These 3 Surprising Workouts Are the Best For Your Health, Says Harvard

There’s nothing like a multitasking sweat session to help us burn calories, banish stress, and clear our minds. But as Business Insider reports, not all fitness routines are created equal. A new health report released by Harvard Medical School titled “Starting to Exercise” outlined the most effective workouts that not only aid in weight loss, but also help strengthen your brain, bones, and heart.

“Research shows that just a half-hour of moderately intense exercise a day can improve your health and extend your life,” the report says. I-Min Lee, a Harvard professor and author of the study, notes that activities like long-distance running can have negative effects on your digestive system and joints. In addition to explaining the best ways to avoid injuries and use the proper breathing techniques, the research also reveals some of the most beneficial workouts for your health—and a few of them may surprise you. Read on below for three routines that help you live longer and only require 30 minutes of your time.

Walking. This activity may seem like a no-brainer, but as Business Insider reports, some studies have found that walking for at least 30 minutes at a leisurely pace can help boost your memory and reduce depression. For those who don’t exercise regularly, Harvard suggests starting off with 10- to 15-minute strolls and building up to 30- to 60-minute walks.

Tai chi. A Chinese martial and meditative art that involves a series of gentle and flowing movements, this ancient practice emphasizes deep focus and paying attention to breathing. Lee writes that tai chi is “particularly good for older people because balance is an important component of fitness, and balance is something we lose” as we age.

Swimming. Harvard’s Healthbeat newsletter calls swimming “the perfect workout,” all thanks to its ability to work almost every muscle in your body. From protecting your brain from signs of aging to raising your heart rate, this aerobic workout also reduces potential injuries “because it’s less weight bearing,” Lee writes in a recent issue of the newsletter.

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Punch up your exercise routine with fitness boxing

This adapted version of the sport can help improve your strength, endurance, and balance.

Fitness boxing gives you the benefits of a traditional boxing workout without the risks of taking punches or suffering head trauma.

When you think of boxing, you may picture greats like Rocky Marciano duking it out with Jersey Joe Walcott. But boxing isn’t just a sport anymore. It’s also a popular way to stay fit among older adults, through a version known as fitness boxing. There’s no getting into a ring or taking any punches, so there’s no risk of head trauma. Instead, fitness boxing has adapted the movements of the sport into exercise routines. “This kind of boxing has many health benefits, because it constantly requires you to think, change your position, and change your posture,” says physical therapist Linda Arslanian, director of rehabilitation services at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s hospital.

Fitness classes

Unlike traditional boxing that requires you to spar with a partner, fitness boxing for older adults involves throwing punches at the air or at a punching bag, usually in a class. There are two main types of these exercise classes. In one, you follow a leader and do a series of boxing moves all choreographed to bouncy music, similar to an aerobics class. The moves include a combination of large, sweeping punches (crosses, hooks, uppercuts); smaller punches (jabs); squats (ducks); and short, quick steps forward and back. The other type of exercise class involves strength training, stretching, and hitting a punching bag. Don’t have the strength to stand and do boxing moves? Both types of classes are available for people who wish to remain seated while punching at the air or at a punching bag.

Benefits

There’s no proof that fitness boxing is superior to any other types of exercise, but it does have many health benefits. One is strength. “You’re swinging your arms, moving the muscles of your arms and shoulders, increasing your upper-body strength. And when you’re in the boxer crouch with a wide stance, with your knees slightly bent, you’re strengthening your core muscles, back, and legs,” says Arslanian. Stronger muscles make it easier to get up out of a chair or carry a bag of groceries.

Fitness boxing is also a great aerobic exercise. Aerobic exercise gets your heart pumping and helps lower the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. It can strengthen bones and muscles, burn more calories, and lift mood. Aerobics can also boost your endurance, which helps you climb a flight of stairs or walk farther.

Plus, aerobic exercise is associated with improvement in certain brain functions. Arslanian says boxing in particular is well known for improving eye-hand coordination, especially if you’re sparring on a bag, hitting padded targets, or just “shadow” boxing. “There are studies that show trying to hit a target with your hands improves eye-hand coordination and possibly makes you feel more alert and attentive,” she explains. Better eye-hand coordination may also translate into an easier time picking up a pill or a pen.

