There are many ways to measure fitness, from resting heart rate to the number of pushups completed in a minute. But these are subjective measures. One person’s ideal fitness level may be very different from another’s based on health, age and medical conditions. Everyone, though, regardless of ability and age, should be involved in regular fitness activities.

Regular exercise or physical activity has numerous health benefits from healthy weight maintenance to reducing the risk of serious diseases and even boosting mood and overall mental health. Fitness doesn’t have to be extreme; anyone can benefit from moderate, easy exercise and can achieve an adequate level of fitness without spending a lot of money or developing complicated athletic skills.

Types of Exercise

Getting exercise is important for health, and as with eating a healthy diet, variety is important. To get the most benefits from fitness, choose different types of activities. There are four main categories of exercise, and everyone should try to do activities that cover all of them:

  • Aerobic activities. Aerobic exercise is any activity that increases heart and breathing rates. This type of exercise burns body fat, lowers blood sugar, lowers inflammation, reduces bad cholesterol levels, and boosts mood, among other benefits. Brisk walking, dancing, running, swimming, and cycling are examples of aerobic exercise.
  • Strength training. Strength training builds muscle, and in older adults reduces muscle loss that naturally occurs as part of the aging process. Body weight exercises like pushups and pull ups, lifting weights, and using resistance bands are examples of strength training.
  • Stretching. Flexibility is often overlooked in fitness, but it is important for reducing injuries and pain and for keeping joints mobile. Stretching and activities like yoga improve flexibility.
  • Balance. Also overlooked too often is exercise related to balancing. Balance exercises strengthen the core and improve balance while reducing the risk of falls, especially important for older adults. tai chi and yoga are good examples of balance exercises.

While aerobic and strength exercises should make up the bulk of physical activity each week, it is important to include some balance and flexibility work.

Benefits of Regular Exercise

The benefits of being fit, of getting regular exercise, or even of just being physically active regularly are significant. Fitness has a big impact on physical and mental health, and when combined with a good diet is one of the most important elements of wellness. Some of the many benefits of working out regularly include:

  • Weight loss and maintenance. Eating well is important to maintaining a healthy weight, but so is exercise. Being active regularly aids weight loss and helps maintain a good weight by burning excess calories.
  • Combatting disease. Regular fitness is linked time and again to a lower risk of a number of diseases, including chronic illnesses like diabetes and high blood pressure, and even deadly illnesses like cancer.
  • Increased energy. Someone who is not fit may struggle to do basic chores every day, even walking from the car to a store. Exercising more regularly improves fitness and boosts energy.
  • Better sleep. Getting regular physical activity makes it easier to fall asleep and helps people to sleep more deeply throughout the night.
  • Improved mood. Exercise is good for mental health as well as physical health. It helps combat stress and can minimize feelings of depression and anxiety by stimulating certain chemicals in the brain. Exercise can also help people feel better about and more confident in their bodies.
  • More social time. A lot of activities can be done with other people, which means that working out can be a great way to boost time spent socializing. This further improves mood and mental health.

How Much Exercise Is Enough?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all adults, age 18 and older, get 150 minutes (2 and a half hours) of exercise of moderate intensity, as well as two strength training session per week. Alternatively, 75 minutes of high-intensity aerobic activity plus strength training or an equivalent mix of moderate- to high-intensity workouts is acceptable. The CDC also states that breaking down the 150 minutes, even into ten minute sessions, is as good as doing longer workouts. For even more health benefits, the CDC recommends five hours, or 300 minutes of aerobic activity per week.

Examples of moderate-intensity activity according to the CDC are brisk walking, water aerobics, bicycling on level ground, or playing doubles tennis. High-intensity activities include running or jogging, swimming laps, playing singles tennis, or bicycling on hills. Strength training may include lifting weights, using resistance bands, or doing body-weight exercises.

Children up to age 17 should get 60 minutes or more of physical activity, generally aerobic activity. At least three times a week, this should involve some type of strength training, and three times a week there should be some bone strengthening activity, like jogging or jumping rope. It is important, though, that activities are age appropriate, and for younger children much of the activity should be play.

Walking, Running, and Jogging

It is important to understand that exercise doesn’t have to be difficult, complicated, or intense. Not everyone needs to hit the gym, take classes, or try fancy equipment; for most people simply walking or running for exercise is adequate for getting all the health benefits of being fit and active. These are activities that almost anyone can do, and it doesn’t cost any money. It is also scalable, so an individual can start out with walking, and work up to jogging and running.

The CDC recommends walking for anyone who needs to increase physical activity levels. Walking briskly several times per week burns calories, gets the heart rate up, and improves strength and cardiovascular fitness. It is also an activity that lends itself to socializing. Walking with friends or coworkers on a lunch break, for instance, is a great way to get exercise and more social support.

Fitting Fitness into Busy Lives

For people who are busy, with work, family, and other responsibilities, exercise if often the first thing to be left out. It is important enough to make time for it, though. The positive health benefits cannot be overstated. Here are some ways that fitness can be fit into otherwise busy lives, and ways to improve motivation to work out:

  • Find time here and there. Exercise doesn’t have to be done in big blocks of time. It can be ten minutes wherever time can be found.
  • Make small changes. Even when life is too busy to get all the recommended exercise, getting a little bit is still beneficial. Small changes like parking farther away from the door and using stairs more often can make a difference in the long run and inspire longer workouts later on.
  • Work out with family. Family time is important, but why not spend it being active? Kill two birds with one stone by doing something fun and active together, like going on an evening bike ride.
  • Work out with friends. Having other people to socialize with makes exercise more fun and provides an important motivating factor. Friends help keep each other accountable.
  • Find activities that are enjoyable. People are more likely to stick with exercise when it is fun and not a chore.
  • Make it a part of the regular schedule. When exercise becomes part of a normal routine, scheduled and done at the same time every day, it becomes a positive habit.
  • Set goals as motivating targets. Having goals is a good way to push fitness. Sign up for a 5K or set a goal for miles walked in a week with a reward at the end.
  • Work with a physical trainer. Having an expert there to help with goal setting, to ensure proper form, and to change up the routine makes working out easier.

Fitness is so important to overall health and well-being. It is hard to overstate the benefits. Getting regular exercise is one of the best things you can do to improve health and to prevent illness and disease. In the long run, being fit can prevent a need for a lot of medical care and medications. Making time for fitness is worthwhile.