No one exercise is better than another. Your only goals are to move your body, pump up your heart rate — and have fun doing it. What you choose is a matter of preference. Here’s what some of the popular exercises have going for them.
It doesn’t cost anything and won’t beat up your joints, and you can do it anywhere — down your street, at the mall, or in a park. Its low intensity makes it a good starting point for any exercise program, but if you pick up the pace (especially on hills), it delivers a solid cardiovascular workout.
Start by just heading out the door. Breathe the air. Let your mind wander. Try to walk for at least 10 minutes at first, and gradually lengthen your walks as you feel more comfortable. Keep the pace easy until you hit the 20- to 30-minute mark, then start cranking up the intensity. Work toward a pace of about four miles per hour, which will equal a mile every 15 minutes. A simple gadget called a pedometer, available at sporting-goods stores, can keep track of your mileage for you.
Benefits: It’s almost as inexpensive and convenient as walking. Because it’s more intense than walking, you can get a better workout in less time. It also feels (and looks) more serious than walking, which can bolster your sense of accomplishment.
Tips: Instead of a run, set out for a “wog” — a walk-jog. Start out by walking briskly, then progress into a run. When you feel winded, walk again. As you become better conditioned, you’ll find yourself jogging more and walking less. If your joints start to bother you, rest for a day or two or go back to walking. To minimize the risk of injury, avoid hard pavement and opt, whenever possible, for soft, even surfaces, such as running tracks at schools and smooth expanses of grass.
Benefits: Biking delivers fitness benefits plus a bracing rush of speed — at least if the bike is real, not stationary. Both types exercise your heart and leg muscles without putting undue stress on your knees.
Tips: Start at a moderate pace of about 50 revolutions per minute (rpm). Digital readouts on stationary bikes often show the rpm; on a real bike, count the number of times one pedal reaches the top of its arc and then multiply by two. When it feels comfortable, gradually boost your rpm to somewhere between 60 and 90. From there, you can adjust the program on your stationary bike for more resistance or (on a real bike) start shifting into higher gears or head for the hills.
Benefits: By taking the load off joints, swimming is one of the exercises least likely to injure you, especially if you’re overweight. It’s also highly aerobic, depending as much on heart and lung capacity as muscle power.
Tips: Start at a leisurely pace with strokes that keep your face out of the water. When your aerobic conditioning improves, you can start holding your breath more. Make it a goal to do 10 laps without stopping. You might also decide to take a water-aerobics class if one is offered at a gym near you.
Benefits: Works both the arms and the legs (along with most of the body’s other muscles) while providing an excellent aerobic workout.
Tips: For proper form, use your arms and legs simultaneously, sliding back in the rolling seat without throwing your back into the action. Once you’ve got the motion down (if you’re at a gym, ask a trainer for instructions), start with short 5-minute sessions and gradually work up to the 30-minute target, then adjust the resistance to make the exercise more difficult.