Active Lifestyles

Fun & Fitness: Olympic Sports Anyone Can Try

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By Christina Eyers, Ed.D., AT, ATC

Have you caught Olympic fever? The Summer Games are in full swing, and you already know Olympic sports like beach volleyball, swimming, basketball and track-and-field offer heart-pumping perks. But consider the not-shown-in-primetime events, like archery, trampolining, or even discontinued sports like tug-of-war. These are full of potential for backyard fun – and come with astonishing health benefits.

As a bonus, you don’t have to be an Olympian to try some of the Games’ quirkier sports. Here, I’ll highlight the fitness benefits of some of the lesser-known (and, okay, bizarre) events, and how you can participate safely.

  1. Trampoline. Trampolining (yes, that’s a word!) is a low-impact activity that’s easier on the joints than running or gymnastics. Since you’re not on a hard surface, this bouncy sport also builds balance and coordination. Just leave the flips, somersaults and aerial acrobatics to the experts to stay safe! You can even visit a trampoline park for an Olympic-worthy workout.
  1. Water polo. While the pool games you played as a kid (think “Marco Polo”) are a far cry from Olympic water polo, they still offer extraordinary fitness benefits. Both sports require you to tread water, which forces you to engage your core muscles. The work those muscles around your middle have to do will be even greater if you’re holding, catching or tossing a ball since you won’t have the assistance from your arms to stay afloat.
  1. Canoeing. Canoeing (and kayaking) is hard work! Not only does rowing require balance and coordination, but this outdoor activity also engages your core muscles and glutes (your backside muscles). In fact, rowing sports offer an intense upper body workout that other activities may lack. And with all of the lakes in Michigan, there’s no shortage of opportunities to get wet!
  1. Mountain biking. Biking up (and down) hilly trails isn’t for the faint-hearted. It’s a heart-pumping, strenuous activity. Since most bike courses require you to navigate bumpy, rocky terrain, you’ll engage in a range of speeding up and slowing down, which boosts metabolism more than pedaling along at a steady pace. Even given the bouncing and bumping along, biking in general is low-impact activity, so it’s easier on joints than running. And all that nature is a great stress reliever!
  1. Race walking. This track event looks funny, but it’s not a simple stroll! In race walking, athletes strive to “outrun” one another without actually running. To race walk, you have to keep one foot on the ground at all times, which results in a distinctive stride, almost like a sashay. It’s another joint-friendly, heart-pumping activity, too.

When you participate any of these sports, keep in mind you’re not an Olympic athlete—there’s no pressure to go for the gold. If you’ve mostly been a couch potato, start slow and gradually increase your activity. Also, always be safe and wear appropriate safety gear when necessary.

Just be sure to keep the emphasis on fun:  Create a gymnastics obstacle course at the park (pull-ups, balance beam moves, and monkey bars) for your kids, race your spouse in freestyle to the other end of the pool, and hit the sand for a game of beach volleyball with friends and family. Use the Olympics or other major sporting events to inspire you to mix up your usual workout routine or add some activity to your week.

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