Odd Sports That Provide Great Fitness Benefits

Odd Sports That Provide Great Fitness Benefits

Mix up your physical activity with these often unexplored sports.

You may not have heard of chess boxing (11 alternating rounds of fisticuffs and chess moves) or underwater rugby (apparently above-ground rugby isn’t tough enough for guys from Sweden and Norway) or Quidditch for muggles (based on the broom-flying game from Harry Potter). But while these off-beat battles may be a little over the top, there are several other often overlooked sports that provide enormous fun and extensive health benefits. We’re talking about ping pong, pickleball and joggling.

How much and how much benefit?
One 2011 study looked at the info on more than 1 million exercisers and found vigorous (300 minutes) or moderate (150 minutes) weekly exercise reduced the risk of death from all causes over the study’s lifetime by up to 34 percent.

Another study in BMJ Sports Medicine found that participants in aerobics (joggling), cycling, racquet sports (ping pong and pickleball) and swimming reduced their risk of death by 27, 15, 47 and 28 percent respectively, over the course of the study.

Ping pong, pickleball and joggling provide physical, cognitive and social benefits that are the foundation of a younger RealAge. Just ask Dr. Mike, who developed the RealAge system! He is the recognized winner of more than 75 trophies in class A squash.

Ping pong
Table tennis was recognized as an Olympic sport in 1988, but it began in the 1920s as an after-dinner activity. Because of its fast pace and demand for focused attention, it is great for your:

  • Hand-eye coordination
  • Balance
  • Problem solving, learning, remembering, anticipating skills
  • Increased cerebral blood flow
  • Improved response of gross and fine muscle movement
  • Increased social interactions (you can play singles or doubles) that are so essential for health and happiness
  • Plus it’s easy on the joints and burns around 270 calories an hour (for someone weighing 150 pounds).

This newly devised sport crops up all over the place. This game, played outdoors on a 44’ x 20’ court (a tennis court is 78’ x 27’) with a racquet, net and a whiffle-like ball, is a cross between badminton, tennis and table tennis, and can be played as singles or doubles. It’s more gentle on the joints than tennis, while still demanding focus, quick responses, strategy, balance and problem solving. Health benefits of pickleball, like ping pong, embrace physical, cognitive and emotional functions. In fact, a study in the Journal of Positive Psychology found that the more involved pickleball players were in the game, the more positive an outlook they had on aging—and that translates to a longer, happier life.

Juggling while jogging—or walking—combines aerobics with a demand for precise focus, adept hand-eye coordination, good upper body strength and a sense of humor, all proven to extend longevity and improve quality of life. Now you might think this is ridiculous, but there are folks who have completed joggling marathons! And a current world record is held by Zach Prescott, who ran a four-minute, 43.2 second-mile this spring while juggling three lacrosse balls. But you can walk and juggle or go at a slow trot and still get the bone-strengthening that comes from doing weight-bearing exercise while improving mental acuity and aerobic capacity.

If these don’t appeal, check out (search for “finding a sport”) for a listing of many other sports that you can try out. Working physical activity into your daily routine is essential for your good health and—we are finding out—the health of your future children! And having some fun alternatives to choose from during the week that entertain you while you build your strength and endurance is one sure way to get and keep you active.

Medically reviewed in December 2019.

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