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Body Weight Exercise

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Body Weight Exercise

The health and fitness experts at Harvard Medical School perfected workout routines that use your own body weight to strengthen your whole body — routines that offer a wealth of better health and more pep in your step. They’re all in the Body-Weight Exercise Special Health Report, along with step-by-step directions and how-to photos. You can do these feel-younger exercises at home and adjust them to your fitness level. And there’s positively no equipment necessary to get great results.

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As we get older, we start to realize we’re not a strong as we used to be … or as flexible. And we admit that we don’t have as much pep as we used to have, either. And we wonder: What’s the best yet safest way I can get back in shape — and improve my overall health? Good news: The health and fitness experts at Harvard Medical School have the answer you’re looking for: The start-slow-and-easy workout routines that use your own body weight to strengthen your whole body — routines that offer a wealth of better health and more pep in your step.

They’re all in Harvard’s Special Health Report Body-Weight Exercise, along with easy-to-follow directions and how-to photos. And more good news: you can easily do these feel-younger exercises at home and adjust them to your fitness level. And there’s positively no equipment necessary to get great results.

You’ll notice certain changes when you start one of these body-weight routines — like having more energy, being able to lift things more easily, seeing some defi­nition in your muscles, and maybe even losing some pounds or inches.

And then there are the changes that you can’t see—like stronger bones, low­er blood pressure, and your body’s improved ability to manage blood sugar. Even short workouts will help you build whole-body fitness … improve your balance … enhance your mobility … and more.

Step-by-step, the routines in the Body-Weight Exercise Special Health Report guide you to a healthier, younger body. For example, you’ll discover:
  • How to strengthen your hip muscles to help prevent knee pain and make walking easier.
  • The easy-on-the-joints cardio interval workout that builds endurance as it strengthens your core.
  • The lunge exercise that will help keep you strong and agile, making it easier to pick things up from the floor.
  • The squat exercise that helps improve your balance, stability, posture, and power.
  • How to make it easier to twist and bend sideways with our 1-2-3-4 exercise.
  • The small ab-engaging movement that helps support your lower back.
  • The core-strengthening exercise you can do sitting down!
  • And much more!
 PLUS: You’ll get a bonus balance workout to protect you from injuries … a quick 3-minute interval workout to help give you a quick energy boost … stretches to help loosen muscles and joints … and a motivational Special Section to help you keep your fitness routines going strong. And if you are concerned about a health condition like arthritis, diabetes or heart disease, you’ll be glad to know that our health experts share special tips and advice to help you reap health benefits safely.
 
  • What is body-weight exercise?
    • Gravity’s gift
    • The advantages of body-weight exercise.
    • Your body in action
  • Safety first
    • When to see a doctor
    • Tips for people with specific conditions
    • Posture and alignment check
    • Tips for safe exercise.
  • Program overview
    • Exercise guidelines
    • Adjusting the challenge
    • Terms to know
    • Warm-up
  • Basic-level workouts
    • Strength Workout
    • Core Workout
    • 10-Minute Cardio Interval Workout
    • Challenge-level workouts
      • Strength Workout
      • Core Workout
      • 10-Minute Cardio Interval Workout
  • Post-workout stretches
  • SPECIAL SECTION: Staying motivated
  • Bonus workouts
    • Balance Workout
    • 3-Minute Cardio Interval Workout
  • Resources
  • Glossary

Gravity’s gift


You are constantly working against gravity as you go about your daily life. Even when you’re standing still, muscles throughout your body, the so-called antigravity muscles—from your legs (calf muscles, quadriceps, and gluteals) to your upper back (the erector spinae)—are working to keep you upright. But the more you move, the more energy you’re expending to counter this unseen force.

To understand just how effective everyday weightbearing exercise is, consider the experience of astronauts, who are weightless when they are in outer space. Research has found that astronauts can lose up to 20% of their muscle mass in less than two weeks when they are deprived of the resistance of gravity. That’s because the body, in its wisdom, does not put its resources into maintaining muscles that have minimal demands placed on them. Even bone density declines at a rate of up to 10% in six months, when bones no longer have to harden themselves to withstand the forces of terrestrial life. To maintain muscle and bone mass while in outer space, astronauts have to exercise for two to two-and-a-half hours a day, using special equipment that provides resistance.

Unlike the astronauts in outer space, we on Earth have gravity to help us, day in and day out. But how much benefit you derive from it depends on how much you get up and move around. Failing to take advantage of it is like leaving dumbbells in the corner to gather dust or turning your treadmill into a clothes hanger.

Even doing a single exercise is better than doing nothing. For one study, a small group of frail 70-somethings were instructed to do 48 chair stands twice a week for 12 weeks. A chair stand (page 26) is a simple exercise in which you stand up from a chair and sit down again repeatedly, using only your muscles to power the movement. It’s a perfect example of bodyweight exercise and is something you can easily do at home, even while watching TV. And it’s surprisingly effective. During the 12 weeks of the study, the participants increased their muscle mass by about 6% (instead of seeing declines, which are typical at this age) and boosted the strength of their quadriceps (the muscles in the front of the thigh) by about 10%.

To derive the full benefits of gravity, try to meet the recommendations set out in the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. They specifically mention bodyweight exercise as one way to fulfill the recommendation for strength training.

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