One of the main problems with maintaining any form of exercise is that if you don’t actually like what you’re doing, then you’re unlikely to continue with it in the long term. If your exercise activity isn’t enjoyable, your motivation will soon wane and it will be easy to find an excuse not to complete it. So here are a few alternatives to get you started…
What to look for
Ideally you should get involved in as wide a range of enjoyable exercise pursuits as possible, so that you will benefit from improving your stamina, strength, flexibility and coordination - which are the main components of fitness. When you’re thinking about leisure activities to do, run through the following checklist and try to choose activities that maintain and develop these components:
- Stamina. This is arguably the most important element of a health and fitness program, because if your cardiovascular (CV) system - i.e. your heart and lungs - is strong then you are guarding against long-term heart problems. Choose activities that get you breathless, as this will mean you are getting a good CV workout.
- Strength. Building all-round strength is vitally important for enabling you to carry out everyday tasks with ease and for maintaining good posture. Activities that exercise a wide range of muscles all around the body are best, as they will give you balanced and total body strength.
- Flexibility. An often underrated fitness component, having good flexibility means that you are supple and relaxed and are not restricted in any way for your range of movement. Also, if you are flexible you are far less likely to get injured, because inflexibility is the primary cause of soft tissue injuries.
- Coordination. If you are well coordinated, you will be able to carry out exercises - and indeed any other daily activities - smoothly and efficiently.
Not every suggestion below is likely to suit you - but if you try one or two you will be safe in the knowledge that you are making a positive contribution to your health and fitness. Our suggestions may even inspire you to think of some of your own alternative exercise activities.
Whether it’s ballroom or salsa, hitting the dancefloor is a fantastic way to burn calories and get an all-over workout, and contributes to your fitness as follows:
- Stamina. Vigorous dancing is definitely a good CV activity - and the longer you do it for, the greater the benefits will be to your stamina.
- Strength. Dancing is generally more restricted to improving leg strength - although if you can throw your partner around using some of the more ‘gymnastic’ type moves, you’ll build upper body strength too.
- Flexibility. High kicks and a wide range of movements will help to keep you loose and supple, and will help to improve your flexibility.
- Coordination. If you’re struggling with coordination, dancing is certain to help you improve. Regular turns on the dancefloor will help you to maintain your balance and control.
This is one activity that ticks all of the boxes and offers a fun exercise option. Indoor soccer is a much quicker alternative to the usual 11-a-side and more time on the ball during the high intensity game will give you chance to improve your skills as well as your overall fitness.
- Stamina. Running around the pitch will undoubtedly improve your stamina and the activity is sure to give you a thorough CV workout.
- Strength. Soccer requires strength to hold off opponents when you are on the ball, is needed to make tackles and is also required to generate powerful shots.
- Flexibility. Reaching for those loose balls and stretching to make important tackles will mean that your flexibility will improve through playing. Make sure you take your turn in goal too, as reaching for the ball will also increase your flexibility.
- Coordination. Playing in goal will also improve your hand-eye coordination. Similarly picking out passes, navigating around the pitch and judging where the ball will travel all improve your coordination.
This is very different to clipping along in a large yacht! Whether you’re crewing or at the helm, sailing in a small dinghy can provide an all-over body challenge, particularly if you enter a race and you’re constantly striving for extra speed.
- Stamina. It may come as a surprise, but a considerable amount of stamina is required for vigorous sailing. Constantly shifting position to balance the boat can make you breathless - indicating that your CV system is getting a good workout.
- Strength. From rigging and de-rigging to hauling on the sheets, upper body strength is very important. Additionally, if you’re in a less stable boat where you spend most of the time leaning out or on a trapeze, your abs, obliques, core and back will get an extremely challenging workout.
- Flexibility. Good flexibility is very necessary for dinghy sailing. Having a good range of movement and being able to stretch as you balance against the wind is vital.
- Coordination. Successful small boat sailing requires you to multi-task, as you’ll be frequently hauling on the sheets, tacking, shifting position and balancing all at the same time - so your coordination will certainly improve.
Galloping across a field on the back of your trusty steed might at first glance seem as if your mount is doing all the work rather than you. However, horse riding brings many fitness benefits:
- Stamina. Maintaining an upright posture while continually controlling a moving horse at speed will leave you quite out of breath as you balance and bounce up and down on the stirrups. The longer your ride is, the greater the benefits will be to your stamina.
- Strength. Your upper body strength won’t greatly benefit, although a good degree of back, abdominal and arm strength will be required. However, core strength is vital because you will need to control your horse’s movements with very small body movements of your own while maintaining an upright posture - so your core strength will improve.
- Flexibility. There are few flexibility benefits from horse riding, but you do need a good measure of all-round mobility to successfully ride your mount.
- Coordination. This is important because you will have to marry up small body movements with control of the reins - plus hand-to-eye coordination will be required when you negotiate trails and obstacles.
Whether you’re indoors on a man-made climbing wall or in the great outdoors, climbing is an excellent fitness activity that provides many benefits:
- Stamina. Hauling your bodyweight up a wall or rock face is challenging and can take anything from minutes to hours. Climbing will therefore help to improve your endurance.
- Strength. Climbing exercises require both upper and lower body strength - particularly as you’ll often be supporting your own weight for lengthy periods.
- Flexibility. Stretching for elusive handholds while spread across a rock face requires very good flexibility. Eventually you’ll be able to use the handholds that once seemed far out of reach.
- Coordination. Your coordination will definitely improve with climbing, because you’ll be continually coordinating your hands and feet as you ascend.
There are divisions of fishing that require much more fitness than you might previously have thought. Beach casting, fly fishing and in-river fishing are quite different to the more static forms of the sport - so try these types to reap the most fitness benefits.
- Stamina. Spending the best part of a day standing in a river, walking up and down a beach or fighting with a really big specimen for a few hours will test your stamina, so endurance is important.
- Strength. Even if you’re not trying to land large varieties, leg strength and strength endurance from continually working a fly at full stretch will help to keep you strong.
- Flexibility. Casting your line is a skill that needs excellent arm and shoulder flexibility - so your upper body flexibility in particular will be improved by fishing.
- Coordination. Casting your line and controlling the rod when reeling fish in requires good hand-to-eye coordination - and this will gradually improve.
Your fitness options …
While some people adore visiting the gym, for others the whole concept doesn’t appeal to them. But this doesn’t mean your fitness options are completely limited. With a little imagination, you can get significant health and fitness benefits from doing some alternative exercise activities such as the ones suggested here.