule and keep your sanity in check.

Posts on Workout Mommy include ways to overcome a negative mindsettips on how to start a fitness routine, and the types of cardio exercises that are best for women.

Visit the Workout Mommy blog.

Love Sweat Fitness

Love Sweat Fitness logo

Katie Dunlop is a certified personal trainer, group fitness instructor, and the creator of Love Sweat Fitness. She started Love Sweat Fitness with the aim of inspiring women all over the world to find their happy and healthy body.

After college, Katie found herself overweight by 45 pounds and was fed up with trendy workouts and fad diets. She decided to take her fitness and health into her own hands, lost her excess weight, and identified her true passion for helping women to reach their goals.

Inspiring posts on Katie’s blog include ways to make your morning workout the best part of your day, five tips for a happier and healthier you this year, and how to train for a 10k run.

Visit the Love Sweat Fitness blog.

Nerd Fitness

Nerd Fitness logo

Nerd Fitness say that they are a community of misfits, mutants, and underdogs that are ready to help you on your fitness journey.

Whether you are overweight and frustrated, in danger of serious health issues, want to become a healthier parent, or just want to look after or feel better about yourself, Nerd Fitness aim to help you to make small changes so that you can live a happier, healthier, and more fulfilling life.

Blog posts include the main differences between weight loss success and failure, the number of calories you burn while walking, and how to get strong like Logan with the Wolverine workout.

Visit the Nerd Fitness blog.

LEARN MORE

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What to know about exercise and how to start

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.

Types and benefits

People divide exercise into three broad categories:

  • aerobic
  • anaerobic
  • agility training

We describe each of these categories below.

Aerobic exercise

older adults who like each other on a jog
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

group in yoga pose
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.

Risks of not exercising

A sedentary lifestyle can increase the riskTrusted Source 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.

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Finding time to exercise

woman walking up the stairs
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. guidelinesTrusted Source 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.

Tips for starting

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-CSSTrusted Source Answers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.

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Last medically reviewed on June 27, 2019

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What are the mental and physical health benefits of exercise?

Exercise has many benefits, both curative and preventive, for physical and mental health. Any amount of exercise, even if it falls below the suggested amount, is likely to produce benefits.

Exercise benefits both mental health and physical health. Indeed, the National Institute on Aging say studies show that “taking it easy” is risky.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)Trusted Source say that “Regular physical activity is one of the most important things you can do for your health,” and everyone can benefit.

Back in 1953, a pioneering epidemiological study in The Lancet showed that rates of coronary heart disease were lower among physically active London bus conductors than among less active bus drivers.

According to a recent reviewTrusted Source, since that early report, researchers have linked physical inactivity with more than 40 chronic conditions.

This article looks at some specific benefits of regular exercise for mental and physical health.

1. Improves cardiovascular health

a group of people experience the benefits of exercise by performing yoga in a living room
Vgajic/Getty Images

Regular exercise is good for heart health. Possible benefits include:

Reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease is an important benefit of exercise.

A person can begin experiencing the benefits of regular exercise right awayTrusted Source, though the CDCTrusted Source recommend that adults perform 150 minutes a week of at least moderate intensity activity.

The benefits continue to increase as people are more active than this.

2. Helps with diabetes management

According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), different types of exercise can benefit people with, or at risk of, type 2 diabetes by:

  • improving control of blood glucose
  • reducing cardiovascular risk factors
  • helping with weight loss
  • helping with general well-being
  • delaying or preventing the development of type 2 diabetes

Exercise can also benefit people with type 1 diabetes by:

  • improving cardiovascular fitness
  • strengthening muscles
  • improving insulin sensitivity

The ADA say, “Physical activity and exercise should be recommended and prescribed to all individuals with diabetes as part of management of glycemic control and overall health.”

3. Reduces risk of some cancers

The National Cancer Institute say there is “strong evidence that higher levels of physical activity are linked to lower risk” of the following cancers:

  • colon
  • stomach
  • esophageal
  • breast
  • bladder
  • uterine (endometrial)
  • kidney

For example, a 2016 analysis of 26 breast, prostate, and colorectal cancer studies found a 37% reduction in cancer-specific mortality when comparing the most active patients with the least active.

There may also be a link between physical activity and reduced risk of other cancers, but the evidence is less clear.

4. Improves mental health and mood

Physical activity can help reduce anxiety, and this benefit can start right afterTrusted Source a moderate or vigorous exercise session.

Longer term, regular exercise can also help reduce the risk of depression.

