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Types of exercise

We all exercise for different reasons and in different ways. Maybe you do weight training to build up your strength, yoga to relax or football to improve your fitness. Each of these benefits your health in different ways.

Whatever your motivation for exercise, the best way to ensure all-round fitness and health is to do a mix of different types. And the main types are aerobic, strength and flexibility exercises.

Looking after your bones and muscles
Dr Tross talks about looking after your bones and muscles


  • Aerobic exercise Aerobic exercise

    For a healthy heart, lungs and muscles, you need to do regular aerobic exercise, and this will improve your fitness levels. Combine aerobic exercise with a balanced diet and you’ll be on the right track to maintaining a healthy weight too.

    There are lots of types of aerobic exercise out there so you can choose one that suits you. Swimming, athletics, cycling and football are among the most popular sports in the UK and these are all excellent forms of aerobic exercise. If you fancy trying out any of these, see the Resources section to find out how to get involved.

    Here are some examples of aerobic exercise and the benefits of each.

    Type of aerobic exercise Benefits
    Swimming Swimming exercises your whole body and doesn’t put any stress on your joints. It’s a great choice if you have any problems with your joints, such as arthritis.
    Athletics Athletics is one of the easiest sports to get into because you don’t need much equipment and you can really get your heart rate going.
    You can compete in events all over the country to stay motivated.
    Cycling Cycling is good for improving your fitness and strengthening your upper leg muscles. It also helps with balance and is a good way of getting around – much faster than walking!
    Team sports Team sports, such as football, are an excellent way to stay motivated because you all rely on and support each other.
    There are plenty to choose from and they are a great opportunity to socialise while improving your fitness.
    Brisk walking Brisk walking (fast enough to feel slightly out of breath) is great aerobic exercise for everybody, no matter what age you are.
    It’s also a good choice if you’re just starting to exercise as you can easily build it into your everyday life.
    Running Running burns more calories than walking and improves your fitness.
    You need hardly any equipment and you can vary your routes to make it more enjoyable. Listen to some good tunes to keep going!
    Aerobics This is the definition of aerobic exercise and can be a fantastic workout as well as a great way to meet people too.

    How much should I do?

    Aim to exercise at a moderate intensity for two and a half hours (150 minutes) a week. You can break this down into sessions of 10 minutes or more. Moderate intensity means:

    • your breathing is faster
    • your heart rate increases
    • you feel warmer

    If you’re trying to lose weight or really improve your fitness, you may need to do more. And you might also need to also up your effort levels and do some vigorous exercise. Vigorous intensity means:

    • your heart rate is much faster
    • your breathing is much faster
    • you probably won’t be able to talk without pausing for breath

    Adjust the intensity of your exercise depending on your personal goals. It’s best to start gently and gradually increase your effort level. If you go too hard too fast, you might get what’s called delayed onset muscle soreness. This is when the muscles you’ve used feel achy a day or two after you’ve exercised. Gradually increase how much you so you give your body the chance to get used to the activity. As you get fitter, you may need to work harder to raise your heart rate and feel breathless, which is a good thing.

  • Strength (resistance) exercise Strength (resistance) exercise

    Doing some regular strength training will bring a range of health benefits such as:

    • helping you to improve your strength, posture and balance
    • keeping your bones healthy
    • keeping your blood pressure healthy

    Muscle burns up lots of calories too, so building it up will help you to stay a healthy weight – another bonus!

    Strength training involves moving your muscles against some kind of resistance, which is why you’ll hear it called resistance training. You can use:

    • rubber bands
    • free weights (such as dumb-bells)
    • weight-lifting machines
    • your own body weight (such as doing press-ups)

    If the gym isn’t for you, lots of everyday activities, like gardening or carrying shopping, can help tone and strengthen your muscles too. For example, you might be surprised to hear it but mowing the lawn – walking not riding – burns more calories than the same time playing badminton.

    How much should I do?

    Aim to do some strength training two or three times a week and work all the major muscle groups in your body. And don’t just go for the heaviest weight you can. Find the right level at which you can do a set of eight to 12 repetitions of an exercise. Begin by doing just one set and then try building this up over time to three sets.

    If you haven’t done this sort of exercise before, you might like to get some professional advice at your local gym. They can help you to lift weights properly so you don’t injure yourself.

  • Flexibility exercise Flexibility exercise

    You need flexible muscles to keep mobile and active. It’s important to do some regular exercises to improve your range of motion. Flexibility exercises involve slowly stretching your muscle groups without jerking or bouncing.

    There is a range of activities that incorporate flexibility exercises, which include:

    • yoga
    • pilates
    • tai chi

    These all focus on suppleness and flexibility. You gently ease and stretch your body into different positions, and then hold these while concentrating on your breathing. You might be surprised at how much they can increase your flexibility and strength. Some of these may also help you to relax and improve your circulation and balance.

    It’s thought that yoga may offer a host of health benefits. Research suggests it may help with low-back pain and, if you’re doing it along with other types of exercise, high blood pressure, anxiety and depression.

    How much should I do?

    Aim to do some flexibility exercises every day to stretch all the major muscles in your upper and lower body. When you’re doing them, hold your position for between 20 and 60 seconds and do two or three repetitions. Try to hold the stretch for longer with each repetition you do. It shouldn’t hurt – if it does, it could be a sign you’ve injured yourself so be careful and take things gradually.

  • Muscle strengthening

    At our Health Centres, we offer self-pay health services for a wide range of conditions, including muscle, bone and joint treatment.

  • Other helpful websites Other helpful websites

    Further information

    • British Heart Foundation National Centre for Physical Activity and Health
      01509 226 241


    • Overview of exercise. The Merck Manuals., published August 2014
    • Start active, stay active. Department of Health., published July 2011
    • Maintaining a healthy weight and preventing excess weight gain among adults and children. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), 13 March 2015.
    • By sport. Sport England., accessed 21 August 2015
    • Osteoarthritis. Medscape., published 27 March 2015
    • Athletes. England Athletics., accessed 21 August 2015
    • Wise words – cycling and health. British Cycling., accessed 21 August 2015
    • Walking and cycling: local measures to promote walking and cycling as forms of travel or recreation. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), November 2012.
    • Physical activity and mental health. Royal College of Psychiatrists., published November 2012
    • Obesity: identification, assessment and management of overweight and obesity in children, young people and adults. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), November 2014.
    • Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). American College of Sports Medicine., published 2011
    • Your lungs and exercise. European Lung Foundation., accessed 21 August 2015
    • Yoga for health. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health., published June 2013
    • Resistance training for health and fitness. American College of Sports Medicine., published 2013
    • Gillespie LD, Robertson MC, Gillespie WJ, et al. Interventions for preventing falls in older people living in the community. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2012, Issue 9. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD007146.pub3
    • Abbott R, Lavretsky H. Tai chi and qigong for the treatment and prevention of mental disorders. Psychiatr Clin North Am 2013; 36(1):109–19. doi:10.1016/j.psc.2013.01.011
    • Types of exercise. Weight Concern., accessed 21 August 2015
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