Running and weightlifting may result in chiseled calves and bulging biceps, but social dancing and ping pong aren’t without their own benefits. While fitness magazines may promote the sexy sheen of a sweaty workout, sports that require less exertion offer some truly salubrious rewards. The following activities may require concentration, coordination, and practice, but these low-impact alternatives to more grueling sports also happen to be fun and social, adding even more to their charms.
1. Social dancing
Why go to the gym when you can Foxtrot, swing and waltz the night away? The benefits of cutting the rug include stress-reduction, cardiovascular health and a positive social environment.
But that’s not all. According to the Stanford University Dance Division, a study was conducted to see if any physical or cognitive recreational activities influenced mental acuity. What they found was that of all cognitive and physical activities examined — from tennis and swimming to reading and crossword puzzles — frequent dancing scored the highest with a whopping 76 percent risk reduction for dementia. As it turns out, dancing integrates several brain functions at once – kinesthetic, rational, musical and emotional — which combine to work wonders for neural connectivity.
“The Dude” in the film “The Big Lebowski” may have been a pot-smoking layabout, but his penchant for bowling actually defies his slacker demeanor. Not only does bowling burn some 240 calories per hour, but it strengthens and tones upper-body muscles, improves heart and respiratory fitness, and increases endurance while maintaining bone density.
According to Bowling World Newspaper, the average bowler swings a bowling ball a full 360 degrees (200 degree back and 160 degree down). In a three-game series, an average bowler with a 16-pound ball swings a cumulative 864 pounds in a full circle (54 shots multiplied by 16 pounds per shot). And those well-focused steps to deliver the ball? With an average of 60 feet per turn, a bowler walks 6/10 of a mile in a three-game series.
The remarkable powers of such a mundane — yet wonderful — activity as putting one foot in front of the other are detailed in 8 astonishing benefits of walking. To summarize, studies have proven a connection to each of the following in association with walking: a lower risk of developing dementia; a lower risk of suffering a stoke; a higher likelihood of surviving breast cancer; significant improvements in fatigue, depression and mental capacity for people suffering from fibromyalgia; decreased use of medication; significant risk reduction for developing type 2 diabetes; and greater sexual desire and satisfaction. (Be right back, going for a walk.)
It doesn’t get any more debonair than fencing; just think of Hollywood’s golden age of soave swashbucklers (and those tight swashbuckling pants) if you have any doubts. But beyond dashing good looks and smooth moves, fencing has some wonderfully surprising health benefits. Aside from its physical benefits, researchers in one study looked at fencing to see if it is effective in counteracting the cognitive deterioration that comes with aging. They found that “players must make quick decisions while engaged in the sport, and there's a great deal of emphasis placed on visual attention and flexibility. The sport trains a number of cognitive functions, including planning, cognitive flexibility, initiating appropriate actions and holding back inappropriate actions.” They concluded that indeed, fencing is linked to less age-related cognitive decline.
On average, while playing a nine-hole golf course, golfers who walk and carry their bag burn 721 calories; golfers using a pull cart use 718 calories, golfers walking with a caddie expend 613 calories and even golfers using a golf cart burn 411 calories. Along with the social component, fresh air and sunlight, golf also offers longevity. A study conducted in Sweden found the death rate for golfers is 40 percent lower than for other people of the same demographic; resulting in an extra five years tacked on to the life expectancy.
Volleyball may be one of the more vigorous activities on this list, but given that it often occurs in bathing suits and on the beach, it gets a special spot in the “quite enjoyable” sports category.
There are a unique variety of physical movements like jumping, squatting, diving and pivoting. It improves eye-hand coordination, and helps improve flexibility to the limbs as well as the hands and feet. Volleyball requires mental focus, provides social benefits, builds muscle and can burn up to 585 calories in 45 minutes. And for older adults who play chair volleyball, a 2007 study reported in the Activities, Adaptation and Aging Journal found that players benefited significantly from the positive effects that it had on their social health.
Whether you lean towards Gene Kelly’s elegant roller-skating dance moves or to the tough dames of roller derby, gliding about on wheels appeals to a wide array of tastes. Roller-skating offers a broad workout for many of the body’s muscles, as well as providing great stretching and cardiovascular benefit. An hour of skating burns nearly 500 calories for the average 150-pound person.
And if you like running but your knees don’t agree, roller skating may be the perfect alternative; a study by the University of Massachusetts found that roller-skating causes 50 percent less impact on your joints than running.
8. Ping pong
Although you basically stand in the same spot, ping pong provides a great cardiovascular workout and improves reflexes and core tone; it improves joint mobility of both upper and lower extremities and helps to increase energy over time. And because it depends on eye-hand coordination and rapid thinking, it is highly stimulating to brain activity.
"In ping pong, we have enhanced motor functions, enhanced strategy functions and enhanced long-term memory functions," Dr. Wendy Suzuki, professor of neuroscience and psychology at New York University, told ABC News. According to Suzuki, the tabletop sport works parts of the brain that are responsible for movement, fine motor skills and strategy. Just imagine getting smarter by swatting a ball around that weighs less than a 10th of an ounce.
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