A recent article in the New York Times asked the question: “What is the single best exercise?”
It’s an interesting read, and there are a lot of suggestions. Fortunately, it doesn’t go out and suggest that something like swimming the butterfly or running up stairs or doing repeated burpees is the best, because the article does qualify that “best” doesn’t always mean best.
Sure, swimming the butterfly may burn a lot of calories, but it’s also punishing, requires a pool, is an exceptionally challenging stroke, and most people can’t do it for very long. I may be in good shape, but I’m not much of a swimmer — I would be lucky to manage two pool lengths of it.
Burpees are great too, but I’d be bored with that inside of negative-five minutes. Most others would too. In conclusion, the article lauds the use of stairs as the ultimate exercise. I’ll admit that these are all great calorie-burners, but they don’t do a lot for the upper body and again there could be a boredom factor. I can run for hours because the scenery changes, but doing the same set of stairs over and over seems mind-numbing.
Conversely, the article talks about walking being a great exercise because it’s been shown as the best overall tool for weight control on a population-wide scale: more people use it to control weight and improve health than any other type of exercise.
Brisk walking may not be very taxing, but it’s enjoyable, it does burn calories, you can do it for a long time, and it does have health benefits. It’s why so many people like it.
And liking it is critical. Adherence is everything.
However, I want to add my two cents, or so, to this argument. Yes, the best exercise is the one you like and will do, but don’t allow yourself to stagnate. If you are a complete couch potato, certainly try walking to start. Doing so will be mildly uncomfortable because it is tougher than doing nothing (which is what most Canadians do). However, eventually it will become part of your routine, and will no longer be uncomfortable.
Then it’s time to get out of your comfort zone again.
If you have walking down, try slow jogging. Then maybe slow running. Then maybe faster running. There is no time schedule, but just commit to pushing your limits in small increments. Experiment with things that are a little tougher than what you’re used to. Go from easy yoga to harder yoga. Try Pilates. Move from the recumbent stationary bike to long rides on a real bicycle.
Go on a quest; a quest to keep pushing your limits just a little, and over the course of a year or two you could go from couch potato to real workout warrior.