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The Healthy Living Magazine

Changing Your Exercise Routine

Fun fitness ideas for EVERY body

By Tracey Neithercott ,

It doesn't take much for a routine to become,well, routine. Slog away at any activity for long enough and boredom can ruin your motivation. It happens to skilled athletes and novices alike. "People get into an exercise program, and they fade out of it," says Dale Wagner, PhD, president of the American Society of Exercise Physiologists and an associate professor of exercise physiology at Utah State University. Mixing things up can help. "If they have more activities, they won't get bored." But that's not the only reason switching up your regimen is essential. Repeat the same moves over and over again, and you'll set yourself up for overuse injuries. "It's about doing a variety of activities," says Wagner. "If you run over a long period of time, certain muscles tend to shorten. It's like when you sit in a chair all the time. Your hip flexors shorten."

Trying new exercises can also keep your body guessing. "If all we do is walk on a flat surface at the same pace, not varying [our] workout, the body becomes very efficient," says Cherilyn Hultquist, PhD, an assistant professor of health, physical education, and sport science at Kennesaw (Ga.) State University. That means that your body uses less energy from food to power your workout once you've mastered a skill than when you first start. You don't have to introduce an entirely new exercise to reap the benefits, either (though doing that can help beat boredom). If you do pick a new activity or make a major change to your exercise plan, check with your doctor first. Read on to learn about some fun exercises—for seasoned athletes and those just getting started.

If you're a BENCH WARMER

then try … hula hooping, active video games, or yoga

Let's get one thing straight: It's never too late to start exercising. Now is the perfect time to add bits of exercise to your day—just remember to begin slowly and get your doctor's OK.

You probably tried it as a kid, but hula hooping is a terrific low-impact aerobic activity for adults, too. You can use a typical plastic hoop or choose a weighted one for a tougher workout. (You can find them in many sporting goods stores.) The right hoop will hit at your stomach or chest when placed vertically on the ground in front of you, but pick a larger hoop if your waist is wide. It'll take some practice to find your groove—and that's part of the fun. Once you get a good rhythm, try to keep going for 10 minutes and build from there.

It may seem counterintuitive, but playing certain video games can improve your fitness. A 2006 study in the journal Pediatrics found that kids burned twice as many calories playing active video games as they did playing more traditional ones. If you're willing to shell out $200 for a Nintendo Wii, you can try out a handful of sports without commitment. (The system comes with a Wii Sports sampler, but add-ons, like the Wii balance board, cost extra.) Dance, Dance Revolution is another active video game (available for multiple gaming systems) that's both fun and aerobically challenging.

For something more low-key, try yoga. It is "just a fantastic way to improve strength and flexibility," says Hultquist. Many gyms and local community centers offer classes for members, but you can also try stand-alone yoga studios. To get the most out of a class, tell the instructor right away that you're new; he or she will be able to better guide you and explain how to modify difficult moves. And make sure you start with a beginner's lesson—some studios offer advanced classes as well. Certain types of yoga, such as hatha, "gentle," "restorative," or "laughter" yoga, are especially suited to novices.


then try … golf, dancing, or walking

Weekend workouts are a good way to fit in fun exercises you can't do after work. But you could be setting yourself up for trouble. "You get really busy during the week and then go out on the weekend and do a long hike for four hours. You're at much greater risk for injuries," says Wagner. "What I tell my students is, 'Would you go all week without brushing your teeth and do it all on Sunday? No.' You don't have to give up your weekend workouts, but you should incorporate activity into your weekday, too."

The great thing about golf is that you don't have to commit to 18 holes in order to get a good workout. Leave playing the course for Sunday morning, but stay active on weekday nights by hitting a bucket of balls at the driving range. You'll strengthen your back, abs, legs, and arms and prep your body for a longer golf game when you have more time.

Or pick something unrelated to your weekend activities. Dancing can be free and easy, regardless of skill level or age. When you get home from work, crank up the music and start moving. Take a class, and you'll learn a new skill while getting an aerobic workout. An hour of fast dancing will burn 394 calories for a 150-pound person. That's the same number of calories burned as in an hour of light pedaling on a stationary bike. Just remember that certain dances (like, say, salsa) will work you harder than others (like ballroom).

