The Best Exercise for Your Lifestyle

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The Ex-Jock/Weekend Warrior

Expert Favorite: Lower-Intensity Weight Lifting

They were the quarterbacks, the volleyball captains, or the cross country runners back in high school and college, but out in the real world, their office jobs leave them sedentary. These "ex-jocks" tend to be weekend warriors when it comes to exercise: they go for high-intensity exercises or community sports leagues on Sunday but are sedentary the rest of the week. This puts them at high risk for muscle strain, joint pain, and other kinds of injuries, as their attempts to recapture their glory days leads them to overreach their body's abilities.

"They do too much too soon and you see a lot of immediate injuries," says Dolen, of University of Michigan. "You can't leave it all to the weekend. You have to make time in the week to exercise as well or you're going to keep hurting yourself," she says.

Former athletes, even those who have been "on the bench" for a decade, do have an advantage over those who were always sedentary, says West, of University of Tulsa. There will be some carry-over of their former fitness, but they're still going to have to start with the basics if they want to excel at sports again, he says: flexibility, cardiovascular training and resistance training.

"You can go back and lift again, but you're going to be working with less weight than you remember and you're going to need more recovery time than before," says Davis. As long as they build up in intensity slowly, the sky's the limit in terms of the kinds of exercise they can pursue.

The Generic Jogger in Need of a Boost

Expert Favorite: Weight Training

When the weather is nice, they take to the streets and parks: they run because they like it, or because it's simple and free. Those who jog quasi-regularly are usually in good cardiovascular shape, but they can be surprisingly low in muscle strength or flexibility, experts say.

This makes casual runners a prime candidate for a little weight training to build up the muscles that support their running, such as those in the back and stomach. Especially after age 40, injuries from running will be muscular and skeletal, Walters says, so building up the muscles with strength training will make someone less likely to injure themselves during their weekly jog.

For casual runners who want a jumpstart, West recommends high-intensity interval training (HIT). It's running, only amped up: "sprint for 30 seconds and rest for 30-90 seconds and then repeat," he says. The same principle can be applied to biking or other kinds of aerobic exercise. Studies show that people who do this kind of high-intensity interval training boost their aerobic capacity more than those who exercise five times as long at a slower, steady pace.

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