Remember when you were a kid and couldn’t wait for the recess bell to ring so you could get outside and have fun with your friends? “If you look at a group of children actively playing,” says Debi Pillarella, MEd, an American Council on Exercise (ACE) certified personal trainer in Munster, Ind., and an ACE youth fitness spokeswoman, “you’ll notice the carefree attitude, the smiles on their faces, and the sadness they express when recess is over and play has to stop.”
We rarely see adults with smiles on their faces when they’re walking on a treadmill or riding a stationary bike, Pillarella notes, adding that, “adults can’t wait for their workouts to be over so they can head for the showers.”
The trick may be to develop a kid-like attitude toward workouts. Pick outdoor activities that you like and that are fun, and then you won’t think of them as exercise.
Here are 10 childhood-inspired workouts to get you started and help you get in shape.
Dry weather is great for outdoor activities. Head for the school playground. You’ll burn lots of calories swinging on the swings, especially if you pump your legs to go higher and higher, and doing pull-ups on the monkey bars. Climb the ladder to reach the top of the slide a dozen times or more. Many playground activities exercise more than one muscle group at a time, Pillarella says. A half-hour at the playground is as good as a half-hour workout at the gym.
How many calories you burn biking depends on your weight and the intensity of the exercise, such as whether you’re going up and down hills. But as a general rule, a 150-pound person will burn nearly 450 calories biking at 12 to 14 miles an hour for 45 minutes. Biking is a great aerobic exercise that will help you get in shape — it gets your heart rate up — and it can be as much fun as it was when you were a kid. Just be sure to wear a helmet during this outdoor activity.
Hula hoop intently for an hour and you will burn as many calories as you would running on a treadmill for that long. If you were good at it when you were younger, it will come back to you quickly. But even if you’re a novice, it doesn’t require a whole lot of coordination to get in shape with this workout. Since hooping has become a popular exercise again, you can easily buy adult-size hoops online or at fitness stores. Try different moves so that it doesn’t become routine, and the time you spend with your hoop will fly by.
Rediscover the games you and your friends used to play at recess, such as tag, capture the flag, relays, and obstacle courses. Call your buddies and tell them to meet you at the park for kid-inspired workouts. When they arrive, challenge them to your favorite outdoor activities. You can pick the games you always won — and see if you still can. Since they all involve running and jumping, they’re great ways to get in shape.
Find a friend and a ping pong table and organize a match for a great exercise. You’ll burn calories because you have to keep moving in order to paddle the small hollow ball back and forth over the net. Ping pong is a good activity to build upper body strength, which many people unintentionally neglect because they choose activities that involve mostly walking or running to get in shape.
Jumping on a trampoline or rebounding is another great workout that will make you feel like a kid again as you bounce up and down. You can buy a mini trampoline and exercise indoors to some inspiring music, or a larger one to keep in the backyard for an outdoor activity — invite the family to join you as you get in shape. It’s like dancing, only bouncier.
Don’t have a trampoline? You can get similar workout benefits from an inexpensive jump rope. You will burn the same number of calories jumping rope for 10 minutes as you would jogging for 30 minutes (about 120 calories, depending on your size and the intensity of your workout). Jumping rope is a great exercise if you’re short on time. When you’re traveling, you can pack a jump rope in your suitcase — it won’t take up much room or weigh you down.
Having access to a pool may be more difficult in the winter. But during the summer, you can probably find a community or a backyard pool where you can easily get into the swim with this outdoor activity. Swimming is a terrific aerobic exercise and calorie burner. A 145-pound person will burn about 200 calories in 30 minutes of moderate swimming. You can do the breast stroke, crawl, or backstroke, or gather your friends and play some water games like Marco Polo that don’t even feel like exercise.
This is a great outdoor activity and another one that won’t seem like exercise if you do it with friends. You might also try Frisbee or kickball. “When something is fun, it’s more likely you’ll stick with it,” Pillarella says. Kid games can bring out the competitor in you, so set the rules and make sure everyone knows them. Also, remember this is a workout, so you should warm up sufficiently, wear proper clothing, stay hydrated, and stretch when you’re done.
Hiking in the woods is another favorite childhood outdoor activity. Hiking burns about 300 calories if you do it for 45 minutes and you weigh about 150 pounds. You can make the hike more challenging (and more fat-burning) if you include hills and rougher terrain. Hiking provides a great cardiovascular workout and builds strength and endurance. If you are planning such outdoor activities, don’t forget the sunscreen, Pillarella notes.
Before starting a kid-inspired fitness program, make sure you’re playing safe. Whenever you exercise, Pillarella says, it’s important to listen to your body and know your limits. “Don’t try to be a superhero,” she says. “It’s OK to take a ‘sideline’ break as needed.” And, although diet, nutrition, hydration, and a personalized workout plan are crucial, she says, the most important ingredient to fitness is fun.