Stand in a supermarket checkout line and you’ll be bombarded with ten different messages about the “best diet” and the “best exercises” to lose weight/gain weight/get stronger/stay healthy. How do you choose the right plan?

We sorted through piles of this “best advice” to compile a list designed to help you evaluate and choose for yourself, based on your specific needs and goals.

According to the experts at Harvard Medical School, there are five types of exercise that are among the best exercises you can ever do – swimming, Tai Chi, strength training, walking and Kegel exercises. We like these choices because of the credibility of the clinical sources, but also because they are appropriate for virtually every age, gender and fitness level.

“This is an excellent list of activities that nearly ALL of my patients could benefit from in building and maintaining overall health,” says Dr. Churchman, Family Practice. “In addition, each person has specific physical goals and limitations that can be addressed with a customized set of activities. One should review his or her fitness program with a physician or physical therapist annually, ensuring they are stretching, exerting and healing appropriately according to their unique needs.”

In addition to the general list above, we relied on a group of trusted experts in a variety of areas to list some of the “best” exercises for unique needs and body parts.

A physical therapist or personal trainer can coach you or you can find instructional videos online to ensure you use proper form.

Be sure to check with your doctor before starting any new exercise plan.

Lower Body

If you don’t have severe knee pain, or restriction around the use of your knees, the best exercise to ensure long-term lower body strength is squats. Be sure your knees don’t extend out past your toes, and try to “sit” on an imaginary (or real!) chair. Go slowly, and gradually increase your reps. BONUS: Strong quadriceps help prevent eventual knee pain. 

Upper Body

If you are able, the best upper body exercises are yoga’s Downward Dog and Upward Dog poses. These poses increase strength and flexibility plus, give you nicely toned arms, back and shoulders using your own body weight.

Cardiovascular Health

Most experts now agree that an hour a day on the treadmill or stair climber is NOT the best way to achieve heart health. Interval training has quickly become accepted as a safer and more impactful way to optimize cardio-fitness. Use the exercise of your choice – walking, running, cycling, even dancing. The goal is to push yourself to maximum exertion (where you’re barely able to talk), hold it there for 30 seconds then move at a restful pace for two minutes. Repeat the cycle for a total of 10 minutes to start, working up to 20 or 30 minutes, three times each week.

Knee Pain

The best way to work through and eliminate knee pain, is to strengthen the other, larger muscles around the knees. Once you’re in knee pain, squats are probably not advisable. Do a Supine Hamstring Stretch to lengthen and release tight hamstring muscles, and Static Quad Contractions to gradually strengthen the quadriceps muscles without further strain on the knee joint.

Lower Back Pain

Try the Cat Cow Stretch to massage and stimulate not only the spine, but also the kidneys, pelvic muscles and other critical parts of your body’s core. Follow it up with a set of Glute Bridge exercises to loosen tight hips and engage quad muscles that support the lower back.

Neck Pain

Our increasingly sedentary and digital lifestyles are leading to an epidemic of neck pain and forward head posture. Neck Retraction exercises have a number of variations easily found online, and are the best way to strengthen the muscles that support your head.

It’s important to customize any new exercises to the unique needs and limitations of your body.

A licensed physical therapist is not just a resource before or after surgical procedures – they are a valued partner in learning how to work, stretch and rest your body to reduce pain and optimize overall health.

If you need to be connected with a qualified Physical Therapist, ask your primary care physician or contact Byrd Regional Hospital 337-239-5113 to get a referral.