I’ve enjoyed staying physically active as long as I can remember. I hail from a sports-loving family and I’m one of four boys – a perfect number for “even” teams when it came to playing sports and games as kids. Fun and enjoyment have always seemed to be a common denominator in my own exercise experience.
I love running and I’ve been very fortunate to mostly avoid major injuries over the past 33 years. That being said, the aging process has required me to think more in terms of cross-training and I’m now “shakin’ things up” when it comes to my weekly exercise routine, adding new exercise modalities like cycling, aerobics, and TRX suspension training.
I recently re-read an interesting article by Kris Berg, Ed.D, regarding the fitness/health benefits of sports and games (“Sports and Games: Fitness, Fun, and Function”, ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal March/April 2010). The bottom line of Berg’s article is this: if you enjoy playing sports like tennis, basketball, volleyball, or racquetball there’s a strong likelihood these activities are contributing to your cardiovascular well-being and overall fitness level.
Berg studied the “oxygen cost” of playing many sports and games and he concludes that some of these activities meet the intensity requirements for enhancing aerobic fitness. There’s a lot of variability, as the aerobic fitness benefits depend greatly on how hard you’re playing and your ability level at that particular sport. One way of gauging your effort level while playing sports is to occasionally perform a quick heart rate check. If you’re up around 120-130 bpm, you’re getting some great cardiovascular exercise.
As is often the case, there’s usually some orthopedic risk associated with sports and games. I personally find I need to be careful with lateral-stress sports like tennis and racquetball due to my own foot and knee issues. You’ll have to honestly analyze your orthopedic strengths and weaknesses and choose your sport activities accordingly.
I agree with Kris Berg – you might really enjoy supplementing your traditional cardio training, e.g., running, cycling, swimming, with sports activities like tennis and basketball several times a week. The “fun factor” just might add some needed variety and spice to your weekly fitness routine.
I’m enjoying my new cross-training approach to staying fit and I highly recommend you “shake things up” and try something new as well.