Choose best exercises for total health
By Janaki Samaraweera, MD
Dec. 12, 2017 at 4:21 p.m.
Stand in a supermarket checkout line, and you'll be bombarded with 10 different messages about the "best diet" and the "best exercises" to lose weight/gain weight/get stronger/stay healthy. It's important to sort through the piles of this "best advice" to compile a list designed to help you evaluate and choose for yourself, based on your specific needs and goals.
According to the experts at Harvard Medical School, there are five types of exercise among the best exercises you can ever do - swimming, Tai Chi, strength training, walking and Kegel exercises. These choices are preferable because of the credibility of the clinical sources but also because they are appropriate for virtually every age, gender and fitness level.
In addition to the general list above, here are some tips that almost anyone can use:
• Lower body. If you don't have severe knee pain or restriction around the use of your knees, the best exercise to ensure long-term lower body strength is squats. Be sure your knees don't extend out past your toes and try to "sit" on an imaginary (or real) chair. Go slowly, and gradually increase your reps. Bonus: Strong quadriceps help prevent eventual knee pain.
• Upper body. If you are able, the best upper body exercises are yoga's Downward Dog and Upward Dog poses. These poses increase strength and flexibility, plus give you nicely toned arms, back and shoulders using your own body weight.
• Cardiovascular health. Most experts now agree that Interval training has quickly become accepted as a safe way to optimize cardio-fitness. Use the exercise of your choice - walking, running, cycling or even dancing. The goal is to push yourself to maximum exertion (where you're barely able to talk), hold it there for 30 seconds then move at a restful pace for two minutes. Repeat the cycle for a total of 10 minutes to start, working up to 20 or 30 minutes, three times each week.
• Knee pain. The best way to work through and eliminate knee pain is to strengthen the other, larger muscles around the knees. Once you're in knee pain, squats are probably not advisable. Do a supine hamstring stretch to lengthen and release tight hamstring muscles and static quad contractions to gradually strengthen the quadriceps muscles without further strain on the knee joint.
• Lower back pain. Try the cat cow stretch to massage and stimulate not only the spine, but also the kidneys, pelvic muscles and other critical parts of your body's core. Follow it up with a set of glute bridge exercises to loosen tight hips and engage quad muscles that support the lower back.
• Neck pain. Our increasingly sedentary and digital lifestyles are leading to an epidemic of neck pain and forward head posture. Neck retraction exercises have a number of variations easily found online, and are the best way to strengthen the muscles that support your head.
It's important to customize any new exercises to the unique needs and limitations of your body and an exercise physiologist or a licensed physical therapist can be a valuable partner in learning how to work, stretch and rest your body to reduce pain and optimize overall health. If you need to, ask your primary care physician for a referral.
Dr. Janaki Samaraweera, better known as Dr. Sam, is a family medicine physician in her second year of residency with the DeTar Family Medicine Program. DeTar Family Medicine Program is an affiliation with Texas A&M Health Science Center's School of Medicine.