Everyone, regardless of age or gender, needs to stay physically active to be healthy. But studies show that only 1 in 5 adults and teens get enough exercise during the day to stay fit. So what are the best exercises that will make sure you are optimizing your overall health?
The truth is, the best exercises for you depend on your age, general health, and stamina. For example, if you have conditions like high blood pressure, arthritis, or heart disease, you may want to talk to your doctor about what works for you.
For most healthy adults, however, the following 10 basic exercises generally work best in maintaining health and fitness.
10 best exercises
- Push-ups (best for chest muscles): Push-ups help strengthen various muscles, including the ones in your arms, shoulders, and chest. They are particularly popular for activating the chest muscles. Push-ups engage the abs and strengthen your lower back.
- Get on the floor facing down.
- Place your palms slightly wider than but in line with your shoulders.
- Extend your legs back so that your body is balanced on your hands and toes.
- Keep your body in a straight line from head to toe without arching the back.
- Keep your feet together or slightly apart depending on what is most comfortable for you.
- Keep your core tight, inhale, slowly bend your elbows and lower your body until your elbows are at a 90-degree angle.
- Breathe out, push your body back up using your hands, and bring your hands to the starting position.
- Keep your elbows slightly bent. Do not lock your elbows.
- Squats (best for glutes): Squats are quite easy to perform and require no equipment. They activate your core and glutes giving your lower body a well-defined appearance. You can perform several modifications of this particular exercise and carry dumbbells to further engage your muscles.
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart.
- You may hold dumbbells in both hands and keep them at shoulder level.
- Engage your abs and send hips back and down while bending the knees to lower into a squat as though trying to sit on a chair.
- Keep both feet flat on the ground.
- Stand back up.
- Make sure you engage your abs and do not stress your knee joint.
- Crunches (best for abs): Crunches are a great way to tone and strengthen your abs. They can be easily done anywhere and do not need any equipment. They are a perfect workout option whether you wish to get those six packs or just want to get rid of the protruding belly.
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet firmly placed on the floor.
- Keeping your hands under your neck and your lower back fixed to the mat, raise your shoulders and the top half of your torso until you begin to feel a stretch in the upper portion of your abs.
- Lower slowly.
- Pull-ups (best for the back): Pull-ups are excellent for strengthening your back muscles. They tone your arms, pecs, and shoulders. All you need is a pull-up bar for this exercise.
- Stand below a pull-up bar.
- Hold the bar with palms facing away from your body and hands slightly more than shoulder-width apart.
- Lift your feet from the floor toward the bar so that you are hanging from the bar.
- Keep the core engaged and pull the shoulders back and down.
- Try to raise your body using your arms and back muscles and elbows bent so that your chin is over the bar.
- Extend the elbows and lower your body back down to the starting position.
- Deadlifts (best for hamstrings): The hamstrings or thigh muscles help extend the leg straight back and bend the knee. Strong hamstrings are essential for a strong lower body. Deadlifts are the best exercise for hamstrings and have several modifications.
- Select a barbell with appropriate weights and stand facing it with feet shoulder-width apart.
- Bend at your hips to hold the bar with a mixed grip on the bar (one hand overhand, whereas the other hand underhand).
- Push your hips backward so that you come in a half-squat position with your back flat.
- Tighten your back and engage your abs as you breathe.
- Raise the barbell keeping it close to your shin and knees and stand straight.
- Hold for one second and then lower the weight to the ground without arching your back.
- Triceps dips (best for upper arms): Triceps are the muscles present in the posterior compartment or back of your arm. Well-developed and strong triceps help give your upper body a strong and muscular appearance. Triceps dips are excellent for strong and toned triceps.
- Sit on the edge of a weight bench or stable chair.
- Grip the edge of the seat close to your hips so that your palms face away from your body and fingers point downward.
- Keep the back straight and look forward.
- Press the palms to support your body and slide forward so that your hips are off the edge of the chair.
- Maintain balance and lower yourself until your elbows are at right angles.
- Slowly push yourself back up.
- Lunges (best for thighs): Lunges help build muscle mass and strength in your lower body, particularly the hips, thighs, and legs. The tone and strengthen the core.
- Stand with feet hip-width apart and core engaged.
- Take a big step forward with your right leg shifting your weight on the right heel.
- Lower your body till your right thigh is parallel to the floor and your right shin is at a right angle to the thigh.
