It’s time to explore the benefits of some of the latest exercise trends we may have been forced to try with friends (but secretly have grown to love!). Whether it be cardio, weight training or yoga, they all have different benefits for our physical, psychological and cognitive well-being.
Types of exercise
Research, medical professionals, and social media are always telling us the overall benefits of exercise. We know that exercise decreases our risk of coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers. Exercise also lowers blood pressure, whilst improving insulin sensitivity and weight management. In elderly individuals, it can help maintain bone density and reduce the risk of falls, whilst reducing the risk of dementia and cognitive decline. In terms of mental health, exercise can improve depression and anxiety and can help protect against it. Overall we know that it increases our energy levels, improves well-being and quality of life.
But what types of exercise or training are there? Does each type serve different benefits to our body, mind, and brain?
Types of exercise: Cardio training
Cardio training is basically aerobic exercise. The purpose of this type of exercise is to make our cardiovascular system (the heart and the lungs) stronger and more efficient. Aerobic exercise increases heart rate, breathing rate, and oxygen intake. This, in turn, increases the circulation of oxygen to the muscles.
Types of Cardio training activities
Any activity that increases your breathing and heart rate is perfect for cardio training. Walking, running, swimming, dancing, playing tennis are all great activities for increasing your heart rate.
Types of exercise-Swimming for cardio training
Types of exercise: Benefits of Cardio training
Aerobic exercise improves conditions such as hypertension, glucose intolerance, and high blood pressure. It strengths the cardio vascular system and helps to protect against heart disease. As cardio training reduces total body fat, which helps to reduce our BMI (body mass index), This type of training is ideal for getting lean.
The benefits of aerobic exercise on mental health are almost instantaneous. A study conducted by Rana (2016) found that just after one session of walking, participants reported reductions in anxiety (more tips for living with social anxiety). In addition to improving mental health, aerobic exercise improves brain and cognitive health. aerobic exercise has been found to change brain structures. It can increase the size of the hippocampus (memory store) and the dorsal striatum (information processing centre). It can enhance our attentional capacities and improve the speed at which we process incoming stimuli. Furthermore, in older adults’ aerobic exercise has been linked to increased brain volume. This means that cardio training can help slow down the aging processes such as cognitive decline. According to researcher Ahlskog, aerobic exercise acts a neuroprotective barrier against Parkinson’s disease, helps slow down the progression of the disease, while improving executive functioning, mood, and quality of life.
Types of exercise: Resistance Training
Also known as strength training or anaerobic exercise. The purpose of this type of exercise is to increase muscle strength, mass, and tone. During this type of training, the muscles use up oxygen at a much faster rate at which the body can replace it. As the muscles aren’t getting enough oxygen they look for alternative energy sources, ATP (Adenosine triphosphate), which is the broken down form of glycogen.
Types of Exercise: Weights
Activities that use free weights, resistance bands or body weight exercises are all great for improving muscle strength. Deadlifts, lunges, squats, mountain climbers and even the dreaded plank, all help to improve muscle strength and definition. HIIT training, High-Intensity Interval Training, is the latest hashtag worthy exercise trend. It involves a short burst of maximum effort activity such as running (or dare I say burpees!) followed by a short period of low effort activity.
resistance training – free weights
Benefits of Resistance training
In addition to lowering the risk of mortality, it can counteract the onset of type 2 diabetes. resistance training prevents the development of functional limitations, reduces the risk of musculoskeletal disorders whilst improving body composition and bone mass. This type of exercise helps protect against osteoporosis. Also, it can alleviate pain in individuals with osteoarthritis or lower back pain. Resistance training can improve psychological health by improving self-esteem, reducing fatigue, and anxiety.
In terms of brain health, Liu-Ambrose and colleagues have found that resistance training helps maintain functional plasticity (this is the brain’s ability to adapt to injury). The researchers also found that this type of training to be associated with functional changes to various parts of the brain, like the left middle temporal gyrus (plays a role in reading, writing and facial recognition), left anterior insula (involved in emotion processing) and the orbitofrontal cortex (centre for decision making) in older adults.
Types of exercise: Flexibility Training
The purpose of this type of training is to improve overall flexibility, balance, and posture as well as increasing the range of movement of our joints. It enhances our coordination skills, motor control, and agility.
Any Stretch! Any type of exercise that involves controlling movement and stretching is great for flexibility training. Practices such as Tai Chi, Pilates, yoga are great at helping us get limber enough to finally touch our toes!
Types of exercise: Benefits of Flexibility Training
Flexibility training has a whole load of benefits. It helps to relieve aches and pains, especially back pain. Taylor-Piluae and colleagues have found that Tai Chi improves overall cognitive functioning. According to Fuzhong, practicing as little as twice a week is enough to improve balance in individuals diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Yoga is another practice that seems to have all round benefits. Research by Carol Ewing Garber and Colleagues (2011) found yoga improves the functioning of the hypothalamic-pituitary adrenal axis (this system regulates our hormones, response to stress and regulates other functions such as sleep). Yoga also enhances the sympathetic nervous system (this system activates of fight or flight response) and the immune system. In addition to this, research has found it reduces levels of cortisol (stress hormone) as well as blood pressure and heart rate. Yoga improves symptoms of diabetes and relieves symptoms of chronic pain. A review into the benefits of yoga by Ross and Thomas has found that yoga decrease symptoms of anxiety, depression, OCD. On the other hand, it improves sleep and increases feelings of emotional, social and spiritual well-being.
The take home message! Cardio is good for the heart, resistance training is good our bones and muscles and flexibility based activities are great for everything in between. Exercise has a range of benefits from improving cardiovascular health to protecting against cognitive decline. It can improve psychological health and also help manage conditions such as diabetes. Each type of exercise serves a different purpose be it increases heart rate, muscle strength or balance; altogether they are the key to good health and well-being.
Rupinder is an aspiring Neuropsychologist with a BSc in Psychology and an MSc in Cognitive Neuropsychology. She is interested in how Psychology and Neuroscience can be applied to everyday life. With experience in conducting behavioural and neuropsychological research, she is passionate about using research to improve our understanding of neurological and mental health conditions. Rupinder welcomes feedback and the opportunity to discuss all things Psychology and Neuroscience.