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The Health Benefits of Hula Hoops

You can build strength and flexibility with the return of this '50s craze

Finding a fun activity that also burns calories, strengthens muscles and improves balance doesn’t happen very often. But a recent uptick in hula hooping, particularly among boomers, fits the bill nicely.

“We have seen an increased interest in hooping among our senior participants,”says John Porcari, program director of the Clinical Exercise Physiology program and executive director of the La Crosse Exercise and Health Program in La Crosse, Wisc. “Some are in their 70s. They love it because it’s fun, it breaks the monotony of walking or biking and is a great workout — and it reminds many of them of their younger days.”

Research on Hooping

Porcari led a 2010 study by the American Council on Exercise (ACE) that showed how hula hooping burns 210 calories for a 30-minute session, which falls within accepted guidelines for weight management and meets industry standards for improving cardiovascular fitness. Plus, the variety of movements strengthens and tones the entire body, according to the ACE study.

Hooping classes are cropping up in many YMCAs and private fitness clubs and are particularly popular among the over-50 crowd, says Mary Pulak, 65, a hula hooping instructor and owner of Hooked on Hooping in Green Bay, Wisc. Pulak introduced hooping to the Greater Green Bay Y years ago and now provides hoop instructor certification to fitness instructors and youth leaders. She credits hooping for keeping her in great shape.

“It’s given me the energy of a person 20 years younger,” Pulak says, adding that more than 50 percent of the women in her hoop classes are 50 and older.

Hula hooping provides core strength and spinal mobility, which can help with bending, reaching up or twisting around.

What It Offers

Hula hooping provides core strength and spinal mobility, which can help with bending, reaching up or twisting around. It can also improve balance and coordination, says Polly de Mille, exercise physiologist at Women’s Sports Medicine Center at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. “It also strengthens the muscles of the hips and legs, which is good for people 50 and over,” says de Mille, and helps decrease stress on joints. Strong hip muscles help when getting in and out of chairs, climbing stairs and getting up off the ground.

Check with a health care provider if you have any back or neck pain or a history of spine or hip surgery. “And be sure to warm up thoroughly,” de Mille says.

The simple motion of the hoop rolling across your belly activates the abdominal muscles and sends blood flow throughout your core, says Kat Suwalski, director of education for FXP Fitness, a women’s fitness company specializing in hula hoop fitness. “The sensation and pressure acts as a ‘mini massage’ to ease pain by strengthening the low-back stabilizing muscles. Plus, the rocking motion mimics functional movement such as walking, which lubricates joints and supports flexibility in the joints and muscles.”

Hula Hoop Classes

A typical hooping class begins with a warm-up, which includes dynamic exercises focused on steps that will be used later in the class, says Pulak. The cardio segment involves using the hoop around the waist with varying levels of intensity and adding arms and legs and moving your feet while hooping. The muscular strength and endurance portion of the class includes hoop movements that work the arms. It also incorporates strengthening the lower body with squats, lunges and heel raises — all while hooping. The class concludes with stretching and using the hoop as a tool to increase the stretch of the major muscle groups.

Strive for three sessions a week, be sure to alternate directions every five minutes and use a combination of fast and slow rotations.

The Basics

Interested in getting started?

Try these steps for the basic hooping move:

  1. Stand inside the hoop with one foot forward and one foot back with your knees slightly bent.
  2. Hold the hoop at the lower back as you wind up to one side.
  3. Give the hoop a big push and begin swinging your hips forward and back, pushing and pulling into sensation.
  4. Focus on shifting your weight forward and backwards instead of around and around in circles.

3 tricks to keep the hoop in motion:

Squat and shimmy  Bend your knees and swing your hips all around to pop the hoop back up onto your waist.

Pick up the pace  Increase the forward-back push of your pelvis to speed the hoop up so it rises higher on your body.

Turn around  Whirl your body in the same direction as the hoop to slow the hoop down.

Pulak recommends starting with a two-pound hoop that measures 36-to-42 inches in diameter. You can find one on Amazon.com, HoopNotica.com, and Sports-hoop.com. Heavier, larger hoops move slower and are easier for beginners, she says.

“Hooping is a great way to get reacquainted with ‘playing’ while experiencing great physical benefits,” she says.


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