Athletes know that staying in shape means mixing things up when it comes to exercise routines. That's why so many of them cross-train, or engage in sports other than their own. This principle holds true for all of us. Working out different muscles, testing our strength and stamina and learning things all contribute to a healthful lifestyle. Plus new activities can add a lot of fun to your life.
“Many of the changes that physiologists attribute to aging are actually caused by inactivity,” says Jennifer Corney, owner of the Alexandria Pilates Collective in Virginia. “Challenging your body and your brain with exercise can slow the march of time.”
Corney, who has multiple physical fitness certifications, feels strongly that one of the best ways to keep yourself inspired is to change your workout routine: “Stepping outside of our comfort zone can be liberating,” she says. When we do this, we surprise our muscles and our brains.
(MORE: Changing Seasons, Changing Workouts)
Before You Start a New Sport
Adding on activities is a great challenge for body and mind, but there are a few things to consider before undertaking anything new.
- Talk to your doctor Go over any conditions that could compromise your safety. Medical and fitness professionals recommend easing into new routines to give your body time to adjust and for you to avoid injury.
- Don’t overestimate your ability Accept that every new activity has a learning curve, and don’t try to be a weekend warrior. This becomes even more important as we age and sometimes experience a gap between our perceived fitness levels and our actual ones. (So keep it real.)
- Consider an activity buddy Learning in tandem gives you a built-in cheerleader and a reality check about your limits. If you can afford it, even a few sessions with a professional trainer will be extremely helpful.
- Focus on fun “Backpacking has been one of the greatest experiences of my life, and I didn’t get started until I was 55,” says 63-year-old Ron Carter, from Davis, Calif. “It made me realize that you truly are never too old to try something new.”
7 Ways to Take Your Next Step
Here are some inspiring options for banishing boredom while broadening your physical-fitness horizons. You may be familiar with some, but others are relatively new. Warning: All of them are all potentially addictive.
1. Love Pilates? Try Stand-Up Paddleboarding If you’re good at Pilates, which builds core strength, flexibility, control and balance, you’re a prime candidate for the fast-growing sport of Stand-Up Paddle-boarding, or SUP. This full-body cross-training activity requires balancing on something resembling a surfboard while shifting your weight and stroking the water with a long paddle. Flat, calm water is best for beginners, and you’ll want to wear a wetsuit if it’s chilly or the water’s cool. Since waves aren’t needed, the sport can be done on lakes, rivers or the ocean.
“It’s a subtle exercise,” explains Jon Ory, owner of Charleston SUP Safaris, who was born on Oahu, where the sport originated. “If you did 150 stomach crunches out of the gate, you’d be in pain. But when you paddleboard for the first time, even though you’re using your core the whole time, you probably won’t be sore at all.”
2. Are You a Cross-Country Runner? Try Orienteering According to Running USA, Americans are jogging in record numbers. But when you’ve tired of the same paths or road races, you may be ready for Orienteering. This is ideal for people who enjoy the thrill of footrace competition, but with the added challenge of navigating unfamiliar and often rough territory.
In this hugely popular Swedish-born sport, cross-country racers must reach a series of places in a specific order in the shortest time possible using only a compass and a topographical map. The mental challenge is thinking strategically to create your own course. For example, if there’s a hill between you and the next checkpoint, you must decide whether to spend the stamina needed to get over it or the time needed to go around it.
This low-cost sport appeals to athletes of all ages, with competitions on every level ranging from local community orienteering clubs to professional World Cup events.
(MORE: Why It’s Never Too Late to Start Running)
3. So You Snorkel? Try Scuba If you love swimming among beautiful fish and corals, you could get hooked on Scuba. You need to become certified first, and that requires time and a financial commitment. But the rewards of being one with the ocean and its magnificent creatures and experiencing weightlessness are priceless.
