Saturday, 22nd April 2023

Which exercise?

FITT is the acronym for defining the characteristics of exercise. I talk a lot about the F (Frequency), the I (Intensity) and the T (Time) but very little about the other T (Type). This is mainly because I believe that it is such an individual choice – that it is up to each would-be exerciser to choose their own.

Different exercises and different doses of those exercises give different sorts and levels of benefit. For instance, as I have said previously, going from doing nothing to doing just a bit seems to lead to better outcomes for a number of diseases and also for longevity – but will have no effect at all on obesity. To lose weight by exercising demands many hours weekly of hard exertion.

For most benefits however it does not matter much what you do – it is much more important that the exercise gets done – hence the advice to choose what you enjoy and therefore are likely to keep doing.

The commonest choices of regular exercise are walking and going to the gym.


Nearly all of us have to walk to function on a daily basis. Walking is easy, can be fitted into our daily lives and needs no special skills or practice. Nearly everyone can attain the government recommendations for 150 minutes a week of moderate to vigorous exercise per week by walking. Note the “moderate to vigorous” caveat. Strolling is not enough. You need to step out to gain the health benefits – certainly enough to make you breathe harder – to allow you to talk with your companion(s) but not allow you to sing to them! If you want to get the most out of walking you should push harder and make it brisk walking which should reach the level of breathlessness.

Here is a physical activity which promotes physical fitness with all its benefits; which allows views of the countryside and all its rural beauties, which can be a highly sociable activity and which costs nothing except the occasional pair of shoes. There are few towns which do not host “Wellness walks” – what used to be called “Walking for health” – so it is easy to find groups of like-minded people with whom to walk and enjoy their company.

A recent systematic analysis of the effects of joining a regular walking programme found that physical fitness was increased by a whopping 21% – enough to reduce the risk of most chronic diseases and quite enough to contribute to the management of such conditions.

Going to the gym

The range of activities available in most gyms and sports centres is enormous.

These are some examples:

  • Cardiovascular – this includes mainly aerobic exercise such as using a static bike or rowing machine, walking or running on a treadmill, skipping, aerobic dance and any other exercise designed to raise the heart rate and make you thoroughly short of breath.
  • Bums and tums – aimed mainly at young to middle-aged women concerned about their body image, this consists of a mixture of aerobic and isometric exercise concentrating on the abdomen, buttocks and thighs. Crunches, squats and jogging may be included.
  • Pilates – an exercise system involving a mixture of mental concentration, economy of movement, building up core strength and breathing control. This may use free-standing exercise or weights and pulleys.
  • Body balance – uses a mixture of yoga, t’ai chi and Pilates to improve core strength, relax the mind and enhance flexibility.
  • Spinning – group cycling under the direction of an instructor who changes the load and speed through the session; mainly aerobic.
  • Aquarobics – exercise in the swimming pool that uses the resistance of the water to exercise different muscle groups and may be particularly suitable for those with lower-limb problems, who can be helped by the support provided by the flotation environment and who would be unable to exercise without
  • Calisthenics – a variety of body movements, often rhythmical, generally without using equipment or apparatus, thus in essence body weight training. The exercises are intended to increase body strength, body fitness and flexibility through movements such as pulling or pushing oneself up, bending, jumping or swinging, using only one’s body weight for resistance.
  • Zumba – a form of aerobic dance with varying rhythms and intensity which can be adapted to all age groups.
  • Boxercise – an exercise based on the training concepts that boxers use to keep fit. Classes can take a variety of formats but a typical one may involve shadow-boxing, skipping, hitting pads, kicking punchbags, press-ups, shuttle-runs and sit-ups.

The possible combinations of exercise are infinite and the effects of one form compared with another depend on the balance of aerobic, isometric and flexibility exercises. They are all good, so if you want to use the gym and don’t find it too boring, just choose that or those which you will enjoy. There is no greater disincentive to sticking with a programme than not wanting to be there! And there is no evidence that one sort of exercise class is any better or worse than any other – whatever individual adherents may say.

If you wish to make up your own circuit, I suggest that you alternate the stations between ‘cardiovascular’ and ‘MSE – muscular strength and endurance’. You don’t need to go to a gym to do this – you can do it at home with the help of your staircase, a pair of dumbbells or ‘TheraBands’ – thick elastic bands for straining against.

This week’s illustration is a suggestion for an  an eight station home exercise circuit. “A” stands for “aerobic” and “M” for muscle strengthening exercise.

2 responses to “Which exercise?”

  1. fitness says:

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    • Hugh Bethell says:

      Thank you very much for your kind words – spread the word, or just forward the link to anyone who you think might find it helpful. Very best wishes Hugh

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