Monday, April 18, 2011

Best for Fitness

A NYT article analyzes an interesting question: 'What's the Single Best Exercise?' and asks a variety of experts their opinion.

-One of the most taxing movements in sports, the butterfly requires "greater energy than bicycling at 14 miles per hour, running a 10-minute mile, playing competitive basketball or carrying furniture upstairs...However, the butterfly is 'miserable, isolating, painful.' It requires a coach, a pool and ideally supplemental weight and flexibility training to reduce the high risk of injury."

-Another exercise is from the foundations of old-fashioned calisthenics: the burpee, in which you drop to the ground, kick your feet out behind you, pull your feet back in and leap up as high as you can. “It builds muscles. It builds endurance, but it’s hard to imagine most people enjoying an all-burpees program, or sticking with it for long.”

-A case is made for "brisk walking" as the best exercise. Reference is made to a program in Japan where thousands of older Japanese citizens were enrolled in an innovative, five-month-long program of brisk, interval-style walking (three minutes of fast walking, followed by three minutes of slower walking, repeated 10 times- 60 minutes in total). The results were striking. "Physical fitness — maximal aerobic power and thigh muscle strength" — increased by about 20 percent, it made participants feel 10 years younger, and they had far fewer lifestyle related diseases, and depression scores dropped by half.

-Another expert suggested the squat which “activates the body’s biggest muscles, those in the buttocks, back and legs.” It’s simple. “Just fold your arms across your chest,” he said, “bend your knees and lower your trunk until your thighs are about parallel with the floor. Do that 25 times. It’s a very potent exercise.” The squat, and weight training in general, are particularly good at combating sarcopenia, he said, or the inevitable and debilitating loss of muscle mass that accompanies advancing age.

-Finally one physiologist recommended high-intensity interval training, or H.I.T.which is essentially an all-interval exercise which involves grunting through a series of short, strenuous intervals on specialized stationary bicycles.

It's interesting to think about the range of exercises which are possible and what may work best in terms of one's time, interests, and availability. Ultimately a healthy variety may be the most important consideration like it is for one's diet. (I can't give up on the push up or a rousing game of squash at 6 a.m. as seen above.)