A new HealthBeat report published November 15 by Harvard Health Publications, part of Harvard Medical School, lists five of the best “workouts” you can do without going to the gym.
According to the authors, these exercises will “help keep your weight under control, improve your balance and range of motion, strengthen your bones, protect your joints, prevent bladder control problems, and even ward off memory loss.”
“No matter your age or fitness level, these activities can help you get in shape and lower your risk for disease,” say the Harvard authors.
Here is a summary of the five best types of exercise listed in the new Harvard HealthBeat report:
- Walking. According to the Harvard HealthBeat report, simply walking “can 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 (diabetes and heart disease for example).”
In addition, the authors point out that “A number of studies have shown that walking and other physical activities can improve memory and resist age-related memory loss.”
Harvard recommends that you start by walking for just 10 or 15 minutes at a time, and “[o]ver time, walk farther and faster until you’re walking for 30 to 60 minutes on most days of the week.”
The authors point out that, “All you need [to go walking] is a well-fitting and supportive pair of shoes.”
- Swimming. The Harvard Health authors suggest that “You might call swimming the perfect workout.” Because the water supports your body, it takes the pressure and strain off your joints, they point out. In the water, you can move your joints more fluidly and without 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, is quoted as saying in the new HealthBeat report.
The authors also point to research indicating that “swimming can improve your mental state and put you in a better mood.”
They suggest water aerobics classes as another option to “help you burn calories and tone up.”
- Strength Training. Many studies have found that strength training is one of the most important types of exercise to maintain health. [See some of our previous reports under "More Information" below.]
“If you don’t use muscles, they will lose their strength over time,” Dr. Lee of Harvard Medical School points out.
The Harvard authors say that “Lifting light weights won’t bulk up your muscles, but it will keep them strong.”
Muscle strength also helps burn calories, they point out. “The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn, so it’s easier to maintain your weight,” according to Dr. Lee.
In addition, research has shown that strength training may also help preserve your memory and slow the memory loss that ordinarily accompanies aging. [See related HelpingYouCare® reports below.]
Strength training, consisting of weight lifting and other resistance exercises, can be done at home, by acquiring some rather simple equipment.
However, “Before starting a weight training program, be sure to learn the proper form,” the Harvard authors caution. “Start light with just one or two pounds. You should be able to lift the weights 10 times with ease,” they state. After a couple of weeks, the authors suggest increasing that by a pound or two. “If you can easily lift the weights through the entire range of motion more than 12 times, move up to slightly heavier weight,” they suggest.
Other experts suggest increasing the times you lift the weight or pull on a resistance band, rather than increasing the amount of the weight or tension you lift or pull, for some people and under certain circumstances. [See reports below.]
No one should undertake a weight-lifting program, without first consulting your doctor, and preferably also consulting a qualified physical therapist or trainer.
- Tai Chi. Tai chi — which the Harvard authors say has been called “meditation in motion” — is a Chinese martial art that incorporates movement and relaxation, the authors explain. They say it is “good for both body and mind.”
Tai chi is “particularly good for older people because balance is an important component of fitness, and balance is something we lose as we get older,” according to Dr. Lee.
Tai chi classes can be found at your local community center, YMCA, health club, or senior center, the authors suggest.
- Kegel exercises. These exercises can help strengthen the pelvic floor muscles that support the bladder. “Strong pelvic floor muscles can go a long way toward preventing incontinence. While many women are familiar with Kegels, these exercises can benefit men too,” the Harvard authors state.
“To do a Kegel exercise correctly,” the authors advise, “squeeze and release the muscles you would use to stop urination or keep from passing gas. Alternate quick squeezes and releases with longer contractions that you hold for 10 seconds, release, and then relax for 10 seconds.” They suggest that you “work up to three 3 sets of 10-15 Kegel exercises each day.”
Other Forms of Exercise
In addition to the above five types of “workouts,” the Harvard authors remind us that many of the normal activities of daily living — “things we do for fun (and work)” — also count as exercise.
“Raking the yard counts as physical activity. So does ballroom dancing and playing with your kids or grandkids,” the authors state.
“As long as you’re doing some form of aerobic exercise for at least 30 minutes a day, and you include two days of strength training a week, you can consider yourself an ‘active’ person,” the Harvard authors conclude.
More detail on the above and other exercises that you can do without going to a gym is found in Harvard Medical School’s Special Health Report on Exercise: A program you can live with, which was previously reviewed and featured on HelpingYouCare®.
The Harvard Special Health Report on Exercise: A program you can live with includes specific sample exercises, as well as additional information about getting started on a healthy exercise program.
It is available for purchase online from Harvard Health Publications.
For more information on strength training, see Harvard Medical School’s Special Health Report on Strength and Power Training: A guide for adults of all ages, also available for purchase online from Harvard Health Publications.
See related HelpingYouCare® reports on:
For more information on a healthy diet, exercise and other lifestyle factors that promote wellness and prevent diseases, see the HelpingYouCare® resource pages on Wellness/ Healthy Living for Seniors & Caregivers, including:
- Diet & Nutrition: Physical Wellness;
- Exercise: Physical Wellness;
- Sleep, Hygiene, Quit Smoking & Other Healthy Practices: Physical Wellness;
- Activities to Preserve Mental Acuity: Intellectual Wellness;
- Social Interaction & A Sense of Connection With Others: Social Wellness;
- Other Areas of Wellness: Emotional, Ethical/ Spiritual & Vocational Wellness; and
- Healthy Living: Stories of Inspiring Seniors.
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