As the warmer months approach, the all-too-stressful prospect of trading bulky sweaters for bathing suits and resort wear can put an unpleasant damper on spring. Too often, people view the process of getting fit as a chore to be done between errands and work. Instead, why not look at it as a luxury that helps you enjoy life? “Exercise is of optimum importance,” says Dominic Lopez, an exercise physiologist at Paoli Hospital, who often uses the words “physical activity” to make patients more receptive to working out. “We shy away from the word ‘exercise’ because it scares some people.”
Whatever you call it, the American College of Sports Medicine, the American Heart Association and the Surgeon General have released a joint statement recommending at least 30 minutes of moderate activity five days a week for those 18-65 years of age. And whether it’s swimming or dancing or bowling, the things people do for pleasure can be just as beneficial to the body as grinding out 30 minutes on a treadmill. “When people see something as fun, they’re more likely to continue,” says Lopez.
Always consider what you enjoy doing, rather than what you think might be the most effective. That way, you’ll do it more often and for a longer time. Lopez offers a number of options: going for a brisk walk, playing pingpong; tai chi, bowling, certainly dancing.
As the coming of spring brings the inevitable rush to get fit, many people focus solely on gym workouts and fitness classes. While rewarding, they represent just one aspect of what’s out there. Some of us prefer activities we can do on our own or with friends, like biking, running or walking. Others would rather play basketball, soccer, tennis or other group sports.
Many local YMCAs and racquet clubs offer adult league tennis play, as well as lessons. And basketball and baseball have roughly the same calorie-burning value as dancing. “Dance-based classes are popular because they are fun to do,” says Christine Gallagher, director of health and wellness for Upper Main Line YMCA (umly.org). “It doesn’t feel like exercise—and it’s something anyone can do.”
The Academy of Social Dance (academyofsocialdance.com) has a studio in Ardmore that offers a number of ballroom, Latin and sports-dance options, including a free analysis to determine the right level and type of class for each individual. Or if you prefer to trade your dancing shoes for footwear of another type, Wynnewood Lanes (wynnewoodlanes.com) is among the handful of local bowling alleys that strive to make the family-friendly sport fun and compatible for all skill levels, offering adult and youth league play.
All said and done, fitness isn’t just about vanity; it’s about staying healthy. Physical inactivity is a major risk factor for heart disease—and anything that gets you moving can reduce that risk. “To maximize the benefit of overall health and heart health, you should be burning 100 calories per day [beyond normal activity] at the very least,” says Lopez.
Wouldn’t it be nice to know how healthy all that fun can be? One way to measure an activity’s effectiveness is with metabolic equivalent (MET) units. One MET—the amount of calories one burns at rest—is 1 kilocalorie per kilogram per hour. Bottom line: Sleeping or sitting is equal to about 1 MET. An activity in which you burn five times more calories than you would resting equals 5 METs. (Note: MET values are for the activity itself—and many, like bowling or baseball, involve significant downtime/rest.)
Cross-country skiing: 7-16
Downhill skiing: 7
Ice skating: 5.5 (leisurely skate)-15 (speed skating)
Lap swimming: 12
Scuba diving: 5-12
Synchronized swimming: 8
Treading water: 4
Water polo: 10
COUNTRY CLUB FUN
Golf: 3.5 (using cart)-5.5 (carrying clubs)
Tennis: 6 (doubles)-8 (singles)
Field/ice hockey: 8
AT THE HEALTH CLUB
Aerobic dance: 5-8
Stationary bike: 5-12.5
Treadmill: 6 (general conditioning)
Beach volleyball: 8
Horseback riding: 4.5-6
Running: 8 (5-mile-per-hour run)-18 (10.9-mile-per-hour run)
Ballroom dancing: 4-6
Dancing at a club: 4.5
Playing drums: 4
Playing Frisbee: 3.5-4.5
Playing guitar: 3
Source: American College of Sports Medicine (acsm.org)