Harvard’s Ranking of the 5 Most Effective Exercises Includes Something for Everybody

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When it came time to rank the best workouts, Harvard Health asked experts on staff to name the fitness modalities that contribute the most to overall health and happiness. You won't find trampoline classes or pole dancing on the list, but the five workouts that make the cut ensure there's a little something for everyone—whether you love cardio, feel empowered by lifting heavy things, or rely on your workouts for mental clarity.

The 5 best workouts, according to Harvard Health

1. Walking

A good old stroll gets Harvard's seal of approval. Walking for just 30 minutes has been found to boost immune function, and the activity may also lessen joint pain.

"Start with walking for about 10 to15 minutes at a time. Over time, you can start to walk farther and faster, until you're walking for 30 to 60 minutes on most days of the week," say the experts. If you have a chance to walk as your commute to and from work, then you may log these minutes without even noticing.

2. Swimming

Swimming gives you all the cardio benefits of of running without taking a toll on your joints. It's been linked with improved mental health, decreased joint pain, and even strengthening your lungs. So if you have a chance to take a dip, for health's sake, dive right in.

3. Kegel exercises

I know what you're thinking—Kegel exercises seem like a weird addition to this list. Well, they're not. Both women and men need to practice Kegels to keep the pelvic floor strong with age. "Strong pelvic floor muscles can go a long way toward preventing incontinence," writes Harvard Health.

The subtle contractions can be done anywhere: in the car, at your desk, during yoga class. So, there's really no excuse for not (ahem) squeezing these in, y'all.

4. Strength training

"If you don't use muscles, they will lose their strength over time," says I-Min Lee, MD, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. "The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn, so it's easier to maintain your weight."

If you're new to strength training, getting started is as easy as picking up a pair of dumbbells.

5. Tai chi

The Chinese martial art of Tai Chi brings all the benefits of meditation to a rhythmic, choreographed movement. Tai Chi can improve both lower and upper body strength, as well as flexibility and balance. Really, it does it all.

"It's particularly good for older people because balance is an important component of fitness, and balance is something we lose as we get older," Dr. Lee says.

Here's a warm-up before you hit the pavement:

Schedule a whole week of workout with this handy formula, and don't forget that workouts shouldn't be measured by soreness

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