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What Cardio Exercise Is Most Likely to Stick with Me for Life?

You will pry these elliptical handles from my cold, dead hands

Even as you’re reading these words, your body is aging. In the trifecta of life’s certainties, aging is as certain as death and taxes, but far more frequent. A few of the early milestones of aging come with benefits, like having the ability to legally sit behind the wheel of a car, or looking a bartender in the eyes and ordering a cocktail with confidence booming through your vocal chords. However, one of the downsides is that everyone ultimately ages out of the consistency of organized team sports that come prepackaged with attentive coaching personnel. As a result, athletic achievement and devotion peak for many in high school, and are never pursued again.

Ideally, all sports could be played in the quest for fitness and glory well into adulthood, but let’s face it: It would be a daunting challenge for an ex-football player to scrape together 21 other fiftysomethings who are willing to assemble on the gridiron and pound one another into dust. Some sports are confined to the youthful stage of life for a reason.

Ball-demanding sports aside, athletic competitions that prioritize racing across set distances are among the best at instituting fitness-focused habits and skills that will serve you well as you progress beyond your teenage years and emerge as an adult with total autonomy over your health and wellness. 

The good news is, if you’ve advanced in years, it isn’t too late to undertake formal training in an effort to master the techniques of these cardiovascular training methods that all double as self-contained sports. However, if you happen to have participated in any of these sports as a youth, you’ll find that there are plenty of opportunities to delve back into your fount of underutilized sporting skills to sustain yourself throughout the rest of your life and even make additional grabs at athletic glory.

1) Rowing

Yes, rowing is among the snobbiest sports there is. Yes, rowing is emblematic of boating clubs and ugly blazers. Yes, rowing requires you to set out upon a cold, misty lake with a bunch of other cantankerous jerks early in the morning. Yes, I’m still going to push rowing on you because it just so happens to be among the best total body exercises you can do.

Indoor rowing is slowly gaining in respectability, but this is primarily due to CrossFit, and the recognition within the CrossFit boxes that rowing sprints are downright brutal. Outside of the world of CrossFit, relatively few people row regularly on rowing machines, and even fewer know how to row properly.

What does this mean for you? It means the most efficient cardiovascular muscle-engager in your gym is probably going to be wide open for you to plop down on and crank out some meters whenever you feel like it. It also means you’re now a champion waiting to happen once you allow yourself to become enmeshed in the Concept2 culture. Aside from the real distance challenges Concept2 offers to you, which include challenges that will allow you to form or join your own teams — including official alumni teams for some colleges and universities — you can also define your own situational challenges based on your location and age group. 

Are you the fastest marathon rower in your city and in your age group? Well, congratulations, city champ! Order yourself a T-shirt from CustomInk and customize a trophy for yourself from Crown Awards. Sometimes you can define your own success simply by drawing the lines in the right places.

2) Swimming

It’s easy to take it for granted that the people around you are competent swimmers, but as with everything, there are levels to this. Even though 80 percent of Americans claim to know how to swim, nearly half of U.S. residents can’t swim well enough to save themselves. All I’m saying is, if you can swim well enough to save your own skin, you should count your blessings, and if you happen to have been a competitive swimmer at any point in your life, your skills are probably at least in the 95th percentile of all Americans.

Speaking of competitive swimming, all of the hours you’ve spent in the water have probably instilled a mindset that’s geared toward pressing yourself forward against constant resistance, which is an apt description of the entire swimming process. That sort of stubbornness will get you in trouble in several real-world scenarios, but if it creeps into your devotion to physical development, you can count your lucky stars that the soul of a swimmer remains with you for life.

About that whole with-you-for-life part: You can use this to your fitness advantage in multiple respects. Foremost of those respects is that the lanes of your local gym are often vacant even when the treadmills are occupied. Yes, dealing with chlorine again is a pain, but look on the brightside: There’s no crazy ex-collegiate swimmer (i.e., a high school coach) screaming at you anymore, so you can swim in whatever fashion, and at whatever pace you wish.

One last point: Masters swimming age groups start at age 18, which means that if this news is reaching you early enough, you can sneak into masters swimming in the 18- to 24-year-old age group — when all of the truly elite swimmers are competing in college or are eagerly discovering how much free time awaits them in their post-swimming lives — and steal a state championship in your age group. Or you can enter into meets and compete until you’re 120 years old. 

Seriously, if you show up at a masters swim meet at that age, they’ll invent the age group just to accomodate you, and if it happens to be at the FINA World Masters Championships, and you’re the lone entrant in your event, you’ll be the world champion. This means if you have the skills to swim and you have any desire to compete, swimming will ensure that you have a respectable outlet for your competitive energies at any age.

3) Distance Running

Ah, the no-brainer. Whether you trained to run the 800 meters, 1,600 meters or 3,200 meters with the track team, or you joined the cross-country team and regularly strode 5,000 meters during all of your competitions, your training regimen required you to traverse a great number of miles in your daily practices. Guess what? Your teenage training routine happens to be one of the most efficient, reliable ways for you to maintain the health of your grown-up heart.

The glorious convenience to running is that it never requires an organized track or course. When you walk outside of your residence, is there land? Congratulations — that’s your track. You could even encircle your apartment complex to your heart’s content and achieve a healthy constitution. Or you can take any of several disordered paths through the heart of your city. 

Here’s the important part: Aside from the health benefits afforded to you through regular running, every instance of running you perform can be considered an act of training for any of the more than 30,000 distance running events that occur in the U.S. each year, many of which are open to runners of all ages. With an average of more than 80 races a day, you can certainly locate an event worthy of training for, no matter what age group you fall into as you advance in age.