- Press the right heel on the floor to come back to the starting position.
- Switch sides and repeat.
- Side bridge (best for the waist): A toned waist makes you look leaner. It helps maintain proper posture and a strong core. Side bridges help strengthen your core muscles and give definition to your waist.
- Lie on your side with the right forearm flat on the floor, elbow under shoulder and both legs extended so that your body forms a straight line from head to feet.
- You may keep your feet stacked or a little staggered for better balance.
- Engage your core and lift your hips.
- Hold this position for 30 seconds.
- Repeat and perform the exercise on both sides.
- Single-leg squat (best for hips and legs): These are an advanced version of squats. They are performed on one leg. They strengthen and tone the muscles of the legs, hips, and core and improve flexibility.
- Stand with feet hip-width apart.
- Pull your shoulders back and keep the back straight.
- Stretch out your right leg and both arms in front of you.
- Slowly push the hips back and bend the left knee to squat while keeping the left foot flat on the floor.
- Try to maintain your balance as you go down as low as possible.
- Slowly rise.
- Repeat then switch sides.
- Lateral shoulder raise (best for shoulders): Strong shoulders not only give you a strong physique but also facilitate carrying out day-to-day tasks with ease. Lateral shoulder raises help to strengthen your shoulders and lower the risk of shoulder injuries and pain.
- Stand upright with the back straight.
- Hold a dumbbell in each hand with an overhand grip at the level of your shoulders.
- Your thumbs should be on the inside and the knuckles facing upward.
- Raise the weights above the head slowly while exhaling.
- Hold at the top of the motion then return to the starting position while inhaling.
4 other exercises for health and fitness
Apart from the above exercises, you can include the following in your workout routine as per your general health and fitness:
Taking a brisk walk is one of the best ways to stay fit and healthy while minimizing the risk of wear and tear on your body. If you’re a beginner, start slow and walk for about 20-30 minutes at a time. Then try to increase to a brisk pace and take at least 10,000 steps a day.
Brisk walking can help burn about 300-500 calories an hour, helping to shed extra pounds, build healthy bones and improve heart health. Make sure to wear good-quality shoes to reduce strain on your joints.
Swimming is a fun and relaxing way to burn calories and boost overall health. A recreational swimming session of about 30 minutes will help burn around 150-250 calories. It also builds strength and stamina, increases the metabolic rate, and helps fight stress.
Muscles play a crucial role in keeping you both healthy and in shape. Strong muscles can help you burn calories even while resting and may also help manage diabetes and obesity.
When you do strength training workouts like weight lifting, your muscles are active and working. This prevents muscle wasting, which occurs when muscles are no longer actively involved in burning calories and building strength.
Strength training exercises often involve using dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells, and plates. If you are a beginner, you may want to start doing strength training under the guidance of a certified trainer. Start with lighter weights and slowly increase to heavier weights if desired. Aim for lighter weights but more repetitions.
Yoga is an ancient practice that focuses on bringing harmony between the mind, body, and soul. It couples physical poses with breathing control, relaxation, and concentration techniques.
Yoga helps improve flexibility, fight stress, improve sleep, boost immunity, manage weight and build stamina. If you’ve never done it before, you may want to try taking a class with a certified yoga instructor and then using those techniques in your everyday life.
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What are the benefits of exercise?
Other lifestyle factors, such as nutrition, good sleep, drinking plenty of water, and stress management, play a crucial role in keeping a person physically and mentally healthy. However, exercise is a huge part of that process that shouldn’t be overlooked.
By staying fit, you can help prevent several diseases, including diabetes, heart diseases, high blood pressure, and even cancers.
Good exercise can:
- Help manage weight
- Increase stamina
- Improve flexibility (range of motion)
- Reduce the risk of injuries
- Promote bone health
- Increase metabolism
How much exercise should you do?
According to the American Heart Association, adults should aim for at least:
- 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity
- 75 minutes per week of vigorous aerobic activity
- Or a combination of both preferably spread throughout the week
Furthermore, they should aim for moderate- to high-intensity muscle-strengthening exercises, such as resistance or weight training, at least twice a week.
For children and teens between the ages of 6-17, at least 60 minutes per day of moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity, mostly aerobic, is recommended. Children should also do weight-bearing exercises at least 3 days a week to promote bone health. Children between 3-5 years of age should be active most of the day in play, especially outdoors, whenever safely possible.
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