Types of Physical Activity

The list of activities that you can engage in to get physical activity is almost limitless. From swimming and jogging to yoga and dancing, there is a form of exercise that is fun and rewarding for everyone. There are three basic types of exercise: aerobic training, resistance or strength training, and flexibility (range of motion) training. Ideally, you should combine all three get the full benefit of a total workout. You’ll find that certain activities are sources for some or all of the three types of exercise you need. For instance, yoga and Tai Chi can be used to increase or maintain both strength and range of motion. Some water aerobics programs are designed to provide aerobic training and increase and maintain strength.

Aerobic (endurance) training

The definition of aerobic training is exercise that increases your heart rate and breathing above normal resting levels. Options include brisk walking, swimming, running, dancing, bicycling (stationary, trail, or road), elliptical training, stair climbing, and movement classes (instructor-led).

Walking. You don’t have to be a long-distance runner to get the benefits of endurance training. Many studies have shown that walking at a brisk pace (that means getting your heart rate up into its target zone and your breathing rate up so that you can still carry on a conversation, but it’s not easy) for 30 minutes a day on most days will give you most of the important benefits of aerobic training. You can even break-up your walking into three 10-minute sessions, if that’s more convenient for you. If your goal is to lose extra weight, try building up your walking time to an hour a day. One of the good things about walking for exercise is that you can do it almost anywhere (even the rain can’t stop you as long as you have an umbrella or a mall within driving distance). You can take music, radio, or podcasts to listen to or invite friends along. Just make sure that you work hard enough to get aerobic benefit from your workout.

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Try getting a pedometer—a great investment for every walker. It will add a little fun and motivation to your walking by giving you instant feedback as to the number of steps you are taking. By counting your steps you can measure the miles you are covering (for a person with a standard stride about 2,000 steps roughly equal a mile). You can even experiment with your pedometer to find out how many steps you take (and what distance you cover) during your typical daily activities. Challenge yourself to see how you can increase the amount you walk. You may say goodbye to the elevator and start taking the stairs whenever you can. While devices like a pedometer and a heart rate monitor are optional, a good pair of exercise shoes is not. You will want to make sure that you have shoes that fit you well.

When looking for exercise shoes, try shopping in the afternoon, the time of the day when your feet may be a little larger. This will ensure that you get the right size. Also, shop with the socks that you plan to use during exercise. You can get socks that are specially made for exercise with added cushioning. Also, make sure your exercise socks are made of a blend of cotton and synthetic material. This blended fabric will keep your feet warm and also wick moisture away from your feet as you sweat. If you have problems with nerve sensation in your feet, talk to your doctor before you purchase exercise shoes. You may want to consult with a podiatrist who is experienced in helping people with diabetes get the correct fit in shoes.

Running. Running or jogging is a good form of aerobic training and will generally give you a more intense workout than walking. However, running can place strain on joints and feet. So, if you want to run for exercise, you should be cautious. Talk to your doctor first before you start running to make sure that this is a good choice for you. You may want to work with a trainer to make sure that your running technique is sound. To limit impact injuries that often occur with running, make sure that you run on a track or on grass, instead of concrete or asphalt. One good way to begin running is to start with walking and gradually mix running in with your walking. Try walking for several minutes, then jogging for a couple minutes. Make sure that you feel comfortable for the period when you are jogging. As long as you are comfortable, you can increase the amount of time you spend jogging. You may decide that you like the combination of walking and jogging. It’s not a question of “either or”. When it comes to exercise, whatever feels good is right for you.

Water exercise. Swimming or water exercise can be a great form of aerobic activity. Water provides buoyancy that makes movements easier and provides natural resistance that helps build stamina and strength.

Team and individual sports. If you like getting physical activity and being social and competitive, then you might like to try a team sport, such as volley ball, rowing, canoeing, kayaking, tennis, racquetball, basketball, or golf. If you don’t care for competition or even the idea of sports, an activity like dancing can be a great source of aerobic training, as well as social interaction.

Flexibility and range of motion exercises
Since stretching is a relatively quiet form of exercise (it doesn’t involve heavy breathing or a lot of sweating), you may be tempted to skip your stretches as a part of your everyday exercise routine. However, it is crucial to include stretching and range of motion exercises as part of your daily routine, even if you only do them as part of a warm up for aerobic activity.

Flexibility and range of motion exercises help you maintain the elasticity of your muscles, making them less likely to become strained and injured during your aerobic training or resistance training. However, these exercises are not just a way to prepare for running or weight lifting, they are important in their own right. Work with your physical therapist or trainer to put together a routine of stretching and range of motion exercises.

Yoga and martial arts. Yoga provides a range of benefits, including flexibility and range of motion, as well as resistance and strength training. Yoga postures and breathing exercises, developed over centuries, are designed to stimulate, stretch, and tone the body and provide relaxation.

There are a wide range of martial arts, including Tai Chi, Kung Fu, karate, and Qi Gong. These disciplines are useful in maintaining flexibility, range of motion, and balance, as well as building strength. Many forms of martial arts have been developed over centuries and provide some of the same benefits as yoga.

Pilates. Pilates is an exercise program that involves controlled movements (with emphasis on breathing and precise flow of movement) to promote both flexibility (range of motion) and strength. If you are interested in trying Pilates, ask your healthcare provider if he or she knows of an instructor in your area.

Strength training

Strength training can be done with weight machines, free weights, or rubber resistance bands. A simple exercise routine using any of these resistance mechanisms can provide a range of benefits, including building muscle, strengthening bone, controlling blood glucose, and burning calories. A strength training routine is the perfect complement for your aerobic exercise program and, along with stretching, can give you a complete balanced exercise program. Make sure you talk to your doctor before you start any program of strength training. If you are interested in weight training, you should work with a trainer who can introduce you to a range of exercises and teach you proper and safe techniques. A membership at a local health club can give you access to strength training equipment and also professional trainers who can help you put together an exercise routine and provide coaching.


What types of physical activity do you engage in on a regular basis? (Select all that apply)

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Written by: Jonathan Simmons | Last reviewed: May 2014.