First things first: If you exercise regularly, pat yourself on the back. But if you’re like most people and do just one exercise over and over again, listen up.
By simply varying your exercise routine, you can greatly improve the health benefits of your workout…overcome any boredom that might creep in…and even reduce your risk for injury.
The good news is, you don’t need a lot of fancy equipment to vary your workout. Here’s how to mix it up if your favorite exercise is…
If you are a walker, add high-intensity interval training (HIIT). Whether you frequent your local outdoor track or use a treadmill, walking is arguably one of the best forms of exercise there is.
But to maximize the benefits, you need to ramp up your speed (and/or perhaps incline or resistance if you’re using a treadmill). The best way to do this is to up the ante on your workout with some HIIT, which intersperses short bursts of increased intensity.
While your regular walking routine may feel like a five on a scale of one to 10, during HIIT intervals, you should feel like you’re exercising at a seven or an eight. The variety makes a low-intensity, steady exercise like walking more interesting and fun, and people who have fun when they exercise are more apt to stick with it. If you’re trying to lose weight: HIIT burns extra calories both during and after the workout.
To try it: Walk or use a treadmill at a comfortable warm-up pace for three minutes, then alternate 60 seconds at a normal pace with 60 seconds at a faster pace or higher incline for the remainder of the workout. (Pumping your arms helps—use the safety cord if you’re on a treadmill.) Be sure to do a three–minute cooldown at a slower pace. Try adding HIIT to your walking routine one to three times per week.
If you love tennis, add some foam rolling. Pulled muscles and strains are ubiquitous among tennis players in their 50s, 60s and beyond, thanks to the quick, sudden movements and direction changes. But just a few minutes of pre-tennis self-massage with a foam roller could be enough to keep you on the court.
Why foam rolling? Because this technique, which involves moving a foam roller back and forth along different parts of the body, enhances blood flow to different muscles, performing it preworkout can improve flexibility and range of motion, reducing one’s risk for injury, according to research published in International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy. Also: Foam rolling lower-body muscles prior to exercise alters perception of fatigue, so you won’t tire as quickly.
To start rolling: Target your calves, quadriceps and iliotibial bands, the thick connective tissue running down the outside of each hip to just below the knee.
For calves, sit on the floor and place the roller perpendicular underneath your outstretched legs. While supporting most of your weight with your hands, lift your hips and slowly move the roller up and down your calves for 10 to 30 seconds.
Flip over to roll out your quads…and turn on your side for the iliotibial bands—roll these areas for 10 to 30 seconds each. Try this rolling routine before tennis matches and a few times per week.
If yoga is your thing, add cardio exercise. Yoga offers balance, flexibility, strength and stress relief. But unless you’re practicing a fast-paced vinyasa yoga that has your heart working hard enough to make conversation difficult, it’s probably not counting toward the standard recommendation of at least 150 minutes weekly of moderate cardiovascular exercise.
Mix things up with jogging or fast walking, biking, swimming or fast-paced aerobics classes. Just make sure that you’re spending most of your time at your target heart rate for 30 minutes a day, five days a week. It’s fine to do three 10-minute sessions to reach your goal.
Your target heart rate: Aim for 50% to 85% of your maximum heart rate, which is 220 minus your age. So if you’re 55, your maximum heart rate is 165, and your target heart rate 83 to 140 beats per minute.
Exciting recent finding: Heart disease patients practicing yoga in addition to aerobic exercise had twice the reduction in blood pressure, cholesterol levels and body mass index compared with those who did either exercise alone.
Also: For all types of exercise, do strength training two days a week for a well-rounded regimen.