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The keys to a good fitness routine

Sarah Kelsey is a lifestyle writer, editor and spokesperson based in Toronto. She was the editor of AOL/The Huffington Post Canada’s StyleList, Style and Living sites. Today, she's a freelancer writing for some of North America’s top pub...

Balancing your workouts

With the return of the holidays, comes another end of the year ritual: New Year's resolutions. Whether you're starting an exercise routine for the first time or are a health junkie looking to improve on your already stellar workout schedule, include these four components of fitness for the best results.

Woman doing aerobics outdoors

Aerobic exercise

Why it's important: Cardiovascular fitness is not only important for boosting the strength and fitness of your lungs and heart, it can also keep your weight in check and help you burn fat.

How much you need: The American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association recommend moderately intense cardio 30 minutes a day, five days a week, or vigorously intense cardio 20 minutes a day, three days a week.

What this can include: Running, swimming, biking, walking, vigorously cleaning your house, gardening and other activities that raise your heart rate.

Strength training

Why it's important: As you age, you lose both lean muscle and bone mass. On average, you can expect to lose about 5 percent of your muscular strength every year between age 25 and 60. Once you hit 70 years old, that rate doubles. Working out with weights can significantly decrease (and even stop) the amount of muscle you lose as well as boost your bone strength.

How much you need: Most experts recommend a 20- to 30-minute strength training session that includes all major muscle groups at least twice a week.

What this can include: Weight lifting, weight machines, calisthenics, push-ups, crunches, sit-ups, leg squats, plyometrics, and other weight-bearing exercises.

Flexibility

Why it's important: Everything you do, from breathing to walking around the house, causes your muscles to contract and relax, so it should be no surprise that your muscles need a little break now and then. Stretching not only keeps muscles lean and limber, it will improve the range of motion of your joints.

How much you need: Gentle stretching can be done any time. More intense stretching should be done when your muscles are well warmed up, such as after a workout. Be sure to never force a stretch; it will actually make your muscles tighter and it puts you at risk of a muscle strain or tear.

What this can include: Yoga, Pilates, static stretches, and dynamic stretches.

Balance

Why it's important: Balance is one of the most common components of fitness that people forget to include in their exercise routine. Not only does it improve overall stability (meaning you're more likely to catch yourself before you fall and avoid injury), it can also make you feel more centered and in control of your body.

How much you need: Balance exercises can be practiced every day in your own home and, because they're simple to do, they won't take up too much of your time.

What this can include: Tai chi, balancing on one leg, sitting on an exercise ball, or any activities that challenge your balance.

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