Top five low-impact exercises for overall health

To anyone who doesn’t frequently engage in exercise, just mentioning the word brings up images of exhaustion, pain, and lots of sweat. These are more than enough to turn plenty of us off from physical activity. Yet according to one Harvard doctor, the best exercises may actually be the easiest ones.

Forget long-distance running: Dr. I-Min Lee, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, says that this can do a number on your joints and digestive system. There are five low-impact exercises you can do to lose weight, build muscle, and strengthen your bones, all of which Lee has extensively discussed in a Harvard Medical School report entitled “Starting to Exercise”. These exercises are:

  1. Swimming: Lee has called this “the perfect workout” since it requires you to use all the muscles in your body. Swimming has plenty of other health benefits too, and these run the gamut from improved brain and heart health to decreased risk of chronic illness to better helping you keep your weight under control. Plus, being in water takes a huge load off your joints, so people who have arthritis can easily do swimming and enjoy the benefits it has to offer. Swimming regularly for 30 to 45 minutes is the ideal.
  2. Tai chi: Also known as tai chi chuan, this centuries-old Chinese martial art involves performing a series of slow, rhythmic movements while paying special attention to deep breathing. Although gentle and relaxing in appearance, tai chi can actually enhance your upper- and lower-body strength, boost flexibility, and help you develop a greater sense of balance. Furthermore, practitioners of tai chi typically go at their own pace, so they aren’t left struggling for breath at the end of each session. This makes tai chi perfect for all kinds of people regardless of their fitness level or age. In fact, Lee has gone on to state that 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.” (Related: Tai chi benefits people with chronic health problems like Parkinsons, arthritis and fibromyalgia)
  3. Strength training: If your goal is to build muscle and lose weight, then strength training is for you. This type of physical exercise basically involves using weight to create resistance against gravity, resulting in improved strength and endurance. Barbells, dumbbells, elastic bands, weighted ankle bracelets, and even your own body can serve as weights during strength training. You can begin strength training by performing a single set of eight to 12 movement repetitions per session. From here, build up to a greater number of sets and more intense training sessions. Just keep in mind that consistency is the key to getting positive results from strength training.
  4. Walking: Perhaps the easiest exercise to pull off, walking is one of the most beneficial as well. Brisk walking daily for a solid 20 minutes has been found to add years to your life. Even leisurely walking for 30 minutes can do wonders for your brain and body. If you’ve never engaged in walking as an exercise before, then start off with 10- to 15-minute treks around your neighborhood. Gradually build up your walking routine to 30- or 60-minute hikes, and soon enough you’ll be feeling better than before.
  5. Kegel exercises: Doing Kegel exercises will basically have you clenching and releasing the muscles that make up your pelvic floor, which are the muscles that support your pelvic organs. Kegel exercises are usually encouraged as a treatment against urinary stress incontinence, particularly among women. But both men and women can benefit from these exercises since the muscles in our pelvic floor weaken with age and make us more prone to bladder leakage and passing gas at inappropriate moments. To perform Kegel exercise, squeeze the muscles of your pelvic floor in the same way you’d hold in pee and hold these contractions for two to three seconds. Release and repeat 10 more times.

As Lee has shown, you don’t need to push your body until it breaks to be healthy. Making time, putting in the effort, and keeping at it is what exercise is all about. And whether you choose tai chi or brisk walking, you’ll come out looking and feeling your best ever.

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