Can any one exercise give you the ultimate fitness benefits?
Not according to new exercise guidelines from the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). The latest guidelines-the first update since 1978-recommend a regimen that pushes up more than just your heart rate; they now put more emphasis on building muscle strength and endurance. How to get overall conditioning? Mix and match your activities.
The table above can help. It shows the benefits and costs of 16 popular activities. Decide which sports suit your taste, pace and pocketbook, then weigh the dollar costs and injury rates against the fitness benefits.
Our panel of six experts rated each activity on a ten-point scale. Aerobics, which contributes to life-preserving cardiovascular health, gets top rating, up to four stars. Fat loss, or how efficiently the activity burns fat, gets a maximum of one star. Strength gets up to two stars; so does muscle endurance, which helps you repeat an activity. Flexibility-whether the activity helps you stay limber-gets a maximum of one star.
These ratings represent a shift in values from what the same experts told Changing Times three years ago, when aerobics was the last word in fitness. Aerobics gets fewer maximum points, and strength and muscle endurance get more. That shift reflects the ACSM’s latest findings, which link strength training with better posture and prevention of osteoporosis. “Muscle just fades away if it’s not being used,” says Michael Pollock, a panelist and key author of the ACSM’s report.
Panelist Paul Ribisl, who at 51 is a longtime runner, figures that his body would be better off today if he’d had more strength and muscle training: “When I was 20 or 30, 1 never had to worry about muscular endurance, never lost it. But it hits home as you get older. It means a better quality of life.”
You can meet the ACSM’s guidelines for a well-rounded fitness program by interspersing, say, weight lifting with running or calisthenics with swimming (which was also the highest-ranking activity the last time we rated the activities).
As you consult the chart, remember that the benefits you get hinge on two things: the time you take and the level of intensity you put forth. For example, for cardiovascular fitness, work out at your target heart rate at least three times a week. Or simply try to burn 300 calories in each workout. (That goal is reflected in the workout time on the chart.) Most people can keep injuries down and fitness benefits up by exercising for longer periods of time at lower intensity levels. Always remember to warm up and cool down. That will put you in great shape.