Best Exercise

Dear Dr. B: Many people are confused about the type and amount of exercise necessary to become fit. Is there anything like “the best exercise”?

Answer: The type and amount of exercise required to become fit and healthy depends on your age, your health and your current state of physical fitness.

There are three types of exercises: aerobic, weight lifting (resistance training) and stretching.

Aerobic exercise involves continuous activity. It increases endurance and helps body use oxygen more effectively. It makes the lungs, heart and muscles strong. It is good for cardiovascular fitness.

Examples of aerobic exercises are: swimming, brisk walking, running, bicycling, climbing stairs, cross country skiing, using stationary bike etc.

However, flexibility, strength and muscular endurance also form an important part of any physical fitness program. Aerobic exercise should be combined with weight lifting and stretching. This helps improve muscle strength and flexibility. These exercises also help endurance and balance. A good exercise program should benefit all three aspects of fitness:


Review of literature suggests that swimming is excellent for all three aspects of fitness. It probably fits the definition of a perfect or best exercise. When swimming, you can burn 12 calories per minute. Compare this to jogging 9.6 km. (six miles) an hour, cross-country skiing, squash and handball where you can burn 10 to 11 calories per minute.

To build stamina, the best exercises are: swimming, basketball, bicycling, climbing stairs, dancing, hiking, and jogging.

To build flexibility, the best exercises are: swimming, basketball, dancing, tennis and yoga.

To build strength, the best exercises are: swimming, bicycling, and climbing stairs.

Except for swimming, none of the other exercises cater to all three aspects of fitness. Therefore, you should combine more than one type of activity in your schedule to maximize your fitness.

To prevent boredom and monotony, you should change the exercise regime and goals every six to eight weeks. This keeps your mind and body working towards a new goal. A professional qualified trainer can help you achieve this.

Some exercises burn more calories than others. This is important for people who are trying to lose weight.

You can lose two calories per minute by just standing or sitting at one place. You can lose up to four calories a minute by walking 3.2 km (two miles) an hour or bicycling eight km. (five miles) an hour.

You can lose up to seven calories a minute by indulging in sexual activity, shoveling dirt, skating or bicycling 16 km. (10 miles) and hour. Anyway, who would like to shovel dirt when you can burn calories by getting involved in a romantic activity?

Other examples are: housework burns five calories/minute; raking leaves burns six calories/minute; tennis, shoveling snow, downhill skiing, and water-skiing burn eight calories/minute; and basketball burns eight to 10 calories/minute.

What about golf? Golf is not a good activity to build stamina. It is good for flexibility. And has small effect on building strength. You can lose 250 calories per hour when you golf riding a cart.

A study done by Golf Digest showed that a golfer who walks 18 holes while carrying his bag travels an average of 9.4 km. (5.9 miles) and burns 1811 calories. A rider with no cart path restrictions, surprisingly, walks an average of 3.7 km. (2.3 miles) and burns 859 calories.

Thirty minutes a day of exercise can do wonders for you. Exercising in three 10-minute sessions is comparable to a workout in 30 minutes all at once.

To retain muscle mass and strength, you should do resistance training for 20 minutes three times a week. According to Newsweek, Harvard runners study has shown that men who trained with weights for 30 minutes or more per week cut their risk of heart disease by 23 percent.

So, swimming is the best exercise. But there are many other activities to choose from. Whatever you do, make sure you are having fun!

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