The BEST way to Exercise!
I get asked this question often: "What is the BEST way to exercise?" It's summer in Michigan, so people are ready to be outside and move their bodies after a long winter. I swear the extra sun not only boosts our Vitamin D, but gives us a newfound energy to improve ourselves.
I wish the answer to the question was cut and dry. It'd be great to say "Cross-fit" or "Spinning" or "HIIT". All of those types of exercise have merit, and may be the best way to exercise for different people. Yet, they also have their downfalls too. Cross-fit rarely works in the transverse plane or adds in an unstable surface to activate our sensorimotor system. Spinning is a fantastic cardio exercise, and takes it easy on the knees for those with severe arthritis, however does not build a lot of strength and can lead to some very tight hip flexors if improperly done. HIIT can be fantastic for our hormones or wreak havoc on them. The point is: there's no magic formula to figure out the best way to exercise.
There are a couple reasons for this: 1. No two people are alike. Physically we are each built differently, right down to the types of cells we have (think type I, type 11a/b/x fibers). Chemically, we are each dealing with different environments, genetic expression, and nutrient needs. Lastly, emotionally we all like different things! How boring would it be if everyone in the world enjoyed running and nothing else? ESPN would just show people running all the time. Could you imagine the commentary for a 24 hour sports channel that only showed running because no one liked other sports? It's a good thing we like different things as it gives us variety (and that's the spice of life).
2. We exercise for different reasons. Someone looking to lose weight may exercise differently than someone looking to build strength, and that person may exercise differently than someone looking to build endurance. Different styles of exercise are used for different reasons in our body. A strongman athlete is not going to get the best results if he/she is running and cycling as a main form of training. If the goal is to be able to lift heavy things, well, we then need to train by lifting heavy things! The proper formula of training is custom for each person depending on their individual goals and current level of fitness. Speaking of fitness...
What is fitness? Notice the title of this article is not "what exercise will make you the fittest". Fitness is an important concept to consider here. Is the best exercise also the fittest? Some people could probably argue that point, however I think you have to understand fitness a little more to weigh in.
There are 5 components to fitness. 1. Strength 2. Flexibility, 3. Endurance, 4. Cardiovascular Health, 5. Body Composition. A healthy balance of all of these components means you are fit. The "most fit person in the world" would mean that you are at the highest/best percentile for all components. That is a HUGE accomplishment, and I personally don't think there is really any true competition out there that can prove someone is the "fittest person" in the world. (A debate I've had way more in my career than I ever thought I'd have.) Can the same person really be the best at all things? I highly doubt the strongest person in the world could have the same VO2max as the best marathon runner, or vice versa. In my experience the more flexible athletes seem to stray from the heavy lifting sports, and my weight lifters tend to gloss over mobility. When we talk about the most elite of elite athletes, we have to admit that genes play a factor in why they are best of the best. Can someone really have the genetic expression to be both the best weight lifter and fastest runner and maintain longest endurance while being ultra flexible and having proper amount of fat/muscle composition? I don't think so. The best alternative is to find that person who is the best average of these 5 things and make a competition for them, and there are competitions out there that do just that. That does NOT mean that style of exercise is the best way to exercise, because it does not reflect our individuality and does not guarantee health.
Fitness and health are two different things. The WHO defines health as "A state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity". It's one of my favorite definitions, and the basis of why I chose my career as a sports chiropractor. In my opinion, the best way to exercise is one that promotes health. It's finding the balance of activities that promote complete physical, chemical and emotional balance. I doubt many people are shouting out a specific type of exercise right now, because there isn't one! Health for one person is very different than health for another. A person dealing with hormone changes may not need to be doing intense exercising like cross-fit, and someone who needs to lose 40 lbs can't get by on yoga alone. It's about knowing yourself, finding balance, and keeping with it. Exercise needs to be a life-long, enjoyable activity. If you dread it and push yourself beyond your normal capabilities to "get it over with" then you have a tough time achieving life long health.
How do you find the best way to exercise for health? You go out there and try things! You make time in your day for exercise (at least 30 mins/day). Most importantly, you do something that you ENJOY! In fact, find a few things that you enjoy and mix them up! Maybe that's yoga 1x/wk, running 2x/wk and lifting weights or taking a class 1x/wk. Join a community softball league. Find friends who also enjoy those activities and hold yourselves accountable. The more you make exercise a natural, enjoyable part of your life the more you will find that it's just a part of you. Before you know it you will be exercising daily, feeling great and have better health and fitness. If you need help on the specifics don't hesitate to ask for help. There are many great trainers, coaches, sport chiropractors and physical therapists that can guide you on your journey.