For many people, the word “exercise” conjures up images of running laps, collapsing after aerobics, or trying out for high school athletics.
For many people, the word “exercise” conjures up images of running laps, collapsing after aerobics, or trying out for high school athletics. Since most people were not star athletes in their teenage years, these images can be less than appealing; for some, they verge on traumatic. But fear not! Now more than ever, there are ways to be fit and healthy without running a single step!
As more and more people recognize the benefits of a healthy lifestyle, opportunities for unique forms of exercise continue to increase. Of course, there are still many places to engage in more traditional activities such as sports, jogging, and swimming. However, if you’re looking for a challenge, prefer something with a different pace, or just like to try new things, you might want to try something off the beaten path. In fact, many gyms now offer a wide variety of classes in addition to supplying equipment, which can be a great way to experience different activities without committing to a full course. Community and ethnic centers are also good places to look for such classes. Often they will have drop-in nights, and if they don’t, most teachers are willing to let you sit in on a class before deciding to register.
The most important thing is to keep an open mind! Be brave or, better still, recruit a friend to be brave along with you. Exercise should be fun, so do whatever it takes to get yourself out there!
Here are a few options to consider when looking for the exercise class that’s right for you.
Based on traditional Indian methods of movement and breathing, Yoga is a deceptively simple practice. In its simplest form, Yoga means holding a variety of positions designed to increase strength and flexibility. To the casual observer it may seem to lack intensity, and it’s true that relaxation is a key concept in Yoga. However, when done properly Yoga requires tremendous strength and concentration. There are different types of Yoga. Some cycle quickly through poses, resulting in an increased heart rate and more aerobic activity; others focus on maintaining the poses to build strength. Either way, Yoga is an effective way to maintain fitness levels, increase balance, and manage stress.
Pilates is similar to Yoga in that it consists of holding poses in order to increase strength and flexibility. There are many similarities between the two practices. One key difference, however, is the type of breathing: Yoga focuses on linking breath and movement while Pilates focuses on using breath to increase endurance. Pilates also places less emphasis on relaxation and meditation, which makes some people feel it is a more intense workout. The main goal of the Pilates Method is to strengthen the core muscles. These are the muscles in your lower abdomen and along your sides; they support you and help to maintain proper posture. Pilates accomplishes this by using your own body weight to create resistance, building strength and poise.
3. Belly Dancing
Belly dancing has become increasingly popular in recent years. Many women find that belly dancing increases their comfort with and confidence in their own bodies. Contrary to popular belief, belly dancing does not necessarily mean exposing your belly; as in most exercise classes, typical dress consists of general athletic wear. Some people find it helpful to tie a scarf or coin belt around their hips to increase their awareness of how their hips are moving. Belly dancing focuses on isolating and moving individual muscles. Like Yoga and Pilates, belly dancing strengthens through repetition. Depending on the level and speed of the class, it can be a highly aerobic activity. In addition to increasing general fitness levels, belly dancing can improve posture, coordination, and rhythm.
4. Hip-Hop Dancing
At the other end of the spectrum, hip-hop dancing has also become a popular activity. One of the benefits of hip-hop is that it requires no previous experience in dance or music. Beginners’ classes are easy to find and require no special equipment. Some people consider hip-hop too “young” or “trendy” for them, associating it with music videos and rap stars. But the truth is that many people of all ages enjoy hip-hop. In fact, hip-hop can be a great mother-daughter activity (or in some cases, even mother-son)! If you prefer a fast-paced class and a heavy beat, hip-hop might be right up your alley.
5. Strip Aerobics
Perhaps the most infamous form of exercise to surface in recent years is strip aerobics. In spite of the enticing name, strip aerobics rarely include actual stripping; the focus is on using different moves to increase physical fitness rather than training exotic dancers. Many women have tried strip aerobics for fun or adventure only to be surprised at what a workout they get! Strip aerobics is a broad term encompassing several activities, primarily pole-dancing, lap dancing, and the striptease. Pole-dancing in particular has become very popular because it is a highly aerobic activity requiring tremendous strength and agility. In any form of strip aerobics, the emphasis is on using moves to build strength and flexibility – how you use them outside of class is up to you!
6. Martial Arts
As more and more women become interested in learning to defend themselves, classes such as kickboxing, judo, and karate have surged in popularity. In addition to their practical applications, these classes increase strength, posture, and flexibility. They have the added bonus of developing concentration and confidence. There are more and more martial arts courses aimed at beginners, and many primed specifically for women. In terms of variety, these courses range from aerobic kickboxing (designed mainly for fitness rather than learning to fight) to competitive training. There are also many different forms of martial arts. Whether you prefer kicks, punches, throws, or even weapons, there is a form of martial arts for you. This is one area where it’s important to do your homework! Try different classes and don’t give up. Just because you didn’t like karate doesn’t mean you won’t fall in love with judo!
Okay, so it’s not exactly a new discovery, but people are falling in love with walking again. It’s well known that jogging, while wonderful for your heart, can harm your joints, especially the knees. Many people have come to prefer walking – and many have banded together to form clubs and groups. If you enjoy a more aerobic activity you might find speed-walking appealing, but a moderate pace is just as beneficial. The benefit of joining a group is, of course, motivation, but you can get the same effect by walking with a friend. Make a date and give it a try – it requires no special equipment, works around your schedule, and you already know how to do it!
With all of these options, it gets hard to find an excuse for remaining inactive! More and more people are recognizing the importance of physical fitness. Activity improves health, stamina, vitality, and longevity. With new types of classes and practices popping up every day, even people who hate exercise are discovering something that’s right for them! Whatever your past experiences, don’t be afraid to try something new. You never know what you may discover!