Beyond Fitness


What is the best exercise? 

Most exercise has health benefits if done properly and regularly. Every form of exercise has its strengths and weaknesses, but none are complete:

The weight lifter may may gain size and strength, but he won’t lose weight without the proper diet. Also, without some total body, high repetition exercise, e.g. running or cycling, the cardiovascular benefits of weight training are minimal.

While runners may have impressive cardiovascular conditioning, they often have dramatically incomplete muscle development. The typical marathon runner has a gaunt appearance, especially in the upper body. Studies have shown that world class marathoners have below average muscle strength when performing tests like a standing vertical leap.

While we can physiologically rationalize that long distance running stresses the red (aerobic/slow twitch) muscle fibers of the legs and not the white (anaerobic/fast twitch) muscle fibers, we must return to the original question. For any exercise to be considered the best, it must result in complete development.

Consider aerobics. Anyone who did calisthenics as a child in gym class can see that adding music to certain dance or martial arts moves gives you aerobics. There are flexibility and cardiovascular improvements as well as gains in muscle strength whenever calisthenics are performed. However, studies have demonstrated that aerobics instructors obtain a significant number of overuse injuries. If well-conditioned instructors suffer the ill-effects of pounding on muscles, tendons and joints, is there any wonder why the average person finds it difficult to sustain such a program. Furthermore, the regimentation and group participation aspects of aerobics are not always convenient or enjoyed by everyone. The seasonal limitations and demand for expensive equipment make exercises such as swimming, cross-country skiing, rowing and cycling accessible to a chosen few even though the overall benefits of these sports can be impressive.

How do you measure physical training improvement? 

Sports performance is a fairly reliable measure of performance, but not all of us are elite athletes, and sports performance hinges on many factors including natural ability. The amount of weight you lift, how high you jump, your mile time and the number of push-ups you can do are all personal indicators of physical ability. While these numbers may show improvement, they do not necessarily reflect health. 

There are many ways that the health affects of exercise can be measured. For example, aerobic exercises like running have been shown to improve blood lipid profiles by increasing the “good cholesterol” HDL. Regular exercise can help control hypertension in certain individuals. Blood sugar levels in diabetics can also be improved. In fact many health parameters are positively effected by physical activity. 

In the end there is no perfect exercise. Like a diet, the best exercise is one that you will stick to, and enjoy.