5. Improves bone health

Regular exercise can help prevent the bone density loss that occurs with aging, say the CDCTrusted Source.

Moderate or vigorous muscle-strengthening and aerobic exercise, as well as bone-strengthening programs, can all helpTrusted Source.

Real benefits to bone density begin with only about 90 minutesTrusted Source of exercise a week.

Weight-bearing exercises, such as walking and dancing, and resistance exercises are particularly good for bone health.

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6. Helps build and strengthen muscles

Weight-bearing exercise helps build strong muscles, which is particularly important for adults as they get older.

7. Increases chance of living longer

“Strong scientific evidence shows that physical activity delays death from all causes,” according to a 2018 report from the Department of Health and Human ServicesTrusted Source.

Even better, the benefits start to accumulate with modest amounts of moderate-to-vigorous exercise. The greatest jump occurs when a person goes from being “inactive” to being “insufficiently active.”

8. Helps maintain a moderate weight

The CDCTrusted Source say there is good evidence that exercise can help maintain weight over time, although it may take more than the recommended amount to do so.

In general, losing weight and then keeping it off also require a healthful, balanced diet.

It is easy to overestimate the number of calories that exercise burns.

The CDCTrusted Source give some examples of the calories that a person weighing 154 pounds would burn during an hour of activity for:

  • hiking: 370 calories
  • light gardening: 330 calories
  • running or jogging at 5 miles per hour: 590 calories

9. May help with chronic pain

In 2017, an overviewTrusted Source of Cochrane Reviews, which look systematically at the evidence for particular interventions, examined whether exercise and physical activity help with chronic pain in adults.

The study concluded that a definitive answer would require more research.

The authors note that although the quality of evidence was generally low, “There is some evidence of improved physical function and a variable effect on both psychological function and quality of life.”

None of the interventions appeared to cause any harm. The authors of the overview noted limited evidence regarding improvement in pain severity.MEDICAL NEWS TODAY NEWSLETTERKnowledge is power. Get our free daily newsletter.

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10. Helps prevents falls for older adults

According to the CDCTrusted Source, physical activity that includes more than one type, such as aerobic exercise, balance training, or muscle strengthening, can help decrease both the risk of falls and the risk of injury from falls in older adults.

11. Helps with sleep

Exercise helps people sleepTrusted Source, and some of the benefits can start immediately. Regular exercise can help by:

  • increasing the efficiency of sleep
  • improving sleep quality and deep sleep
  • reducing daytime drowsiness
  • reducing the need for sleep medication

12. Helps with osteoporosis

Because exercise can improve bone health, it can treat or prevent osteoporosis.

Regular exercise also helps prevent falls and fractures related to muscle weakness and lack of balance, which is particularly important for people with osteoporosis.

13. Improves brain function and reduces risk of dementia

Regular exercise can reduce the riskTrusted Source of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in adults.

In people over the age of 50 years, exercise also improves certain aspects of cognition, such as processing speed.

2016 studyTrusted Source reviewed the evidence indicating that physical activity, cognitive activity (such as learning new skills), and eating a Mediterranean-style diet promote “brain health” in older adults.

The results suggested that these behaviors, perhaps in combination, may help keep the cognitive manifestations of aging and neurodegenerative disease at bay.

Summary

Regular exercise can reduce the risk of many serious diseases, improve mental health and mood, and extend lifespan. Exercise benefits everyone.

Some benefits arise with very small increases in physical activity for people who are currently inactive.

Even if a person is far from meeting the recommended weekly activity levels, those first small steps are important and worthwhile.

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Last medically reviewed on January 24, 2021

FEEDBACK:Medically reviewed by Jake Tipane, CPT — Written by Lowri Daniels on January 24, 2021

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Daily stretching routines: For beginners, runners, and more

Completing a daily full body stretch routine can benefit a person’s physical and mental well-being.

Stretches can be either static, where the person holds a still position, or dynamic, meaning that the person carries out the stretch while moving. A daily stretch routine may incorporate both static and dynamic stretches.

Stretching can be mildly uncomfortable at first, but it should not be painful. An individual stretch will typically last 10–30 seconds. It can help to repeat a stretch routine, as it becomes easier to extend the muscles once they have properly loosened up.

Below are some variations of full body stretch routines that a person may use. They include a daily full body routine and examples of specific stretch routines for runners, athletes, and those looking to improve their hip flexibility.

Benefits

Person doing lunges outdoors as part of daily stretching routine
Image credit: Undrey / Shutterstock.