If you can't commit to pre- or post-work exercise, use your lunch break to go walking. Go solo or gather a group of fitness-minded coworkers to join in. You can start a steps-per-month challenge with other walking-group members to inspire motivation and persistence. Or work toward a goal, like the American Diabetes Association's Step Out: Walk to Fight Diabetes.


then try … mountain biking, surfing, or canyoneering

You might run marathons, or compete in triathlons, or cycle for miles on end, but one thing is certain: You're part of an upper echelon of athletes who push themselves day after day in pursuit of excellence. That's all well and good, but it's smart to complement the mastery of one sport with work in another to keep the muscles in balance and prevent injury.

Even if you can run 10 miles easily, start slow with mountain biking. Tackling steep inclines and rugged ground will challenge you in ways other sports—say, long-distance running or swimming—cannot. For one, balance plays a major role. And mountain biking forces you to focus on the terrain and your form while attempting not to face-plant in the dirt. If you're a newbie, prepare by familiarizing yourself with the trail ahead of time. And wear a helmet.

But if you already spend most days on the seat of a bike, try another sport that requires strength and a whole lot of balance: surfing. It's a full-body workout: You'll paddle out to sea before hopping on the board and trying to stay upright. Plenty of spots along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts (as well as more tropical locations) offer surfing lessons and surfboard rentals to novices.

You can test your mind and muscles—and get a hefty dose of adrenaline—with canyoneering. Hike and wade through canyons, rappel down steep walls, hurl yourself over waterfalls, and climb in and around pools of water: You'll get a strength-training workout in some of the most breathtaking locations—perfect for jostling you out of a fitness rut. You can schedule a canyoneering trip though an outdoor adventure group or join one of the meet-ups on the American Canyoneering Association's website.

If you're a TEAM PLAYER

then try … swimming, karate, or indoor rock climbing

There are plenty of reasons to play team sports, not the least of which is the camaraderie. Still, a little solo work can help train muscles you might not use on the field. Swimming, for one, strengthens you from fingertips to feet, and by building underused muscles it can bring your body into balance. Swimming is also easy on achy joints, so it's a good way to train between team practices. It's not difficult to find a place to swim; many gyms and community centers have indoor pools.

For some people, the community aspect of team sports is the greatest hook. But doing an individualized activity doesn't mean you have to plod along in silence. Martial arts like karate are still social and competitive, but they force each contender to strive for personal success. Karate complements team sports well because it builds the strength and focus necessary to succeed on the field.

Or try indoor rock climbing. Gyms across the country try to re-create the thrill of rock climbing on a smaller scale, using towering walls studded with colorful knobs. If you've never climbed before, the gyms offer beginner courses that explain the basics of using a harness, ropes, and other climbing equipment. Learning the finer points of scaling a 40-foot wall is a good precursor to climbing a real mountain, and with experts on hand, it's a safer way to take up the sport.

If you're a GYM RAT

then try … white-water rafting, Ultimate Frisbee, or hiking

There's nothing wrong with the gym per se, but plugging away there day after day can make your motivation fizzle fast. Plateaus—and boredom—are sure to follow. Sometimes all it takes to invigorate your routine is to move outdoors. White-water rafting, for one, adds excitement unlike any gym activity. The constant paddling through white-water rapids and still rivers works the entire upper body—back, abs, arms, and chest. And there's hardly time to slack off or get bored.

Joining a sports team can also be a smart idea. "There's the accountability built into that," says Hultquist. Knowing that dozens of people are relying on you to show up can help you clear the toughest exercise hurdle: getting there. If traditional sports aren't your thing, try Ultimate Frisbee. Many cities and towns have club teams you can join, or you can play an informal pickup game. To find out about those or official leagues, go to the Ultimate Players Association.

Another option: Go hiking. Unlike gyms, nature doesn't provide consistently smooth terrain, which means your muscles are challenged more. "On the treadmill, the belt keeps the hamstrings fairly inactive," says Hultquist. "Take it outside and the hamstrings get involved." You can set your own pace while hiking, but no matter how fast you walk you'll have to tackle hills and uneven ground.

Just because you're in a fitness rut doesn't mean you have to change the type of exerciser you are. If you work out to be alone and clear your head, a team sport might not be right for you. Instead, pick something that lets you go solo but work different muscles. And don't count on the health benefits alone to drive you. "In exercise, sometimes the threat of poor health is not enough," says Hultquist. Above all, find activities you enjoy. "If you enjoy doing it, you're more likely to do it," says Wagner. "I'm not a runner, so I don't run. But I enjoy riding a bike regardless of whether that'd be healthy for me." The health boost? Consider it a fringe benefit.