We all know we should exercise regularly, but for those of us who can't stand the treadmill (or as I say, dread-mill), getting in our required active time is hard. The elliptical feels endless, lifting weights can be boring, and who wants to stare at the black line while swimming laps?
If this sounds like you, the good news is that there are many other ways you can work out and have fun at the same time. If you've been sedentary for a while, chances are you've been missing out on all the great benefits of exercise, like reduced risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes and even depression. It'll also help you sleep better and increase your chances of living longer in general.
The exercises listed below are effective but non-conventional ways to stay fit. They vary in starting costs and ease of access, but hopefully you'll find one that works for you. So strap on your climbing shoes or squirm into your mermaid tail and get ready to have fun while working out again.
What it does: Rock climbing is primarily a strength workout, though it'll work your heart, too. And forget the myth about it being a solely upper-body blaster: proper climbing technique requires you mainly lift yourself with your legs.
Why it's fun: Rock climbing is adventurous and is great if you love adrenaline. If you get good at it, you can scale peaks outside, but even beginners can feel the rush of getting to the top of a big wall in a gym. And, if you're afraid of heights, there's even bouldering, where you climb solo and are never more than 20 feet off of the ground. Bouldering is also good if you don't have a climbing buddy, because you don't need someone to belay for you.
What you need: Unless you've been rock climbing for years and are ready to scale a real-life mountain, a climbing gym is the best place to start. There are usually several of these in major cities, and at many places a $60- to $100-a-month membership will also get you access to a conventional gym in the same building as well.
You'll need specific gear such as climbing shoes and a harness, but most places rent them out for low prices -- Bay Area-based Ironworks charges $5 for all the equipment you need. Once you've been climbing for a few sessions, you can invest in your own gear.
Roller skating or rollerblading
What it does: I haven't roller skated since elementary school, but it's actually a great low-impact way to get your cardio in. Skating will work your hips and all of your other leg muscles, and the stabilization necessary to stay upright makes your core stronger.
Why it's fun: A pair of roller blades are your key to a fun afternoon. You can plan to skate to your local park, or dance around at a disco rink. Roller skating will make you feel like a kid again, and who doesn't want to relive their childhood while getting in better shape?
What you need: Beginner skates and rollerblades start around $40 and go up, while specialized elite rollers sell for hundreds of dollars. You'll definitely want a helmet and some knee pads, but once you get the basic gear you can skate right out of your front door. If you'd rather skate in a rink, entry fees are around $10, and you can rent a pair of skates for another $5-$10.
What it does: Gymnastics isn't just for kids anymore either. Acrobatics encompass a wide variety of exercises, including everything from aerial yoga to on-the-ground exercises like handstands and cartwheels. While it does count as a form of low-intensity cardio, acrobatics are mainly a bodyweight exercise. Once you get stronger, you'll be able to manipulate yourself into all sorts of cool poses, like a human flag. Acrobatics also involves flexibility. Contorting yourself into different shapes will require continual stretching to get better.
Why it's fun: Acrobatics are the ultimate form of play. You get to stand on your head, whirl yourself across the floor with your hands and even spin around on silks.
What you need: Unless you were a competitive gymnast in your earlier years, you'll probably want to explore acrobatics in a safe classroom setting at an adult gymnastics gym. These can be found in major cities and prices vary, but it usually costs around $140 per month for unlimited classes.
Be a Mermaid
What it does: If you did a double take at this, you're not alone. To our surprise, donning a mermaid fin to glide through the water is now a recognized way to work out. Propelling yourself with a single fin uses a lot of leg and core strength. It also requires flexibility to bend your body completely, and the swimming motion will provide cardio. Your lungs will get an extra boost as you hold your breath underwater. Who knew pretending to be a mermaid would be such a comprehensive workout?
Why it's fun: You, wearing a Mermaid tail, getting fit. Do I need to say anymore?
What you need: Mermaid classes are offered at many hotel pools, including some Disney Resort hotels. If you aren't planning a Disney vacation soon, you can buy a Mermaid tail on Amazon for $65. There are many helpful videos online to teach you the basics of how to use it, and then you can hop into your local pool and try it out by yourself. Just make sure you brush up on your safety tips before trying this at home.
What it does: Dancing is the best cardio exercise because you can dial it to the exact level you want. Pull out some low-effort moves if you're looking for a chill workout, or breakdance if you really want to get your heart rate up. It even improves brain health and cognitive function, due to the mental effort and frequent social interaction that dance requires -- though dancing at home alone is still a good workout!
Why it's fun: Dancing is a great way to put a smile on your face. You get to blast your favorite music, perform your dorkiest moves and reenact your favorite movie scenes.
What you need: Just some comfortable clothes and good tunes. You can dance anywhere, anytime. It's like a portable stress-relieving workout on the go, though we don't recommend breaking out in dance during a meeting with your boss. Or, if you prefer a group setting, many gyms offer classes like Zumba and other hip-hop how-tos.
What it does: Sprinting across the 60 foot floor to retrieve balls and diving out of the way of flying objects delivers great aerobic benefits. Dodgeball is mainly a cardio workout, but bending down to scoop up projectiles benefits from some flexible legs too. We can't promise that throwing foam or rubber balls will work your upper body muscles, but if you haven't been lifting weights at all it's probably better than nothing.
Why it's fun: You might have scarring memories of getting hit in the face in middle school P.E, but playing dodgeball as an adult is much better. You can relieve the aggression of a stressful day at work in a safe and healthy way, meet new people on the teams you play against and revive your competitive spirit.
What you need: There are many dodgeball leagues in major cities, such as the San Francisco Social Sports Club. You can sign up alone or with friends, and all you need to bring is comfortable clothing and supportive shoes.