When it comes to exercise, many of us are creatures of habit. We head for the same class at the gym, log the same workout on the elliptical trainer, and run the same route every single time we lace up our sneakers. Sure, regular exercise is good for you, but it’s also important to vary your fitness routine. Your body—and brain—will reap benefits when you try new activities. “There are numerous benefits to mixing up your workout routine,” says Arnold Lee, MD, a physician at One Medical Group in San Francisco. “It’s the key to stimulating different muscle groups and preventing boredom.”
There’s no shortage of different types of exercise to try. If you tend to gravitate toward more traditional activities—like running, biking, or swimming—look for ways to change up your workout. For instance, instead of running on the treadmill or the road, head for a wooded trail or local park. Not only will you experience an enjoyable change of scenery, but you’ll work your body in a different way that can enhance your overall fitness level. Here are seven benefits to tweaking your exercise routine.
1. Break Through a Weight-Loss Plateau
“When you do the same activity all the time, your body gets used it and becomes very efficient,” explains Lee. “Eventually, that adaptation will mean that you burn fewer calories even when you’re doing the same amount of exercise.” The solution: Challenge you body in a way that it’s not used to. Your body will have to work harder as it adjusts to the new activity, which means that you’ll burn more calories when you work out. And don’t forget to eat sensibly; regular exercise and a healthy diet are both important for weight loss.
2. Prevent Overuse Injuries
There’s a reason why you get hurt when you put your body through the same motions over and over again. “It’s called a repetitive strain injury,” says Lee. This type of injury often occurs from doing lots of repetitive motions, such as running, hitting a tennis ball, kicking (in kickboxing or martial arts classes), or performing the same swimming stroke. By mixing up your activities, you give those overused muscles, joints, and ligaments a chance to rest and recover before putting them into action again. And if you do get injured, performing a different activity that doesn’t strain the same part of the body will allow you to stay in shape and heal at the same time.
3. Build New Muscles
Ever notice how you can quickly identify a professional swimmer by his powerful arms and shoulders and a long-distance runner by her chiseled legs? That’s because professional athletes focus almost exclusively on one sport—and that sport builds very specific muscles. But for recreational exercisers, the best approach is to do a little of everything. That way you’ll build a strong heart (for endurance), muscular legs and a powerful upper body. You’ll look great and be physically ready to take on a variety of sports and activities.
4. Beat Workout Boredom
If you find yourself literally counting down the seconds left in your elliptical workout or can hardly stand the sight of the same streets as you run down them, it’s time to switch up your routine. Keep your workouts from getting stale by constantly trying new things. Venture into a Zumba class for a total change of pace, or just try tweaking your usual activity. For instance, instead of running the same distance at your customary pace, add some speed intervals. After you’ve warmed up, do a series of 30-second sprints followed by two minutes of slower jogging to recover. Keep repeating that, and you’ll reach the end of your run feeling invigorated.
5. Help Keep Your Brain Healthy
Exercise is essential for keeping your brain sharp and helping to prevent memory loss. And learning new skills also helps keep your neurons firing better. So learning a new exercise activity is a double-whammy when it comes to brain health. Ballroom dancing and other activities that require some skill and memorization are a good option. The key is to choose activities that keep you engaged; don’t pick things that you can do on autopilot. You don’t need to overly exert yourself to reap the benefits of exercise for your brain and memory, but you should exercise regularly. Research shows that active individuals have a lower risk for diabetes, high cholesterol, hypertension (high blood pressure), and stroke, which can affect memory.
6. Meet New Workout Partners
One of the best ways to stay engaged with exercise—and committed to a regular schedule of activity—is to find people you want to work out with. And what better way to find someone than to try a new activity? Join a running group to find a partner to meet for jogs, try a spin class and find someone you can go for bike ride with, or strike up a conversation while doing partner stretches in a yoga class. Or ask a friend to join you in trying a new activity.
7. Get Excited About Exercise Again
When too many days in a row go by that you’d rather hit the snooze button than hit the gym, it’s definitely time to make a change. It may take a little trial and error before you find a new workout you enjoy, but stick with it until you do. Then, change up your routine so that you include several types of activity every week. You’ll see better results and have a lot more fun doing it.