Stretching regularly will loosen the muscles and increase a person’s range of motion. Due to these effects, it can lower the risk of injuries such as sprains, which affects ligaments, or strains, affecting muscles or tendons.

Stretching can also reduce pain from chronic conditions, such as osteoarthritis and lower back pain.

If any of the stretches cause discomfort, it is important to stop immediately. Stretching should be within the range of individual ability, and even gentle stretching can have benefits.

Full body daily stretching routine

People can start this routine at the top of the body and gradually work down to reduce the likelihood of missing major muscle groups.

Beginning a daily stretch routine may seem daunting, particularly for those who already have a busy schedule. However, it only requires a person to set aside 10–15 minutes each day. Many people choose to fit this in first thing in the morning or just before bed.

1. Neck roll

Gif of a woman performing neck roll stretching routine
  • Stand up straight with the feet shoulder-width apart and the arms loose.
  • Dip the chin slightly toward the chest.
  • Gently roll the head in a clockwise motion for 1 rotation, taking about 7 seconds.
  • Rest for 5 seconds, then roll the head anticlockwise in the same motion.
  • Repeat 3 times.

2. Shoulder roll

Gif of a woman performing shoulder rolls stretching routine
  • Stand up straight with the arms loose.
  • Without bending the arms, slowly raise the shoulders and then roll them back in a circular motion.
  • Roll the shoulders backward 5 times and then reverse the movement, rolling them forward.
  • Repeat the sequence 2 times.

3. Behind-head tricep stretch

Gif of a woman performing behind-head tricep stretch stretching routine
  • Extend the left arm straight upward, with the elbow close to the head.
  • Bend the left elbow so that the left hand drops behind the neck.
  • Using the right hand, hold the left upper arm behind the elbow and gently press down, pushing the left hand farther down the back.
  • Hold for 10 seconds, then rest for 5 seconds before repeating with the right arm.
  • Repeat 2 more times.

4. Standing hip rotation

  • Stand with the feet shoulder-width apart and place the hands on the hips.
  • Slowly move the hips forward, then rotate them clockwise for 3 rotations.
  • Bring the hips back to the center and then repeat the movement anticlockwise.

5. Standing hamstring stretch

Gif of a woman performing Standing hamstring stretching routine
  • Stand up straight. Keeping the right foot flat on the ground, bend the right knee slightly and extend the left leg forward.
  • Flex the left foot, with the heel on the ground and the toes facing upward.
  • Place the hands on the right thigh and lean slightly forward, raising the left toes.
  • Hold for 20 seconds, then rest for 10 seconds. Repeat the movement with the other leg.
  • Repeat the entire sequence 3 times.

6. Quadriceps stretch

Gif of a woman performing quadriceps stretching routine
  • Stand upright. For balance, hold onto a solid structure or wall with the right hand.
  • Keep the right leg straight with the foot flat on the ground and bend the left knee, bringing the foot up behind.
  • Take the foot with the left hand and gently press it toward the left buttock, keeping the hips and knees in line.
  • Hold for 30 seconds. After 20 seconds’ rest, repeat with the opposite leg.
  • Repeat the entire sequence 3 times.

7. Ankle roll

  • Stand with the left foot flat on the ground and the right heel raised so that the pressure is on the toes.
  • Keeping the toes on the ground, roll the right foot in a clockwise direction for 10 rotations, then repeat anticlockwise.
  • Switch to the left foot and repeat the exercise.

8. Child’s Pose

Gif of a woman performing Child's Pose stretching routine

Child’s Pose, a yoga position, can be a relaxing way to end a stretch routine.

  • Kneel with the toes pointed back, so the tops of the feet lie flat along the ground.
  • Sit back against the heels.
  • Push the buttocks back and lower the chest toward the floor, sliding the arms forward.
  • Hold the stretch for 30 seconds and repeat 3 times, with 10-second rest periods between the stretches.

Stretching exercises for hip flexibility

Maintaining hip flexibility may help a person avoid some painful conditions, such as hip osteoarthritis. The following exercises aim to stretch different muscles around the hip.

1. Knee-to-chest stretch

Gif of a woman performing knee to chest stretching routine
  • Lie flat on the back with the legs straight.
  • Keeping the right leg straight along the ground, bend the left leg, and place the hands just below the knee.
  • Pull the left knee gently toward the chest and hold for 10 seconds.
  • Replace the leg and repeat the stretch with the right leg.
  • Repeat the sequence 5 times.

