Have you ever noticed that most kids run more than they walk? For little ones, constant physical activity is a way of life, not a task to cross off a to-do list. Whether it's jumping over puddles, using a curb as a balance beam or racing a puppy across the yard, movement just comes naturally to children. Wouldn't it be nice if you could bottle up a little of their boundless energy for yourself—while also burning extra calories and gaining muscle tone?
Maybe the key is tapping into your inner youngster and discovering new, fun, unique ways to turn exercise into child’s play. The next time you need a break from boot camp or want to step off the treadmill train, try including some of these happy-go-lucky moves in your daily routine.
1. Trampoline Jumping
If there's a surefire way to peel away the years and recapture the carefree joyfulness of childhood, it's spending some time on a trampoline. Also known as rebounding, trampoline jumping isn't just boundless fun—it's also an effective cardio exercise that burns approximately 111 calories per half hour. The trampoline absorbs the shock of each jump, making it a great low-impact activity for those who suffer from knee, ankle or hip pain.
While the big backyard trampolines are great, you can get the same benefits from a mini trampoline. In addition to jumping, try marching or jogging in place—or get started with this trampoline workout, which includes basic bounces, prances and squats. Also, check with any trampoline parks in your area to see if they offer fitness classes.
A few months ago, personal trainer Kristy Stabler's nine-year-old daughter wanted to learn to do handstands, so she started throwing her hands down and kicking her feet up in the air while watching TV. "After hundreds of handstand attempts, her arm and core strength has dramatically improved. Practice makes perfect—and it makes you strong!" she says.
According to fitness trainer Julia Buckley, handstands are an excellent way to build upper body strength, improve balance and strengthen core muscles. "The goal is to distribute your weight so you stay upright, which really works the muscles in your shoulders and arms," she says. As an added bonus, Buckley estimates that you'll burn about 160 calories in 20 minutes. Plus, the extra blood to the brain has been linked to improved mood and energy levels.
3. Hula Hooping
Hula hooping has a way of making you giggle and bringing out your inner child, while also burning calories and working your core with the constant side-to-side twisting motion. Still skeptical that hooping is a bonafide form of exercise? The SparkPeople team tried a hooping class to see what all the fuss was about, and everyone agreed that it's a fun and effective alternative to traditional cardiovascular workouts.
4. Jumping Rope
Good old-fashioned Double Dutch is a hallmark of childhood, and there's no reason to retire the ropes just because recess is a thing of the past. "Jumping rope is an excellent form of cardio and works your entire body, as you're using multiple muscle groups at once," says Buckley. "This helps you get stronger and more fit while also torching calories, keeping your heart healthy and controlling your blood pressure."
Before you could even walk or talk, you were already getting a head start on your fitness. Some experts believe that crawling could be the new plank, and many gyms are incorporating it into their workouts. It turns out contralateral movements—including bicycle crunches, elbow-to-knee motions and crawling—are a great way to build core strength. As an added bonus, modified crawling (where you’re not directly on your knees) is low-impact and easy on the joints.
Hopscotch wasn't always just a playground game; it was originally invented by Roman soldiers as a speed and agility training drill, which gives you an idea of how effective it can be as an exercise. "A form of plyometrics, hopscotch is great for building strength in your legs and also helps to improve agility, which is great for sports where you have to change direction quickly without expending all your energy at once," Buckley says.
7. Roller Skating or Rollerblading
Remember the days when you'd spend countless hours skating circles around the roller rink, working up a sweat without even trying? There's no reason to stop spinning your wheels in adulthood. Skating is an excellent cardiovascular workout that also strengthens leg and core muscles while improving balance. And because it's low-impact, it's a safe choice for those with joint problems.
You may not think of squats as child's play, but more as a complex and challenging exercise. That said, think about how a two year old moves during a typical day of play and learning, squatting to pick up toys and dig in the sandbox. "Toddlers perform hundreds of squats per day, often with textbook form," says Dani Singer with Fit2Go Personal Training. "Squats are a natural movement pattern—they only turn into an exercise after we begin sitting on chairs and lose the strength in the back of our legs." A 150-pound person will burn around 215 calories for every 15 minutes of squatting.
9. Playing Tag
If swings and slides are a little too far out of your comfort zone, consider joining in next time your kids or grandkids engage in a good old-fashioned game of tag. Even if you don't like running or jogging, you may find that you barely notice the exertion required to chase (or flee from) someone.
In a nostalgic throwback to the toys of yesteryear, the SkipFit allows you to get in a fun, easy cardio session anytime, anywhere. You’ll work your lower body while also burning as many calories as running. Simply strap it around your ankle and start skipping—the difficulty increases as you pick up the pace, so you control the challenge level.
With a little more imagination and a little less inhibition, you can turn your workout into child's play! Which of these kids' activities would you like to repurpose as exercise?
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