The Best Workouts for Your Body

A new Harvard Medical School report highlights the best workouts for your body.

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When it comes to getting and staying fit, we have a lot of options, and every day it seems we have new ones to consider. It can be overwhelming to choose, especially when you're trying to start a workout routine.

Enter a recent Harvard Medical School report. "Starting to Exercise"—available in both print and ebook versions—highlights the best exercises for your body. According to a Business Insider report, the exercises "generate benefits that range from weight loss and muscle building to protecting your heart and brain and strengthening your bones." Here's what Harvard recommends, along with workout tips from experts who have spoken with Family Circle. We begin with swimming workouts:

"Many adults I work with talk about how the water is a magical place for them, where they can escape day-to-day stress," says Alexis Keto, head swim coach and aquatic director at Colorado Athletic Club at Inverness, in Englewood, CO. If that doesn't sound enticing enough to make bathing suit shopping worthwhile, we're not sure what is. But if you feel more like a mere mortal than a mermaid in the pool, here's the likely reason: It's your breathing. Having to think about this automatic behavior while also controlling your limbs and keeping afloat requires, well, practice. Before you dive in, take a few normal breaths. "Try to avoid a big gulp of air—just take a small sip and remember to exhale into the water when you're in the pool," advises Keto. Should you lose your rhythm once you get moving, pause and practice a little more while holding on to the edge of the pool. Not a fan of putting your face in the water? Stick to the backstroke.

Swiming Workout Plan: If you don't swim regularly, sign up for some lessons at the start of the season. Proper form can make strokes feel a lot easier and your workout more effective. You'll need fins, pull buoys and kickboards for this routine, but most pools have them.

0:00 to 3:00 Swim freestyle 4 lengths (100 yards total). This should feel like a rate of perceived exertion (RPE) of 3 or 4 on a scale of 1 to 10.

3:00 to 9:00 Swim freestyle 8 lengths with a kickboard and fins (200 yards total). Rest 15 seconds between lengths, RPE 5 or 6.

9:00 to 12:00 Swim backstroke or breaststroke 8 lengths (200 yards). RPE 3 or 4.

12:00 to 20:00 Swim freestyle 12 lengths (300 yards). Rest 20 seconds between laps (2 lengths), RPE 5 or 6.

20:00 to 25:00 Swim freestyle 8 lengths using a pull buoy between your legs so that only your arms work (200 yards total). Pull as hard as possible. Rest 20 seconds between lengths, RPE 7 or 8.

25:00 to 30:00 Swim backstroke 2 lengths to cool down (50 yards), RPE 1 or 2.

Best for Swimmers: Lunges with Overhead Press

Strengthen every area with this move that challenges coordination—a must for swimming, says Arciero. Stand holding an 8- to 15-pound medicine ball or dumbbell in front of your chest. Step right foot forward to a lunge, reaching arms overhead. Return to start. Step right foot to a side lunge, lifting arms overhead. Return to start. Step right foot back to a reverse lunge, lifting arms overhead. Return to start. Repeat to left for 1 rep. Do 5–8 reps.

—Jessica Cassity

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Strength Training


Another workout the Harvard study recommends is strength training.

Consider strength training your ticket to a long life and a lean body. Muscle-building moves do everything from burning fat and strengthening bones to fighting heart disease and arthritis. Despite the benefits, only about 25% of women do resistance exercises the expert-recommended two times per week. If you feel lost in the weight room or avoid it altogether, you’ll be glad we tapped Jessica Matthews exercise physiologist and senior health and fitness expert for the American Council on Exercise (ACE) to recommend eight essential moves every woman should do regularly. “When you don’t strength train, your body loses up to a half pound of muscle each year,” says Matthews. “And the less muscle you have, the slower your metabolism.” Tighten your entire body by doing each exercise shown for 8 to 12 repetitions. Repeat the series once for a total of two sets—and soon you’ll look trimmer on the outside and feel younger on the inside!

Workout Plan:

Try our eight sculpting exercises to help get you started.

—Mallory Creveling

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Walking Workouts


Walking is also tops.

If the thought of a boot camp session makes you want to collapse onto your couch, this news will give you strength. While challenging workouts do a body good, research shows walking is all you need to live a long, healthy life. Provided you have a pair of sneakers, you’re ready to hit the pavement—and when you do, we hope you’ll join our Move to Improve initiative. Our goal is to help our readers walk 20.17 million miles in 2017! Take the first step with us this month using one of our plans to boost your step count. 

RELATED: Top Walking Questions

The Beginner’s Workout Plan:
(Already into walking workouts? To burn more calories, steal these super-walkers' strategies.)

“If you’re just getting started, don’t focus so much on the 10,000 steps a day rule,” says trainer Galina Denzel, coauthor of Eat Well, Move Well, Live Well. “For those who typically stroll 2,500 steps a day, just increasing to 5,000 steps a day is an incredibly significant victory with major health boosts.” One study showed that going from no exercise to brisk walking for a little over an hour a week (that’s just 10 minutes a day) can add nearly two years to your life. Stand up, walk out the door and start Denzel’s 30-minute walking plan that keeps you entertained while you’re exercising.

Your goal: Hit 2,000 steps in 30 minutes.

Your plan: Follow this walking plan three times a week, each time trying to add an extra 200 steps to the 30-minute time frame.

0 to 5 minutes: Warm up by walking at a comfortable pace (on a scale of 1 to 10 it should feel like a 4) toward a destination 15 minutes away. Pick a route with lush, green surroundings if you can: Research shows it can boost your mood.

5 to 15 Minutes: Kick up your pace to a 6 while being mindful of your breath and taking any tension out of your posture. Think about walking with a bit more purpose, as if you want to get to your destination on time.

Rest: When you reach your target area, pause. Notice whether you are breathing faster. If you feel like you exerted yourself quite a bit, rest in place for 2 to 3 minutes before heading back. If you didn’t feel particularly challenged, pick up your pace on your return trip.

15 to 20 Minutes: Resume walking at a comfortable pace (it should feel like a 4 or 5). For each minute, recall a favorite memory you have with a different person in your life—like the wedding toast your best friend gave.

20 to 30 Minutes: Become aware of your pace, which should feel pleasant not painful, and remember to put more effort into it.

—Jenna Autuori

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Kegel Exercises


You’ve probably heard Kegel exercises are key to a healthy pelvic floor, but these strengthening moves are only part of the puzzle. Your body needs flexible muscles that perform many actions—lengthen, contract and absorb shock—not just squeeze. Kegels teach you to flex your below-the-navel muscles (good for incontinence issues), but that can be problematic when you have a chronically tense pelvic floor or experience muscle spasms, says Abernethy. If your doctor or physical therapist recommends Kegels, request guidance since research shows that at least one in four women perform them incorrectly. You want to focus on the muscles that control the flow of urine and not bear down or flex your abs.

Workout Plan:

This exercise, along with others you can find here, are from Katy Bowman, MS, author of  Move Your DNA: Restore Your Health Through Natural Movement, and will get you in touch with your core’s floor.

Sit and Shift Improving your hip mobility makes your pelvic floor more flexible, explains Bowman.

• Sit with your legs tucked underneath you. Place hands on a stack of blankets on either side of your hips.

• Shift hips to the left toward the blankets. Hold for 10 seconds, then engage the muscles in your waist and lower body to switch sides and repeat. Use your arms for support as needed.

• Over time, decrease the blankets’ height and keep shifting until hips reach the floor

Get more information about your pelvic floor and other exercises that focus on strengthening those muscles here.

—Christine Yu