2. Hip abduction

Gif of a woman performing hip abduction stretching routine
  • Lie down on the left side of the body, with the right leg resting on the left leg.
  • Bend the bottom (left) leg slightly and lift the extended top leg to approximately 45°, keeping the body on the side.
  • Keep the leg elevated for 5 seconds, then lower it for 2 seconds.
  • Repeat 4 more times with this leg.
  • Turn onto the right side of the body and repeat the entire sequence.

3. Standing iliotibial (IT) band stretch

  • Begin by standing upright.
  • Cross the left leg behind the right leg and lift the left arm above the head.
  • Lean the upper body to the right, avoiding any twisting or forward motion.
  • Hold for 30 seconds, then repeat on the other side.
  • Repeat the entire sequence 4 times.
  • If it is challenging to balance in this stretch, use a wall for support.

Learn more stretches and exercises for hips here.

Stretching routines for runners

Running is a high impact activity. If a runner does not stretch properly beforehand, they may risk injury to the muscles. It is also important to stretch after a run.

1. Supine hamstring stretch

  • Lie flat on the floor with both knees bent.
  • Gently straighten the left leg upward, creating a 90° angle with the floor.
  • Place the hands behind the left thigh, and pull the leg toward the head. If it is challenging to reach the leg with the hands, loop a towel or blanket around the leg and hold each end of that instead.
  • Hold for 30 seconds and then repeat with the other leg after a 30-second rest.
  • Complete the entire sequence 4 times.

2. Quadriceps stretch

See the full body daily stretching routine section above for the steps.

3. Side lunge

Gif of a woman performing side lunge stretching routine
  • Stand with the feet hip-width wide apart.
  • Take a big step to the left, keeping both feet facing forward.
  • Bend the left knee and move the hips toward the left, keeping both feet flat and facing forward.
  • Hold for 10 seconds and then return to the original position. Rest for 10 seconds, then repeat on the other side.
  • Repeat the entire sequence 5 times.

4. Cobra stretch

Gif of a woman performing cobra stretching routine
  • Lie on the front with the tops of the feet flat on the floor and the arms bent, so the hands are just below the shoulders.
  • Keeping the hips on the floor, gently push upward, lifting the head and upper chest.
  • Hold for 20 seconds, then rest for 20 seconds.
  • Repeat the stretch 4 more times.

Learn more stretches for runners here.

Stretching routines for athletes

An athlete must stretch regularly to maintain healthy muscle function. The ideal stretching program will vary among sporting specialties, but it may include the following exercises.

1. Forward lunge

Gif of a woman performing forward lunge stretching routine
  • Begin by standing upright.
  • Take a big step forward with the left leg and lower the hips, bending both legs to about 90 degrees and keeping the body upright.
  • Hold for 30 seconds, then take 10 seconds rest before switching legs.
  • Repeat the sequence 3 times.

2. Side seat straddle

  • Sit with the legs extended out to the sides and the toes pointing up.
  • Place the hands on the left shin and lean the chin toward the knee as far as is comfortable. Try to keep the back as straight as possible.
  • Hold for 10 seconds, leave 5 seconds rest, then repeat on the other side.
  • Repeat the sequence 3 times.

3. Triceps stretch

Gif of a woman performing tricep stretching routine
  • Stand up straight.
  • Bring the left arm across the front of the body so that it extends past the right shoulder.
  • Bend the right arm to hold the left forearm, bringing it toward the chest — be sure to hold the arm and not the elbow joint.
  • Hold for 10 seconds, then repeat with the other arm.
  • Repeat the sequence 3 times.

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Safety

Always be cautious not to lock the joints during a stretch. Doing this can cause hyperextension, where the joints extend beyond their normal limits, increasing the risk of injury.

If a stretch is painful, do not force the movement. Instead, stop and rest to avoid the risk of a sprain or strain.

Avoid bouncing during stretches, as this can increase the risk of injury. It is important to keep good posture during each stretch.

When to see a doctor

If a person performs stretches correctly, they should not cause excessive discomfort. A person should see a doctor or physical therapist if stretching or exercising is causing pain.

For people with conditions that cause chronic pain, a doctor or physical therapist may help devise a personal exercise program to reduce discomfort.

Anyone who is unsure about what stretches to include in a routine, or how to perform them, can check with a professional.

Summary

A daily stretching routine can have physical and mental benefits for people of all ages. Stretching keeps the muscles loose, which lowers the chance of sprains and strains.

People should see a doctor or physical therapist if stretching causes pain, as this may indicate an underlying problem.


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