The 4 pillars of fitness
| August 05, 2016
Regular physical activity is vital to maintaining good health and preventing disease, but deciding where to focus your exercise efforts can be difficult as the options are endless.
It's easy to become overwhelmed with the growing list of workout trends. How can you properly structure a well-rounded fitness routine if you're constantly bombarded with the alleged "best in fitness"?
It's also common to focus on just one type of exercise and think that's optimal. Whether you're a fitness guru looking to round out your routine or a novice looking to make a healthy change, these four pillars of fitness are essential.
Aerobic exercise, also known as cardio, involves maintaining an increased heart rate for an extended period of time. Aerobic means "with oxygen," which refers to the process of oxygen being pumped through your blood when you're active at an elevated level.
Types of aerobic exercise include running, swimming, biking, walking, rowing, hiking, dancing, jumping rope, stair-stepping and kickboxing.
The benefits of aerobic exercise are vast. It reduces risk of obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke and cancers, as well as improves lung function and keeps those extra pesky pounds off the scale.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that adults get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity per week. That can be broken down to 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, five days a week.
Strength training, also known as resistance training, is physical activity with the purpose of increasing muscle strength and mass. This type of training is a key component because you burn more calories with increased lean muscle mass, which can also assist in weight loss.
Examples of strength training are weightlifting, weight machines, dumbbell exercises and body weight exercises like pushups, squats, lunges and sit-ups. Benefits of strength training include bone health, increased metabolism and disease prevention.
The CDC recommends two or more days a week of muscle strengthening activities that work all major muscles groups: leg, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms.
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends strength training the major muscle groups two nonconsecutive days each week, with one set of eight to 12 repetitions of eight to 10 exercises.
Balance fitness refers to activity where you activate your abdominal muscles for stability and control of your body.
Balance exercises can include yoga, tai chi, stability ball exercises, Pilates, standing on one foot for a length of time, chairs stands, Bosu ball exercises, and heel-to-toe walking, like you're on a balance beam.
Balancing activities are primarily important for older adults. According to the Mayo Clinic, falls are the leading cause of injury among older adults. A recent study in the Journal of Gerontology found that adults at the age of 50 had worsening physical performance in chair stands and balance.
Miriam Morey, the senior author of the study, suggested a way to combat the onset of balance issues: Younger adults should incorporate balance exercises to their physical activity.
Flexibility training is another important component of fitness because it's linked with increased range of motion and injury prevention, as well as decreased muscle stiffness. There are two ways to flexibility train: dynamic and static stretching.
Dynamic stretching involves repetitive and controlled movements through a complete range of motion. Examples of dynamic stretches are arm circles, variations of leg swings, high knees, and butt kicks. Static stretching is achieved by gradually lengthening muscles to the furthest range of motion and holding the position for 10-30 seconds. A good example of this is reaching for your toes.
Current research suggests dynamic stretches to warm up before a workout and static stretches to cool down.
The American Council on Exercise recommends including 30 minutes three times a week, stretching before and after physical activity.
4 pillars in 1 workout
You don't need to commit a single workout to just one type of exercise. You can incorporate all four into your fitness routine. Structure your weekly workouts with this in mind:
If you're working out five days a week, this is what one day can look like:
- 5 minutes of dynamic stretching
- 30 minutes of aerobic biking
- 20 minutes of weight training (include a couple of balance exercises in your weight training session, like squats on a Bosu ball and balancing on one leg while doing dumbbell exercises)
- 5 minutes of static stretching
With this 60-minute routine, you can knock out two days of exercise in one, making it easier to achieve the recommended 150-minute weekly mark. Incorporating the four pillars of exercise into your regular workout routine will provide the foundation upon which your health and fitness can be built.
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