If you have a regular exercise regime, good for you. For all of the energy we spend fretting over calories and nutrition, many seem to underestimate the practical benefit of working up a good hard sweat. Exercise raises metabolism, strengthens the immune system, and improves mood and cognition.
However, there is an inherent drawback to following any one regime for too long. If you can think back to when you first started a physical activity, you might remember the great amount of stress it placed on your body. We all know the feeling: burning muscles, furiously pumping lungs, and the test of willpower to complete that set or go that last mile. But, this momentary misery is in fact that feeling of your body adapting to change. If you have overcome any sense of genuine struggle in your exercise, it is time to switch to something that challenges you once again.
Everyone should continually challenge themselves within the three pillars of fitness: flexibility, strength, and cardiovascular endurance. We, of course, gain flexibility by stretching, which has the benefits of relieving stress, improving range of motion, and enhancing circulation. Cardiovascular training involves any number of activities that increase your heart rate to its target range. The rewards include a stronger heart, lower resting blood pressure, and improved mental function. Strength training is usually done with free weights, machines, or kettle bells, and has the benefits of improved muscle tone, stronger bones, and improved energy.
Given the lattice of benefits that various exercises can provide, it is wise to institute a practical plan of action. First, take note of any major areas you are neglecting. If you spend every one of your work outs on the weight machines, splice in some days where you take yoga classes or ride your bike. Conversely, if you are an aerobic enthusiast, designate some days to solely “pumping iron” or performing stretching routines.
Secondly, fine tune your diversified exercise routine. In addition to hitting each of the major exercise groups, vary the routines within each group. For example, one might consistently use the same seven or eight weight machines each time for strength training. This will eventually cause progress to stagnate and fail to strengthen smaller, peripheral muscle groups. This can be avoided by changing machines, or better, learning to exercise with free weights. Even if you perform the same general movements, changing equipment will cause minor kinesthetic adjustments that utilize slightly different muscles. One can increase flexibility by learning many new yogic stretches or tai chi motions. For cardiovascular endurance, there are choices among jogging, rowing, cycling, using elliptical machines, and others.
Health benefits aside, it’s a good idea vary your exercise routine simply because you may find you enjoy some exercises more than others. Some people look back at a time before they started running or lifting weights and wonder how they ever put up with such a sedentary lifestyle. In the same way, you may find that doing different types of exercise is like rediscovering what it means to be “in shape.” There are countless improvements that exercise brings with time, but the act of discovering the limits and capabilities of your body is also an adventure in itself.
Mayo Clinic Staff, “Aerobic exercise: Top 10 reasons to get physical”. Mayo Clinic. Oct. 14 2009
Mayo Clinic Staff, “Stretching: Focus on flexibility”. Mayo Clinic. Oct. 14 2009
Department of Kinesiology and Health, “The Benefits of Exercise”. Georgia State University. Oct. 14 2009