Exercise is great for the body, but there are many types to choose from and each benefits your health in different ways.
So how can you identify the best type of exercise for you? Should you focus on the activities you’re naturally good at, the activities you enjoy or those that make you feel sore and sweaty?
In this article you’ll learn how to determine the best exercise for you, based on your goals, and what that activity can do for your body.
What are the different types of exercise?
There are 3 main types of exercise:
It’s best to do a mix of activities that improve aerobic fitness (also known as cardiovascular exercise or cardio), strength, flexibility and balance. But if you’re motivated by a specific desire to lose weight, build strength or increase flexibility, you’ll likely want to know what type of exercise is best to achieve your goals.
The first step is to clarify your goal.
Do you want to:
- maintain or lose weight
- improve strength
- improve flexibility
Or are you:
- an older person (aged 65 or more)
- a new mother (exercise after pregnancy)
- a beginner (new to exercise)
- struggling to find time for exercise
Read on to discover the best way to achieve your goal.
Best exercise for maintaining a healthy weight
For healthy lungs, heart and muscles, do aerobic exercise. This can include:
- jogging or running
- fast walking
- team sports, like football or basketball
To lose weight, you may need to do more intense aerobic exercise. This is exercise that makes:
- your heart rate faster
- your breathing faster
- you unable to talk without pausing for breath
You should aim to do 75 minutes or more of intense aerobic exercise every week and combine this with a lower calorie diet.
Building lean muscle can also help you lose weight by increasing your metabolism. The higher your metabolism, the more calories you burn generally. The more calories you burn, the easier it will be for you to lose weight and keep it off.
It may be tempting to lose weight quickly, but doing so can backfire, leading to rebound weight gain and other health problems. The most effective way to lose weight and keep it off is to lose weight gradually.
Find out how to lose weight safely.
Best exercise to improve strength
Building strength will help to improve your posture and balance, and keep your bones healthy.
To improve strength and build muscle, try:
- lifting weights
- doing push-ups, sit-ups or squats
- working with resistance bands (elastic exercise tools)
- climbing stairs
- hiking and walking up hills
Aim to do strength-building exercises at least twice a week. Try to work all the main muscles, including the legs, hips, back, chest, arms, shoulders and tummy.
Best exercise to improve flexibility
To improve flexibility, try:
Aim to do flexibility-building exercises 2 or more times a week. As you do them, hold each position for between 10 and 60 seconds and focus on your breathing. Then repeat a few times.
Best exercise for older people
If you’re aged 65 or over, you should combine the following:
- aerobic exercise
- strength exercises
Find an aerobic exercise you enjoy doing. It could be a form of dance, water aerobics, walking or even mowing the lawn. If you’re not as mobile as you used to be, try these gentle sitting exercises. To improve your balance, try these balance exercises.
Aim to add strength exercises to your exercise routine. They can make it easier to carry out daily activities and reduce your risk of falls.
Which exercise is best after pregnancy?
If your pregnancy went smoothly, it’s usually safe to start exercising a few days after giving birth - or when you feel ready to.
Take care to start slowly with low-impact activities like walking or swimming. Stick to gentle exercise and stretches in the weeks following the birth. You can build up to more moderate and intense exercise, like running, around 6 weeks after the birth.
If you had any problems during childbirth or had a caesarean (C-section), you’ll normally need more time to recover before doing certain exercises. It’s important to check with a nurse or doctor if you’re not sure.
Best exercise for beginners
You don’t need to love exercise or even be good at it to reap the benefits of an effective workout routine. There are many different ways to be active and build fitness.
Alternatively, why not track how many steps you walk each day? This can give you something to work towards and help you set fitness goals.
Best exercise if you’re already fit
If you’re already fit and exercise regularly, aim to maintain your fitness level or increase it further.
If you’re a runner, you could try aerobic interval training. This combines short bursts of intense exercise with more moderate activity. For example, pair bouts of fast running with slow jogging, or alternate slow jogging with fast walking.
If you exercise regularly, don’t do interval training everyday as your body needs time to recover. If you exercise 3 or 4 times a week, why not try working interval training into one of those sessions?
Remember to include strength and flexibility exercises in your fitness routine.
Best exercise if you have no time to exercise
Busy lives leave little time for hour-long gym sessions or trips to the local swimming pool. But don’t despair - our article on ways to exercise even if you're too busy will show you how to fit exercise into your schedule.
You could also try this 5-minute wake-up workout to get started.