4 Simple Steps for Better Whole-Body Fitness and Function

4 Simple Steps for Better Whole-Body Fitness and Function

4 Simple Steps for Better Whole-Body Fitness and Function

Most people focus on one or two types of exercise and think they’re getting what their body needs. But there are four types of exercise you need to help your body function at its best: endurance, strength, balance and flexibility, says the National Institute on Agingleaving site icon 

Many people already know they need endurance, or aerobic, activity and strength training. But flexibility and balance are important, too, especially as you age. And each of these important building blocks of fitness has its own benefitsleaving site icon  Each kind also improves your ability to do the other types, as well as all of your everyday activities.

And doing all four types of movement not only keeps your body functioning at its best, it can also help you avoid injuries and getting bored with exercise.

Balance

Better balance becomes more important as people age, but it’s helpful for everyone. Balance training should be a part of your normal routine. Most activities that are done on your feet and moving, like walking, can help your balance. But specific exercises can help even more.

Boost your stability by regularly:

  • Balancing on one foot every so often while you're standing
  • Shifting weight from one foot to another
  • Standing up from a seated position without using your hands
  • Walking in a line, heel to toe, for a short distance

When you’re ready for more, try these balance exercises leaving site icon suggested by the Mayo Clinic.

Flexibility

Flexibility exercise, or stretching, goes hand-in-hand with strength, balance and endurance training. Flexibility focused movement stretch your muscles and can help your body move more easily.

Being more flexible can help you with your everyday activities and can help you avoid injury and pain. Focusing on flexibility is especially important as we age, since our muscles shorten and don’t work as well. But it’s helpful for everyone, and it’s never too soon to start focusing on flexibility.

It’s important to stretch your body the right way to get the most benefit and avoid injury. And if you’re already recovering from an injury, be sure to ask your doctor what stretching activity is safe for you.

In general, aim to stretch at least three or four times a week. But you can stretch every day. There’s no need to take days off between sessions.

The American Heart Association leaving site icon says the best time to stretch is when your body is already warmed up. If you’re doing other activities like endurance or strengthening, stretch afterward. If you’re just stretching, be sure to warm up your body first with a few minutes of gentle movement, like marching in place.

For most stretches, hold the position for 10 to 30 seconds. If you’re just starting out, aim for 10 seconds and work up to longer stretches. Repeat each stretch three to five times per session.

A good stretch is slow and smooth:

  • Breath normally and stay relaxed.
  • Don’t bounce.
  • Keep your joints bent, not locked.

Stretching should not hurt. You might feel a mild pull, but don’t push it past that. As you become more flexible, you can try reaching a bit farther.

There are many types of stretching you can do, depending on your level of flexibility and goals. There are basic stretches leaving site icon that are good for most healthy adults. There are some that are especially helpful for older people. leaving site icon And there are stretches you can do to prepare for specific sports and activities, like runningleaving site icon There are even stretches you can do before you get out of bedleaving site icon 

Activities like Yoga, Tai Chi and Pilates include many different stretches in a typical session. And they have the added bonus of improving your balance and strength, too.

Endurance

Endurance activity, also called aerobic exercise, is any physical activity that uses your body’s large muscle groups and is rhythmic and repetitive. It increases your heart rate and how much oxygen your body uses.

Aerobic exercise helps your whole body in many ways. It strengthens your bones and muscles. It helps your heart and brain work better. And it helps lower your risk of serious diseases, like heart disease, stroke and diabetes. It also improves your ability to do daily activities. 

Aerobic activity can be done at a variety of levels of intensity. Intensity is how hard your body is working during activity. It’s recommended that you get at least 150 minutes of medium intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week. leaving site icon You can spread that time out throughout the week. For example, you can take a brisk 30-minute walk five days a week.

There are many kinds of aerobic activity — everything from walking, mowing the lawn and dancing to swimming, running and cycling. The CDC offers tips for getting started and ways to get past common barriers leaving site icon that may be keeping you from being more active.

If you haven’t been exercising, start slow. And remember that aerobic activity should not cause dizziness or painleaving site icon 

If you’re new to aerobic activity or haven’t done it in a while, talk to your health care provider before you get started. They can help make sure you’re doing the activities that are safe for you. 

Strength

Activity to strengthen your muscles and increase muscle mass helps you stay strong for all of the things you do in your daily life. It improves your balance, which helps you avoid injury. And it helps keep your bones healthy. It can also increase your resistance to disease and help better manage chronic health issues like arthritis, diabetes, heart disease and depression. It may even help you live longer. 

It’s recommended that adults do strength training for all major muscle groups twice a weekleaving site icon Some examples include:

  • Weightlifting
  • Push-ups, sit-ups and other exercises using your body weight for resistance
  • Some types of yoga
  • Resistance training like Pilates

As with the other types of activity, you should start slow and stay safe. To prevent injury, it’s important to learn how to do strength training the right way. That might mean signing up for a few lessons with a personal trainer or taking a class for guidance. Some options for where to learn how to safely build muscle include gyms or a recreation, senior or community center.

Once you know how to do strength training safely, you have a lot of options for what you can do, how you do it and where. You can do strength training alone, with friends or as part of a group class.

It can be done at home, at the gym, at a community center or outdoors. You can do it with no equipment using your own body weight, or with simple, inexpensive weights or resistance bands. Or you can work with specialized equipment at the gym or a Pilates studio.

Get Started

No matter your age or fitness level, you can find activities that meet your fitness level and needs. It doesn’t have to take a lot of time, money or special equipment.

Get tips for children, seniors and people with physical challenges or health issues from Move Your Wayleaving site icon 

If you’re new to a type of activity, start slow and make sure you stay safe. And don’t forget to check in with your doctor if you’re not already active and planning to start a new exercise routine.

Sources: Balance Exercises, leaving site icon Mayo Clinic, 2023; Flexibility Exercise (Stretching), leaving site icon American Heart Association, 2024; Four Types of Exercise Can Improve Your Health and Physical Ability, leaving site icon National Institute on Aging, 2021; Real-Life Benefits of Exercise and Physical Activity, leaving site icon National Institute on Aging, 2020; Move Your Way, leaving site icon U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2024; The 4 most important types of exercise, leaving site icon Harvard Health Publishing, 2023; Physical Activity for Different Groups, leaving site icon Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2021; Getting Started with Physical Activity, leaving site icon CDC, 2023; Benefits of Physical Activity, leaving site icon CDC, 2023; How much physical activity do adults need?, leaving site icon CDC, 2022
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