Organizations like PADI and NAUI Worldwide offer training that ranges from one-day resort courses to advanced training that opens up even more worlds. Dive shops, local colleges and diving centers around the world offer certification courses that culminate with five “check-out dives” in open water.
San Diego divemaster Justin Smith says, “For most adults, the hardest part is mental. Breathing underwater isn’t natural, and most people find it unnerving.” But, he reminds the hesitant: “Modern dive equipment has an extremely high safety record. With the right training, it’s an amazing and life-changing hobby.”
(MORE: My Passion, Scuba Diving)
4. Yogis Might Give Rock Climbing a Try Yoga has been the source of improved flexibility, strength and balance for 5,000 years. According to WebMD.com, some 11 million Americans practice it. When you’re ready to take those skills off the mat, consider rock climbing, where all that upper-body strength and balance control will come in handy.
Rock climbing has been evolving as a sport since the late 1800s. Images of climbers scaling Half Dome in Yosemite National Park were first officially recorded in 1875. Modern rock climbing runs the gamut from scrambling up a faux rock wall at an indoor climbing gym to taking on the Seven Summits of the world as an advanced mountaineer. Based on your abilities and goals, you can choose from a number of subsets: bouldering, sport climbing, traditional climbing and indoor climbing.
The gear, the clothing and the strategies vary according to which type you choose. If you’ve found your Zen inside the yoga studio, rock climbing can help you take it to new heights while enjoying the beauty of nature and bonding with fellow climbers.
5. Do You Dance? Check out Aerial Fabric Acrobatics Dancers' fitness regimens are what give them sleek bodies, high levels of stamina and excellent posture and balance. But the physical benefits are only part of the allure: Dance is also a deeply artistic and cultural experience. For those eager to try something new, Aerial Fabric Acrobatics (also called Aerial Silks or Tissu) is an exhilarating challenge that could even lead to a new career.
As implied, this involves acrobatics performed in the air, and dancers are wrapped in a flexible yet strong tissu (French for “fabric”) and learn to move and spiral their bodies into various poses. Think of it as Cirque de Soleil gone mainstream.
This activity is more challenging than other leisure options, but people who try it tend to fall in love with it. Classes are sprouting up across the country; a good place to start your search is your local dance or theater company, a gym or even college.
6. Enjoy Aerobics? Give Capoeira a Whirl When you’re bored with your aerobics routine, head for Brazil — or at least the Brazilian movement form known as Capoeria (pronounced cap-oh-AIR-uh). It’s a combination of martial arts, dance, music and culture.
Unlike traditional martial arts associated with self-defense and physical strength, this is based on dance, harmony and intuition. It is practiced in a circle and involves leg kicks, knee lifts and sweeping movements done to singing and clapping. Learn more at Capoeira.com or ask about lessons at local dance studios or Brazilian cultural centers.
7. Love Spinning? Mountain Biking Is Calling Spin teachers and devotees appreciate the muscle toning, endurance and core strength that comes from pedaling and pushing themselves on stationary bikes, usually to inspirational music and videos. Those who want to take their cycling skills out of the gym may enjoy mountain biking.
“The person who enjoys grinding on a spin bike in a heat-encapsulated gym will tear up the mountain trails,” says enthusiast and phys-ed teacher Brian Balocki of Atlanta, Ga. He adds that the fresh air, new vistas and speed sensation are the sport’s biggest allures.
He advises people to start slowly on local trails, then build up to a dream trip in a prime location like Crested Butte, Colo., or Moab, Utah. He always encourages newbies to rent, rather than purchase a mountain bike, which are different from street bikes. They're not cheap, and it usually takes a while to determine your preferences. The transition from spin to trail will vary with each individual, but, Balocki says, people seem to love putting the skills they've honed in class — pedaling and positioning — to the ultimate test on the hill.
Stephanie Oswald is an Emmy-winning journalist, TV personality and travel and lifestyle expert. She is also the co-founder of Travelgirl magazine. Additional reporting by Eva Glasrud.