And one last benefit of fitness boxing, if you are able to stand while doing it: better balance. “You’re changing your position and challenging your balance. The more you do that, the better your balance reaction becomes,” says Arslanian. “If you encounter a crack in the sidewalk, you may be more successful protecting yourself, because your strength and reaction time may have improved.”

What you should do

Fitness boxing is not for everyone. “I’d say you’d have to be very careful if you have osteoporosis or osteoarthritis of the hands. In that case, you should consider shadow boxing only, and make sure your hands don’t make contact with a tar-get,” says Arslanian. Also, with any activity that is potentially aerobic, you should check with your physician before starting.

If you’re interested in trying this exercise to change up your routine, you’ll likely find classes at health clubs, community centers, or your local YMCA. And if you do start a class, remember to take it slowly.

“You’ll want to start at a comfortable level of intensity and gradually increase, and stick with it,” says Arslanian, “It’s not about high intensity. It’s about consistency.”

Key benefits of fitness boxing

  • Improves balance
  • Helps posture
  • Strengthens upper- body and core
  • Boosts endurance
  • May increase alertness
  • Enhances mood
  • improves hand-eye coordination

From: Harvard Health Publications

Exercise Has Real Benefits for the Brain

The brain has similar needs to other organs. It needs glucose, oxygen and other nutrients. There are very real concrete benefits to exercising that directly affect the brain.

“I like to say that exercise is like taking a little Prozac or a little Ritalin at just the right moment,” says John J. Ratey, MD, an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and author of A User’s Guide to the Brain.

“Exercise is really for the brain, not the body. It affects mood, vitality, alertness, and feelings of well-being” according to WebMD.

The benefits of exercise on the brain include the following:
– One of the most exciting changes that exercise causes is neurogenesis, or the creation of new neurons. The new neurons are created in the hippocampus, the center of learning and memory in the brain, according to Oregon Health and Science University.

The course I am taking on Optimizing Brain Fitness
cites the following benefits:
– increased blood flow, oxygen and increased capillaries around neurons
– increased production of new neurons and more interconnections between them.
– protection of dopamine neurons from toxins in the environment
– leads to elevations in nerve growth factors.
– affects prefrontal executive processes, preferentially enhanced.
– brings about a positive balance in neurotransmitters just like in anti-depressants.

The Franklin Institute says that walking is especially good, because it increases blood circulation and the oxygen and glucose that reach your brain. Walking is not strenuous, so your leg muscles don’t take up extra oxygen and glucose like they do during other forms of exercise. As you walk, you effectively oxygenate your brain. Maybe this is why walking can “clear your head” and help you to think better.

Studies of senior citizens who walk regularly showed significant improvement in memory skills compared to sedentary elderly people. Walking also improved their learning ability, concentration, and abstract reasoning. Stroke risk was cut by 57% in people who walked as little as 20 minutes a day.

The Brain Optimizing course said that three walks of 45 minutes a week are enough to reduce chances of dementia by 50%.

An article in American Academy of Neurology Magazine stated that walking six to nine miles a week may preserve brain size and consequently stop memory deterioration in later life.

A study reported by The Franklin Institute said that in a four month trial the cognitive abilities of the participants were measured in four areas, memory, executive functioning, attention/concentration and psychomotor speed.

This group was compared with a group on medication. Compared to the medication group, the exercisers showed significant improvements in the higher mental processes of memory and in “executive functions” that involve planning, organization, and the ability to mentally juggle different intellectual tasks at the same time.

“What we found so fascinating was that exercise had its beneficial effect in specific areas of cognitive function that are rooted in the frontal and prefrontal regions of the brain,” said a researcher. “The implications are that exercise might be able to offset some of the mental declines that we often associate with the aging process.” (Emphasis mine.)

A short time frame is all that is needed to establish improvement
– just 6 months of exercise increases brain volume
– thus a decreasing brain volume with aging is really not normal, according to the Brain Optimizing course.

https://guysandgoodhealth.com/