Michelle Obama's sculpted arms may be due to her tennis game. It makes sense: Slamming or lobbing a ball over a net works your arms. Your forehand swing is also good for your chest, and your backhand for your shoulders. Tennis has another advantage: While not primarily aerobic, it can still help burn calories along with fat. Less fat gets your muscles noticed, no matter what activity you do. (Sorry, "spot-toning" is a myth.)
Swimming laps is good for everything above your waist. Pulling against the water provides resistance for your arms. Doing freestyle, back stroke, or butterfly uses the deltoid in your shoulders and pectoral muscles in your chest. Swimming is less helpful for the legs simply because people tend not to kick very hard. So if you want to work your legs harder, use a kickboard.
By fusing the motions of stair climbing and cross-country skiing, the elliptical trainer gives your thigh and gluteus (butt) muscles a rock-solid workout. Hold on to the push-pull resistance handles and you'll also strengthen your upper body, including your back and arms. The gliding motion is much easier on your joints than running even while it burns fat. Best of all, you can do it inside, rain or shine.
Biking is great for your leg muscles: quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves. You can make the workout more intense by using toe clips, which let you pull the pedal up, as well as push it down, which gives you some extra resistance. If you're a beginner, skip the toe clip on a moving bike, as it can make it tricky to get your foot out of the pedal. Or challenge yourself on a stationary bike by adjusting the resistance.
Like biking, running and jogging are good for your calves and thighs. Because they're weight-bearing exercises, they strengthen bones to help protect against osteoporosis. They are high-impact activities, so they may be jarring on your joints. So start off slow, especially if you're overweight. It's fine to switch between walking and jogging, too. That's easier on your joints, and varying your pace (interval training) is a good challenge.
Walking is the kinder, gentler cousin of running and jogging. It gives you many of the same benefits, including building strength in the leg muscles and stronger bones. At the same time, it puts less stress on your joints. If your ultimate goal is to run a mile, or a marathon, walking is a good start.
These popular total-body workouts help you strengthen your "core," the area through your back and abdomen. These muscles are needed for many activities. Some yoga poses can also benefit your leg muscles and upper body.
Most types of dancing strengthen your core and hips. From ballet to belly dancing, waltz to disco, any type of dance you enjoy is a good choice.
Soccer keeps you moving and is great for your glutes and the legs. Sprinting and kicking make them even stronger. Basketball also builds your strength and speed, plus your shoulders benefit when you shoot hoops.Or, run the bases on the baseball diamond to work your glutes and legs.
Bowling can make you stronger. Many bowlers see their forearm muscles develop; bowling balls weigh up to 16 pounds. It can also work your shoulder and leg muscles. You should also do a total-body workout so you cover the side of your body you don't bowl with, too.
Playing on the links is walking with benefits, if you ditch the electric cart. Depending on the course, you could be climbing up and down hills while racking up miles. You may even live longer. In one study, golfers' average life expectancy was 5 years longer than other people's.
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