Back to the basics
From boot camps to SoulCycle to early morning dance parties, there's no shortage of fitness trends with a devoted, young, fit following. But when it comes to exercises that even the oldest and most out of shape can (and should) add to their workout repertoires, most fitness professionals advise keeping it simple. Here are their votes for the 10 best exercises you can start doing today -- and stop doing, well, never.
The votes are in, and the consensus is clear: Nothing quite beats walking. The exercise is functional (you can do it to get places), accessible (no gym needed) and "suitable for all ages and abilities," says Michelle Walters-Edwards, chair of the Department of Health and Human Performance at Marymount University. Best of all? Walking can reduce your risk of premature death, diseases like hypertension and symptoms of depression, says Adam Wright, an athletic and personal performance consultant based in New York City.
Want to take walking up a notch? Break into a run. The activity strengthens the legs and core, keeps knees and hips healthy, boosts heart health and spurs your body to burn more calories even at rest, says Joe English, a running coach in Portland, Oregon, and contributor to the U.S. News Eat+Run blog. "As we age, we may need to slow down," he says, "but running keeps aging bodies active and fit, yielding great benefits for us all."
If squats leave your legs as wobbly as "a newborn baby deer," you need to do them more, says Christopher Stepien, a sports therapy and chronic pain specialist at Barefoot Rehabilitation Clinic in Parsippany, New Jersey. The move helps prevent lower back, hip, knee and ankle injuries; boosts flexibility and balance; enhances communication between the brain and muscles; and even promotes bathroom regularity by "improving your body's fluid and nutrition distribution to all your tissues, organs and glands down in the nether regions," Stepien says.
4. Turkish get-ups
Never heard of this funky-sounding exercise? Listen up. The activity, which involves holding a kettlebell above your head as you move from lying to standing and back down again, "is the most practical full-body exercise," says Kelly Coffey, a personal trainer at Strong Coffey Personal Training in Northampton, Massachusetts. Even if you only complete one part or perform it kettlebell-free, the move can still improve strength, coordination and balance, she says.
Break out the goggles and start splashing. Swimming is the perfect exercise for all ages, says Kevin B. White, a personal trainer in Bethesda, Maryland, and author of "School Yourself Into Shape." Not only is swimming a great cardiovascular workout, but "the water provides resistance to strengthen the muscles, while also protecting the joints," he says.
You may think of a pushup as an arm exercise, but it's truly "a whole body exercise" that works the upper body, legs and core, says Arwen Fuller, assistant professor in the University of Utah's Department of Exercise and Sport Science. Want a challenge? Push up with your feet on a bench, or build power by pushing up as hard and fast as you can and catching some air on your way up. Need a break? Push up on your knees or against a wall while standing, Fuller suggests.
While the plank is often touted as an ab-toner, it's so much more, says Heather Worthy, regional director of wellness innovation at the YMCA Anthony Bowen in the District of Columbia. The exercise builds core, arm, shoulder and back strength; improves balance and posture; strengthens your lower body; and helps reduce back pain. To make it harder, raise one leg -- and then the other -- a few inches off the floor or plank on a decline. To give yourself a break, try it on an incline, Worthy suggests.
You may have retired the pullup after elementary school gym class, but there's every reason to do it at any age, Worthy believes. "This exercise builds strength in your trunk, arms, shoulders, abdominal muscles, pelvic floor, hands and forearms by pulling up one's body weight," she explains. Depending on available equipment, you can adjust the pullup's difficulty by, say, adding a weighted belt (for a challenge) or using an assisted pullup machine (for a boost).
Speaking of elementary school gym class, no need to get much fancier than the stretches it taught you (such as toe touches or side lunges), says Shane Allen, a personal trainer and sports nutritionist in Dallas. You'll still reap the benefits. "Stretching keeps your body flexible and your muscles healthy," he says. It's meant to help prevent injury -- not cause it -- so be sure to ease up if stretching gets painful, Allen says.
10. A healthy diet
Competitive eating aside, dining isn't exactly exercise. But food is "the most important part of any fitness routine," says Allen, who works for the meal delivery program Personal Trainer Food. "Working out is secondary." Maintaining a balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, lean protein, whole grains and healthy fats will support any exercise routine and give you results. And when it comes to the best (actual) exercise? "The single best exercise," Fuller says, "is the one you will do."