You don’t need to attempt to be a marathon runner or a gym regular to reap the benefits of a good sweat session.
In fact, some of the best workouts require relatively low fitness expertise, according to research published in 2015 by I-Min Lee, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. These routines can still increase muscle mass, lead to more weight loss and protect your heart and brain.
Lee, whose research and related exercises were highlighted on Harvard Health this week, and a few other experts told us about some of the best workouts you can do for your body that don’t require much finesse. Take a look at the exercises below, along with some tips on how to incorporate them into your fitness routine:
Simple? Yes. Effective? Absolutely. Research continually shows that brisk walking is one of the best ways to keep your body and your mind healthy. Multiple studies have found that walking can reduce blood pressure, help with weight management and lower the risk of illness. A study published in 2014 also found that taking walks in nature can help reduce symptoms of depression.
“It comes close to the perfect movement,” said Michelle Segar, author of the book No Sweat: How The Simple Science of Motivation Can Bring You A Lifetime of Fitness and director of the Sport, Health and Activity Research and Policy (SHARP) Center at the University of Michigan. “It can serve you in an infinite number of ways, such as a way to renew yourself, be social, have fun with your kids, generate insights, clear your brain and on and on.”
Try this: The Harvard report recommends starting out with 10- to 15-minute strolls and building up to more challenging, longer walks. Lee said you can easily incorporate this into your everyday life in small ways.
“For example, if you drive to work, consider parking farther away and walk the rest of the distance,” she said.
Dive on in, the water’s fine (and great exercise). Swimming is one of the greatest workouts because it works multiple muscle groups, but is a low-impact exercise.
Swimming can be great for older adults and people with pain conditions like arthritis because it doesn’t put strain on the joints in the body, according to Lee. Additionally, research shows it can protect the brain from age-related decline. It also gets your heart rate high enough to be considered a cardio workout.
Try this: Get your bearings with 30 to 45 minutes of freestyle swimming in a lap pool. That’s enough time to make it an aerobic activity, according to the Harvard report. You can also try this swimming workout for beginners if you’re looking for something more concrete.
Make no mistake: Strength work is just as important as cardio. And it’s one of the best types of workouts you can practice, according to the Harvard report.
Weight-based workouts go beyond toning your muscles. Research shows strength training can help boost your balance and burn more calories. It also gives you the same benefits as exercise, like a sharper mind and a healthier heart.
Try this: Start by learning basic moves like bicep curls and tripod rows and doing several repetitions with dumbbells. (This guide is a good one to use.) No weights? No problem. There are ways to use heavier household items for your workout, like this total-body routine using a pumpkin. Seriously!
Anyone can do this gentle workout, which is a martial art that combines slow movements focused on agility and meditative practices. According to Lee, it may also be especially helpful for aging adults.
“Tai chi is good because it incorporates balance elements, [which are] useful for older folks,” she said.
The exercise can offer some aerobic benefits as well as improve flexibility and muscle strength.
You don’t need to do a hardcore workout to reap the benefits of doing a higher-intensity exercise. Even a little resistance can go a long way, according to Nicholas Beltz, director of the Exercise Physiology Lab at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.
“High intensity is a very relative term, so anyone can accomplish even the shortest duration of high intensity,” he said. “For example, we often associate high intensity with drastic speed increases on a treadmill or lining up in a sprinters block for an all-out effort. Truthfully, this is not the appropriate application for most individuals.”
Try this: “High intensity can be effectively applied by increasing the walking speed from casual to brisk while adding a dose of incline particularly with individuals of low fitness levels,” Beltz explained.
Perhaps something to try during your next walking meeting?
This gym machine requires very little fitness skill but packs a huge punch when it comes to burning calories, said Tony Nuñez, an assistant professor of exercise science at Metropolitan State University of Denver.
“Individuals who utilize this piece of equipment are really building a powerful movement ... many older adults could use more power to decrease the difficulty of activities of daily living,” he explained. “Being a very low impact exercise, the row would be a seamless addition to any walking, jogging or running program, while still providing an adequate stress to the cardiopulmonary system.”
Try this: All you need is 20 minutes to get a good sweat on a rowing machine. Check out this step-by-step workout from Shape.
You can see benefits from any of these workout options. But ultimately, it’s critical to choose an exercise you enjoy so you stick to it, Lee said.
“Exercise is essential for health ― it is one thing you can do that will benefit many aspects of ... well-being and function,” she said. “Some activity is better than none, and more is better than a little.”