Perspective: Long-Term Effects of Your Favorite Type of Exercise

Whether you do it to be healthy, to look trim, or because you love it, you probably have a favorite way to exercise. But how much do you know about the long-term effects, both positive and negative, of your particular activity? Below are descriptions of several popular modes of exercise, complete with benefits for each type, and tips to prevent physical drawbacks.

Remember that every exercise, if done to the extreme, can have negative and long-lasting cardiovascular effects like coronary plaque buildup and permanent injury. Don’t forget the importance of moderation!

HIIT

Wildly popular the past five years, HIIT (“High Intensity Interval Training”) means performing a variety of exercises for short, measured bursts with as much effort as possible. This idea arose from the research of Dr. Izumi Tabata, who determined that short, repeated intervals of intense activity burned more calories and showed faster results than long, drawn-out continuation of the same activity. Instructors of HIIT also praise the workout form for its originality, as they create many of the exercises and routines, themselves. These workouts are for people who get bored easily, they sometimes say. Fitness buffs who swear by HIIT do so because body-weight exercises engage multiple areas at once, there are free videos online to guide these workouts, and it is convenient to do it at home or in a class setting. Not to mention, the feeling of exhaustion after a HIIT workout feels like a guarantee of a job well done.

As effective as HIIT is, however, those who overdo it face serious risk. In both home and group class settings, there is no guarantee that people are doing the exercises with correct form. And due to the high-strain nature of this form of exercise, that becomes dangerous very quickly. Even if someone has learned how to do pushups and sit-ups with excellent form, most of the exercises are creative enough that those participating in the workout may never have seen them before, never mind learned how to do them safely. Unfortunately, people who start HIIT looking to boost their workout can end up overdoing it and have to stop exercising altogether. People who are not in peak shape and push themselves too hard, as is easy to do, can even end up damaging their cardiovascular system and kidneys.

How can you prevent this from happening to you? Space out your training sessions, take frequent rest days, and stay away from those “thousand calorie” videos. Find specialized low-impact videos instead.

Running

The most convenient of exercises, running is popular for a reason. As any avid runner will be quick to tell you, runners have strong lungs, legs, and immune systems, lowered blood pressure, better skeletal health (to a degree), and improved self-image. Additionally, running is one of the fastest and most effective ways to increase serotonin levels in the brain, which provides feelings of calm and breaks up stress. No wonder so many people swear by it!

Unfortunately, running does pose a risk to the joints. From the speed at which a runner moves, each time he or she contacts the ground, it is with a force increased beyond that of his or her regular body-weight. This means that anyone with pre-existing joint issues, arthritis, or back problems would be better off running on an elliptical, which reduces impact, or finding a different form of exercise. Additionally, running more than twenty miles a week, six days a week, or faster than eight miles an hour can lead to coronary complications.

Swimming

Swimming is the champion of low-impact exercise. It uses muscles throughout the body, builds strength, and promotes lung health and cardiovascular fitness. This form of exercise requires great endurance, but does not pound on the joints, which makes it an ideal fit for a wide range of ages.

There are few drawbacks to swimming as a fitness activity, with the exception of chlorine. Though chlorine is necessary to keeping a pool clean, prolonged exposure to it is not great for humans, so make sure to shower thoroughly afterward!

Weightlifting

As you know, weightlifting is a tried-and-true method of increasing muscle composition, and has an honored place at every gym. Lifting weights boosts metabolism, helping keep weight off long-term, because every additional pound of muscle in the human body uses more calories to maintain itself each day even at rest. This form of exercise protects your bone health, protects you from diseases, and of course, boosts confidence. It also helps us stay healthy as we age.

As with any form of exercise, it is extremely important to act in moderation when lifting weights. Chronic heavyweight lifters who go too hard in their youth can end up permanently injuring themselves and limiting their own mobility. Common issues arising from long-term lifting with poor form include back pain and even nerve damage. The ways around this are to lift only a few times a week, to lift slightly less weight than you think you’re capable of, and to enlist the help of a trainer, who can instruct you on form. Sticking to machines instead of free weights can also be helpful, because the preassigned path on which machine weights move automatically brings the lifter closer to proper form.

Yoga

Many men avoid yoga because they think it’s slow and unmanly, but it’s truly a path forward to greater fitness in all arenas– The NFL knows it, too. (Yoga was originally developed by and for men, and practiced only by men.) The man who practices yoga is often stronger, more flexible, more focused, more muscularly stable, and stronger-jointed than the man who doesn’t. Like running, yoga also reduces stress. There are also many types of classes offered, so anyone can find something according to his preferences.

There are, however, a few caveats. If you have lower back issues, you may wish to avoid the forward bend, also known as “Uttanasana,” and the camel pose. If you have chronic wrist or shoulder issues, Downward Dog may do more harm than good, and those with neck tension or high blood pressure are better off skipping the plow. Virtually all yoga classes, however, encourage participants to leave out any poses that cause pain, and caution against pushing too far. Yoga teachers earned their certification for a reason, after all.