In the short-term, ramping up your fitness can give you more energy, improve the quality of your sleep, boost lung capacity, and relieve stress–not to mention help you work on that six-pack. An ever-growing body of evidence suggests that the long-term benefits of exercise include enhancing bone strength, reducing joint pain and blood pressure, and warding off some types of cancer. New research also shows regular workouts may help your mind stay nimble as you age. Want to see these and other benefits in the years ahead? Update your exercise routine now with help from our experts.
Incorporate short bursts
Mixing short bursts of effort into whatever you’re already doing–walking, running, swimming, using an elliptical trainer, or cycling–helps you get more out of your workouts without making them longer. Consider research published last year in the Journal of Applied Physiology. During the study, eight women in their 20s rode stationary bikes, alternating between very difficult four-minute energy bursts and two minutes of recovery. After doing ten sets of intervals every other day for two weeks, subjects’ fat-burning capacity improved by 36 percent and cardiovascular fitness rose by 13 percent.
Based on the results, Jason Talanian, PhD, a researcher at the University of Guelph in Guelph, Ontario, recommends incorporating one or two interval sessions per week, working up to longer intervals. For instance, after a five-minute warmup, speed up for two minutes, then work at a normal pace for the same amount of time; vary between hard and easy for about ten minutes. Gradually increase interval length by a minute a week until intervals are four minutes long. You should notice improvement in cardiovascular stamina after just a couple of weeks.
Emphasize the core
Core training strengthens all the muscles between your rib cage and pelvis to help you achieve greater stability, balance, and control in your spine, legs, and shoulders. As you age a weak core translates to less power when it comes to sports and it may also inhibit range of motion and hip stability. Plus, your core supports your back, so keeping it strong will help protect against muscle strains and herniated disks in the decades ahead. Pilates can strengthen the core through slow, repetitive movements, and a core-conditioning class that uses props such as stability balls increases balance and range of motion.
Take a walk
The typical American woman takes just 5,210 steps–roughly 2.5 miles–a day (men take around 7,000), according to Catrine Tudor-Locke, PhD, an associate professor and director of the Walking Behavior Laboratory at Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The problem? Public-health experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urge Americans to take 10,000 steps–the equivalent of about 5 miles–every day.
A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that when a group of healthy men reduced their number of daily steps from 6,203 to 1,344, within two weeks the subjects’ insulin levels rose by nearly 60 percent, putting them at risk for diabetes. Likewise, abdominal fat increased by 7 percent even though subjects didn’t gain any weight.
Work in more activity by choosing a lunch spot that’s a few blocks away instead of eating at the restaurant across the street; building social visits around a walk in the park; visiting the museum more often; and thinking twice before you drive a few blocks to a friend’s house. Or plan a vacation using America�s Walking list of the most walkable cities.
Need another reason to do yoga? It can help you walk faster, increase flexibility in the lower extremities, and encourage better balance, which can help lessen the risk of falling, according to researchers at Temple University in Philadelphia.
“Yoga promotes physiologic and psychologic well-being, which lay down a wellness foundation as we age,” says Roberta Newton, PhD, PT, professor of physical therapy at Temple and one of the study’s researchers. She recommends Iyengar, in which practitioners often use props–such as rolled-up towels, foam blocks, and straps–to move comfortably into poses, which they hold for a minute or longer. Particularly good for beginners, Iyengar teaches physical and kinesthetic awareness.
Before your first class, try practicing a calming breathing technique called abdominal or “belly” breathing. Lie on your back and place your hands on your abdomen. Inhale and expand your belly, making it full and round. Focus on expanding your abdomen in all directions. As you exhale, completely empty your lungs and your belly, so your abdomen becomes concave. Then slow down the pace and find a comfortable rhythm; breathing in for a five count and out for a five count. After a few breaths, try to make the exhalation last one or two seconds longer than the inhalation. Repeat up to seven times.
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