Making sense of the exercise obstacle course; different types of exercise and their benefits


Cue the groans! This blog post is all about the benefits of different types of exercise. Yes! You read that correctly! Although half way through a work out, it may feel like an intensely horrible punishment; as the saying goes, no pain no gain! ūüėČ So it‚Äôs time to explore the benefits of some of the latest exercise trends we may have been forced to try with friends (but secretly have grown to love!). Whether it be cardio, weight training or yoga, they all have different benefits for our physical, psychological and cognitive wellbeing.

types of exercise

Types of exercise- Running

Research, medical professionals, and social media are always telling us the overall benefits of exercise. We know that exercise decreases our risk of coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers. Exercise also lowers blood pressure, whilst improving insulin sensitivity and weight management. In elderly individuals it can help maintain bone density and reduce the risk of falls, whilst reducing the risk of dementia and cognitive decline. In terms of mental health, exercise can improve depression and anxiety and can help protect against it. Overall we know that it increases our energy levels, improves wellbeing and quality of life. But what types of exercise or training are there? Does each type serve different benefits to our body, mind and brain?


types of exercise

Types of exercise and its benefits

Cardio training

Cardio training is basically aerobic exercise. The purpose of this type of exercise is to make our cardiovascular system (the heart and the lungs) stronger and more efficient. Aerobic exercise increases heart rate, breathing rate and oxygen intake. This in turn increases the circulation of oxygen to the muscles.

Types of Cardio training activities

Any activity that increasing your breathing and heart rate is perfect for cardio training. Walking, running, swimming, dancing, playing tennis are all great activities for increasing your heart rate.

types of exercise

Types of exercise-Swimming for cardio training

Benefits of Cardio training

Aerobic exercise improves conditions such as hypertension, glucose intolerance and high blood pressure. It strengths the cardio vascular system and helps to protect against heart disease. As cardio training reduces total body fat, which helps to reduce our BMI (body mass index), This type of training is ideal for getting lean.

The benefits of aerobic exercise on mental health are almost instantaneous. A study conducted by Rana (2016) found that just after one session of walking, participants reported reductions in anxiety (more tips for living with social anxiety). In addition to improving mental health, aerobic exercise improves brain and cognitive health. aerobic exercise has been found to change brain structures. It can increase the size of the hippocampus (memory store) and the dorsal striatum (information processing centre). It can enhance our attentional capacities and improve the speed at which we process incoming stimuli. Furthermore, in older adults’ aerobic exercise has been linked to increase brain volume. This means that cardio training can help slow down the aging processes such as cognitive decline. According to researcher Ahlskog, aerobic exercise acts a neuroprotective barrier against Parkinson’s disease, helps slow down progression of the disease, while improving executive functioning, mood and quality of life.

Resistance Training

Also known as strength training or anaerobic exercise. The purpose of this type of exercise is to increase muscle strength, mass and tone. During this type of training, the muscles use up oxygen at a much faster rate at which the body can replace it. As the muscles aren’t getting enough oxygen they look for alternative energy sources, ATP (Adenosine triphosphate), which is the broken down form of glycogen.

Types of Exercise

Activities that use free weights, resistance bands or body weight exercises are all great for improving muscle strength. Deadlifts, lunges, squats, mountain climbers and even the dreaded plank, all help to improve muscle strength and definition. HIIT training, High Intensity Interval Training, is the latest hashtag worthy exercise trend. It involves short burst of maximum effort activity such as running (or dare I say burpees!) followed by a short period of low effort activity.

types of exercise

resistance training – free weights

Benefits of Resistance training

In addition to lowering the risk of mortality, it can counteract the onset of type 2 diabetes. resistance training prevents development of functional limitations, reduces risk of musculoskeletal disorders whilst improving body composition and bone mass. This type of exercise helps protect against osteoporosis. Also it can alleviate pain in individuals with osteoarthritis or lower back pain. Resistance training can improve psychological health by improving self-esteem, reducing fatigue, and anxiety.

In terms of brain health, Liu-Ambrose and colleagues have found that resistance training helps maintain functional plasticity (this is the brains ability to adapt to injury). The researchers also found that this type of training to be associated with functional changes to various parts of the brain, like the left middle temporal gyrus (plays a role in reading, writing and facial recognition), left anterior insula (involved in emotion processing) and the orbitofrontal cortex (centre for decision making) in older adults.

