The so-called benefits of exercise and sport included immunity to heart disease in particular and other illness in general, relief from stress, anxiety, and depression, improved work and sexual performance, a better night’s sleep, a slimmer, younger, more attractive body and a longer lifespan.

Tennis

Pros:

  • sociable
  • inexpensive
  • low injury risk

Cons:

  • low exercise value unless played at a high level because of all the stopping and starting
  • inconvenient – depends on facilities and fellow players, and can be difficult to play out of season

Tips: select a racket at a specialist shop; join a club with indoor facilities; get tuition to improve your game; play singles to maximize exercise benefits.

Swimming

Pros:

  • first-class all-round exercise, using almost every major muscle group
  • very low injury risk
  • non-weight-bearing and so suitable for all comers, including obese, pregnant, elderly and disabled people

Cons:

  • potentially inconvenient – depends on access to a swimming pool or sea and may involve travel
  • boring – cannot talk and have nothing to look at
  • risk of verrucas

Tips: wear flip-flops around the poolside; protect eyes from chlorine with goggles; mix several strokes for maximum effect.

Skiing

Pros:

  • downhill is good for strength and flexibility
  • exhilarating
  • aesthetic
  • sociable
  • first-class aerobic and good strength training

Cons:

  • downhill: high risk of injury, particularly fractures
  • limited aerobic benefits unless you are skilled at it
  • seasonal
  • expensive in terms of travel and equipment

Tips: skiing should not be your sole form of exercise unless you have regular access to a dry ski slope.

Squash

Pros:

  • excellent aerobic and muscle-strengthening exercise – if you are already reasonably fit
  • easy to learn
  • sociable
  • exciting

Cons:

  • a very vigorous competitive, demanding game
  • not recommended as fitness training for people who are very unfit, obese, middle-aged or with health problems
  • inconvenient – depends on facilities, equipment, and other people

Tips: unless you are young and fit, build up to squash via a less demanding activity, such as softball or badminton; play with people of similar age and ability; always warm up first and build up playing time gradually; invest in a good pair of shoes.

Cycling

Pros:

  • excellent aerobic and strength training, providing you are not dawdling in traffic
  • non-weight-bearing and so ideal for the overweight
  • convenient
  • can be combined with holidays as well as daily activities such as getting to work or shopping

Cons:

  • limited effect on joint flexibility
  • difficult and potentially dangerous in traffic-bound built-up areas
  • not much fun in bad weather

Tips: learn the Highway Code, wear a reflective chest band at night and stay off the roads in fog or icy weather. An alternative – try a stationary exercise bicycle and stave off boredom by listening to music or watching TV while you pedal.

Running/Jogging

Pros:

  • excellent aerobic exercise
  • cheap – shoes are the only expense
  • convenient – you can run without depending on facilities or other people

Cons:

  • risk of over-use
  • injuries to feet, ankles, knees, and hips, particularly for the overweight
  • potentially lonely and tedious
  • does little for flexibility or upper body strength

Tips: reduce injury risk by buying good quality running shoes, run on soft surfaces and build up training gradually. Start by walking and then running for short periods, keeping active for 20min at a time. Do not expect instant results. The overweight should start with a non-weight-bearing activity like swimming or cycling until the weight is reduced.

Walking

Pros:

  • the most natural and convenient aerobic exercise of all, as long as it is brisk
  • minimal risk of injury
  • sociable and easily fitted into holidays, working and family life
  • no need for special clothing, although walking shoes are advisable for long-distance hikes
  • suitable for all weather

Tips: to ensure your walking is aerobic, take your pulse periodically, count the beats at throat or wrist for 10sec and multiply by six – most people should aim for 100 beats per minute as a minimum.

Soccer

Pros:

  • reasonable all-round exercise, depending on the position played and the standard of the teams
  • sociable
  • exciting
  • cheap

Cons:

  • risk of potentially serious injury
  • no significant fitness benefits unless you keep moving
  • inconvenient – depends on facilities, weather, other people

Tips: for maximum fitness, go for five-a-side indoor football.

Dance

Pros:

  • most types are good for aerobic fitness, strength, and flexibility as well as balance and posture
  • creative and skilled
  • sociable

Cons:

  • risk of muscular injuries
  • inconvenient – depends on facilities, teachers, other people and potentially an expensive kit.

Tips: join a beginners’ class where everyone is at the same level and can improve together; for the economy, join an adult education class before investing in a kit.

Fixed weight training

Pros:

  • safer than free weights because the machines are designed to put muscles through their complete range of movement without undue strain
  • excellent for firming and toning muscles
  • highly specific – you can concentrate on whichever muscle groups you want and reshape your body

Cons:

  • raise blood pressure temporarily
  • inconvenient if you use a gym and expensive to buy the equipment yourself

Tips: try out the equipment in a gym before you invest in it personally; build up gradually to minimize stiffness; develop aerobic fitness with another activity; for a greater aerobic benefit, keep weights light, allowing multiple repetitions or take up a separate aerobic activity such as swimming, running or walking.

Free weight training

Pros:

  • excellent for firming and toning muscles
  • convenient – you can buy weights to use at home

Cons:

  • risk of injury, particularly to the lower back, from lifting incorrectly
  • raise blood pressure temporarily
  • no significant aerobic benefits if weights are heavy
  • boring

Tips: not for those with blood pressure problems – have your blood pressure checked first if you are over 35; join a class or club to learn the proper techniques for lifting; to maximize aerobic benefits, keep weights light, allowing rapid, multiple repetitions or use weight-training as an adjunct to an aerobic activity such as those described above.

Aerobics

Pros:

  • excellent aerobic exercise
  • sociable
  • fun
  • convenient – can be done in a class or at home

Cons:

  • risk of muscular injuries if incorrectly taught and supervised
  • inconvenient if you rely on a class
  • lonely and tedious if you do it at home

Tips: choose a properly-trained instructor; buy special shoes; check that the floor is sprung, not solid (e.g. concrete); always warm up first with gentle stretching exercises and avoid bouncing movements.

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