For every gym rat or devout jogger you see, there are probably three or four other people who think “exercise” sounds as much fun as a day in the dentist’s chair. Many of us, thanks to our stress-filled lives, have become reluctant couch potatoes: We want to improve our health, but conventional forms of exercise just don’t look appealing — especially after a long day at work.
Fortunately, even if the thought of exercise leaves you bored or reluctant, there are still ways to get fit. Many hobbies, home projects and fun pastimes have surprising health benefits. If you make time in your schedule for these activities, you’ll find yourself feeling healthier and happier, without ever having to hit the gym.
Gardening. Get your green thumb ready; gardening is an activity that benefits mind, body, and environment. While it may not look strenuous, the actions you perform while gardening (weeding, digging, mowing, or chopping, for example) work all the major muscle groups. Your get a workout with stretching, repetition, posture, movement, and even some weight lifting — all basic components of a rounded workout. You can burn as many calories while gardening as you would by taking a leisurely walk or bike ride, playing a round of golf, or even (depending on intensity) in certain organized sports.
“Weeding and gardening is something I enjoy, and it’s definitely active,” says Judi Edelen, an advanced fitness specialist at Canyon Ranch in Tucson. “I’ve gotten sore and broken a sweat many a time. It also calms me. I get into a rhythm when I’m weeding, digging and planting.” In fact, the calming effect a garden is supported by science. A study in environmental psychology shows that gardening lowers both blood pressure and stress, and may even inspire a meditative state in our brains as our senses are energized.
Other aspects of gardening are also beneficial. Working out in the sun will provide your body with necessary vitamin D. And if you decide to grow produce in your garden, you’ll receive nutritional benefits as well. “It feels fabulous to see what you’ve planted begin to grow — and if you grow your own vegetables, you won’t believe the flavors,” says Edelen. “I grew lettuce on my deck one year. I had no idea lettuce had flavor; I thought it was just a crunchy thing. I was wrong. When it’s fresh, it has an amazing flavor.” Not only will you become fitter from weeding between those vegetable plants, you’ll also have delicious food on the table as a reward for your hard work.
Gardening, like any exercise, requires preparation. Find out which types of plants grow well in your climate; have all the proper tools and equipment on hand; and be sure to protect yourselves from the elements (for example, sunscreen and a hat to prevent sun damage). If you have joint or back problems, you can consult a physician to determine which gardening activities would be best for you. Oh, and don’t forget to stop and smell your roses!
Home improvements. Houses always seem to need attention, don’t they? Instead of bemoaning the fact, look at it as a way to burn calories. Both indoor and outdoor tasks can provide a workout, which means “home improvement” exercises can last the year-round.
Like gardening, housework can improve your muscle mass, balance, and coordination, as well as give you practice in stretching and weightlifting. Painting the house, whether indoors or out, can actually give you a workout in all those areas. In fact, painting burns an estimated 250 calories per hour. Other tasks can be even more beneficial. For example, if you want to lay down new carpet in your living room (which would usually involve moving furniture), you may burn as many as 400 calories an hour. In the great outdoors, you can chop wood, mow the lawn, or even clean out storm gutters to burn hundreds of calories an hour.
If your own home doesn’t require much attention, you can always look for ways to help someone else with a house in need. That way, you’re not only getting a “home improvement workout,” but you’re doing a good turn for someone. See if any of your sick or elderly neighbors need their storm windows put up, or if your buddy down the street needs help on a landscaping project. To find out about other opportunities, call local charitable organizations. Or contact Habitat for Humanity (http://www.habitat.org) to see if there’s a home-building project in your area. You’ll be improving your health and the lives of others.
Following the pitter-patter of little feet. As any parent can tell you, keeping up with children is quite a workout. So why not join in the fun? Instead of just watching kids play, try diving into their action. Run around the park, take a role in their play-acting, throw a ball back and forth, swing as high as you can on the swings — there are endless ways to play, so long as you remember that having fun and bonding with your children (or grandchildren) is the primary objective.
Edelen suggests checking your community for play opportunities. “If you’re a new mom, you might find a Moms & Babies event, stroller walks, or something similar in your area. Check with the local parks departments, town newspapers and activity boards for ways to connect with other new parents and lose your babyfat.”
By playing with children on their terms, you also set an excellent example for them. They learn that entertainment doesn’t just come from a TV or computer screen, and that there is fun and fulfillment in moving their bodies.
Pet projects. Caring for a pet offers endless physical and emotional benefits — and the playtime opportunities are plentiful. Long walks with your dog can be both invigorating and relaxing — all while getting a good workout with your best pal. A 45-minute walk at least three times a week will do wonders for your heart — and your dog’s.
Have fun! You don’t need to push yourself into an exercise program you hate. How about a playing with friends? A friendly game of volleyball, tennis, badminton or basketball can be great fun and a terrific workout (regular training will improve performance and safety, of course). Or jump in the pool for an hour – whether you’re swimming around or playing water polo, you’re getting exercise and having a ball. Remember, laughter is good for you, too, while you’re exercising or any other time at all.
So, instead of pulling on those sweatpants and heading out for a workout you dread, think of all the pleasant alternatives for staying in shape. You’ll never regret getting fit and feeling great!