Flexibility Training

The purpose of this type of training is to improve overall flexibility, balance and posture as well as increasing the range of movement of our joints. It enhances our coordination skills, motor control and agility.

Types of Exercise

Any Stretch! Any type of exercise that involves controlling movement and stretching is great for flexibility training. Practices such as Tai Chi, Pilates, yoga are great at helping us get limber enough to finally touch our toes!

types of exercise

flexibility training-yoga

Benefits of Flexibility Training

Flexibility training, has a whole load of benefits. It helps to relieve aches and pains, especially back pain. Taylor-Piluae and colleagues have found that Tai Chi improves overall cognitive functioning. According to Fuzhong, practising as little as twice a week is enough to improve balance in individuals diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.  Yoga is another practice that seems to have all round benefits. Research by Carol Ewing Garber and Colleagues (2011) found yoga improves functioning of the hypothalamic-pituitary adrenal axis (this system regulates our hormones, response to stress and regulates other functions such as sleep). Yoga also enhances the sympathetic nervous system (this system activates of fight or flight response) and the immune system. In addition to this, research has found it reduces levels of cortisol (stress hormone) as well as blood pressure and heart rate. Yoga improves symptoms of diabetes and relieve symptoms of chronic pain. A review into the benefits of yoga by Ross and Thomas has found that yoga decrease symptoms of anxiety, depression, OCD. On the other hand, it improves sleep and increases feelings of emotional, social and spiritual wellbeing.


The take home message! Cardio is good for the heart, resistance training is good our bones and muscles and flexibility based activities are great for everything in between. Exercise has a range of benefits from improving cardiovascular health to protecting against cognitive decline. It can improve psychological health and also help manage conditions such as diabetes. Each type of exercise serves a different purpose be it increasing heart rate, muscle strength or balance; altogether they are the key to good health and wellbeing.


Do you have any questions, comments or suggestions? Please leave a comment below ūüôā



Ahlskog, J. E. (2011). Does vigorous exercise have a neuroprotective effect in Parkinson disease?. Neurology, 77(3), 288-294.

Cruise, K. E., Bucks, R. S., Loftus, A. M., Newton, R. U., Pegoraro, R., & Thomas, M. G. (2011). Exercise and Parkinson’s: benefits for cognition and quality of life. Acta Neurologica Scandinavica, 123(1), 13-19.

Garber, C. E., Blissmer, B., Deschenes, M. R., Franklin, B. A., Lamonte, M. J., Lee, I. M., … & Swain, D. P. (2011). American College of Sports Medicine position stand. Quantity and quality of exercise for developing and maintaining cardiorespiratory, musculoskeletal, and neuromotor fitness in apparently healthy adults: guidance for prescribing exercise.¬†Medicine and science in sports and exercise,¬†43(7), 1334-1359.

Li, F., Harmer, P., Fitzgerald, K., Eckstrom, E., Stock, R., Galver, J., … & Batya, S. S. (2012). Tai chi and postural stability in patients with Parkinson’s disease.¬†New England Journal of Medicine,¬†366(6), 511-519.

Liu-Ambrose, T., Nagamatsu, L. S., Voss, M. W., Khan, K. M., & Handy, T. C. (2012). Resistance training and functional plasticity of the aging brain: a 12-month randomized controlled trial. Neurobiology of aging, 33(8), 1690-1698.

Rana, M. (2016). Exercise and Cognitive Bias Modification Training in Adults: Effects on Self-Reported Anxiety.¬†International Journal of Innovative Research and Development|| ISSN 2278‚Äď0211,¬†5(4).

Ross, A., & Thomas, S. (2010). The health benefits of yoga and exercise: a review of comparison studies. The journal of Alternative and complementary medicine, 16(1), 3-12.

Taylor-Piliae, R. E., Newell, K. A., Cherin, R., Lee, M. J., King, A. C., & Haskell, W. L. (2010). Effects of Tai Chi and Western exercise on physical and cognitive functioning in healthy community-dwelling older adults. Journal of aging and physical activity, 18(3), 261.

Rupinder is an aspiring Neuropsychologist with a BSc in Psychology and an MSc in Cognitive Neuropsychology. She is interested in how Psychology and Neuroscience can be applied to everyday life. With experience in conducting behavioural and neuropsychological research, she is passionate about using research to improve our understanding of neurological and mental health conditions. Rupinder welcomes feedback and the opportunity to discuss all things Psychology and Neuroscience.