1. It can save your life — really!
Regularly doing cardio and strength training reduces your risk of heart disease, diabetes and endometrial, colon and breast cancers. The American Heart Association recommends exercising for 30-60 minutes on most days to reduce your risk of heart disease.
2. You’ll feel less stressed and be happier.
Exercise (particularly cardio sessions) improves mood and decreases anxiety. Studies show that the fitter you are, the better you’ll be at handling the long-term effects of stress. One moderately intense 50-minute aerobic workout has been shown to significantly lower anxiety levels. What’s more, research finds that exercise may be more effective than drugs in treating mild to moderate depression.
3. It strengthens your bones.
Exercise increases bone density, helping prevent osteoporosis. High-intensity activity, like jumping and running, is most beneficial for preserving bone mass.
4. Always warm up and cool down.
Take 5-10 minutes to gradually raise your heart rate at the beginning of a workout and lower it afterward. Before strength training, do low-intensity cardio that recruits larger muscle groups like your legs, back and core.
5. Don’t cruise through cardio.
Increase intensity by doing intervals: After a warm-up, alternate 1-2 minutes of activity at a rate of perceived exertion, or RPE, of 7-8 with 2-4 minutes of lower-intensity periods. Repeat 4-6 times.
6. Use the talk test.
If you can’t speak a sentence or two with each breath, you’re pushing too hard (unless you’re purposely doing high-intensity exercise).
7. Watch the clock to lose weight.
Studies found women who racked up at least 200 cardio minutes a week for 18 months lost nearly 14 percent of their total body weight. Those who accumulated fewer than 150 minutes reduced their weight by less than 5 percent.
8. Lift like you mean it.
If you can do the maximum number of suggested reps (usually 10-12) without feeling fatigued, add pounds (10-15 percent at a time). If you can’t complete the minimum number of suggested reps (usually 8), reduce the weight in 10 percent increments until you can. Your last 1 or 2 reps should always feel tough, but doable.
9. Balance your body.
To head off injuries, create a more symmetrical look and ensure you have strength for your favorite activities, do exercises for opposing muscle groups. During your weekly routines, if you work the quads, for example, do exercises for your hamstrings as well. The same applies for the biceps and triceps, chest and back and lower back and abs.
10. Take a day off between weight-lifting sessions.
Always give muscle groups 48 hours of rest between resistance workouts to allow them time to adapt to the stress you put on them. If you must lift every day, don’t target the same muscles in back-to-back sessions.
11. Don’t let your routine become rote.
To continue to make sculpting gains, change the moves, order, weight, sets, reps and/or rest periods you do at least every four weeks. Try mixing things up more often. People who varied the number of sets and reps from workout to workout saw greater strength gains over 12 weeks than those who made monthly tweaks.
12. Blast calories with circuits.
Do one set of each move in your workout, without resting between exercises. Repeat the circuit once or twice and you’ll burn up to 300 calories in half an hour as opposed to 150 from a typical weight routine.
13. Loosen up.
De-clenching your fists will prevent you from tensing up your arms, which can stress your upper back and shoulders. Pretend you’re holding a butterfly in each hand: Close your fingers to keep it from flying away, but gently enough that you don’t crush it.
14. Write it down.
Keep track of your runs — the distance, route, everything! Experts believe that, just like keeping a food journal improves your diet, tracking your workouts helps you stick with exercise.
15. Move it like you mean it.
Walk like you’re late for an appointment. Move quickly enough to cover a mile in 15-20 minutes — that’s a moderate pace.
16. Run (or walk) for the hills!
You burn 25-40 percent more calories — and increase your stamina — by walking or running on inclines than you do treading on flat surfaces. Add short hills (50-100 yards) to your usual route or increase the incline on the treadmill.
17. Stay in control.
Don’t use momentum (for example, rocking your upper body back and forth) instead of your abs to do the work. Keep your middle muscles contracted throughout the entire range of motion. Let them pull your shoulders and/or hips off the floor.
18. Know when to take it easy.
Your rectus abdominis, the large ab muscle, responds best to high-intensity training (doing tough exercises, not necessarily more reps). But if you hit it hard every day, the muscle will fatigue and you won’t see results. Work your abs 2 or 3 times a week on nonconsecutive days.
19. Add the bike to your ab routine.
The bicycle (lying faceup, bring right knee and left elbow toward each other, then switch sides) is the best waist-firming exercise because it uses every muscle in your abs.
Prefer normal crunches? Doing them on a stability ball is more effective than doing them on the floor because your abs (and core) will have to work harder to stabilize your position and you’re able to move through a larger range of motion.
20 Fire ’em up.
To engage the deepest muscles of your abs during any exercise — or just sitting at your desk throughout the day — try this: Inhale, then exhale and pull your bellybutton toward your spine, without hunching your shoulders forward –don’t just suck in your belly.
21. Pay attention to your body and your breath.
When you do yoga and Pilates, you coordinate your movement and breathing. Concentrating hard on inhaling and exhaling pushes all other thoughts — deadlines, dinner commitments, in-law issues — to the back burner. As a result, you’ll have a quieter mind and a stronger body.
22. Do yoga for your health.
People who suffered from migraines, carpal tunnel syndrome and neck strain reported better moods, less pain and a decreased need for medication after they did 90 minutes of yoga three times a week for a month. Research finds that yoga relieves some types of lower-back pain better than traditional exercise.
23. Love Pilates? Don’t skip cardio.
While it’s an effective way to tone your body and increase your flexibility, Pilates doesn’t keep your heart pumping in your training zone, which is key for burning more calories and improving your cardiovascular fitness. Supplement your program with aerobic workouts at least three times a week.
24. Do it regularly.
On most days post-exercise (never do it cold), stretch every muscle group you used, holding each for 30 seconds. Increasing your range of motion may make you less prone to injury during everyday activities.
25. Do it to get stronger.
Some research shows that stretching the muscle group you just worked between sets can increase strength gains by 19 percent.