As we enter the final week of the Tokyo Olympics, sport is on everyone’s mind these days. It’s as good a time as any to point out, then, that playing sports is a great alternative to working out. You can easily play a sport and use that as an exercise in order to achieve your health and fitness goals, say health experts, coaches and fitness and sports enthusiasts.
Here are three sports that are great to maintain a healthy and active lifestyle while meeting your fitness and move goals.
Gautam Rajda, 47, has been following the boxing matches at the. The Kolkata-based entrepreneur who runs a leather business used to hit the gym with a goal to losing weight. He did lose a fair bit but then he decided to take up boxing two-and-a-half years ago. Today, he enjoys boxing so much that he is aiming to enter club level competitions as soon as he is good enough. “The fact that it is a sport makes it a lot more enjoyable than the gym,” says Rajda. “It is not only a good cardio and workout, boxing also makes you think on your feet and anticipate what the opponent’s going to do and how to do one better… that keeps your mind sharp while working your body too.”
Boxing is a rigorous sport and it requires a lot of hard work. The sport requires you to use your feet and arms continuously in coordination and burns a lot of calories during the workout. “Ducking and lunging in every move makes your legs and butt stronger. Jumping and punching are impactful moves that enhance the bone mineral density, making them stronger,” says Gagan Arora, a lifestyle coach and founder of Kosmic Fitness, New Delhi. Boxing is both an aerobic and anaerobic activity that helps burn fat and build muscle, making it a good way of weight management and loss, explains Dr Roonam Patir, a general physician based in Delhi. “The frequent shuffle of feet and dodging at high speeds improves agility too,” Patir says.
Two-and-a-half years of boxing have helped Rajda shed 10 kg and he is in the best shape of his life. “Since boxing involves a lot of strength, my muscle mass is intact despite losing that much weight,” says a lean-looking Rajda who now sports a boxer-like close cropped hair.
Rajda says his stamina has improved as well and at the same time he feels a lot more confident. “Boxing has instilled in me the belief that I can fight back no matter what the circumstances,” he adds.
For the last 20 years Jitesh Avlani, 57, has found himself at a badminton court by 6am about five, sometimes seven, times a week. He plays five to seven games, all doubles, in 90 minutes before he showers and gets on with his day. This sport is the only exercise that he has ever taken or stuck to because he loves and enjoys it tremendously. Avlani has avoided gyms all his life because he finds them claustrophobic. Badminton, on the other hand, affords the players the entire court and you share it with just two or four people, never more. “It is an all-weather sport and it’s indoors, which means I can play it all year round. There is adequate cardio and a good mix of hand and foot movements which takes care of the exercise aspect of things,” says Avlani, who says the sport has helped him grow more energetic and bring his weight down to the acceptable range. “In short, my overall health and fitness improved once I started playing badminton and it has stayed that way for the last two decades,” he adds.
Lifestyle Arora backs up Avlani’s claims, saying, “Badminton is a great sport to improve, achieve and maintain good health. It helps you improve cardiovascular endurance, agility and quickness, reduces reaction time and improves mind-body coordination.” Regular game time increases metabolism, improves balance, decision making capabilities, burns fat, improves muscles and increases bone strength. Arora says that playing 60 minutes of moderate to rigorous games regularly thrice or more a week for three months will help you lose weight and also improve your pulmonary health.
What makes badminton a fun fitness activity is the element of comptetiveness, says Avlani. “The competition is an important motivator to keep coming back to this sport repetitively. The social interaction also keeps the happiness index high,” adds Avlani, who kept playing with a mask on through the pandemic whenever rules permitted.
Across the globe, it is often referred to as Olympic lifting so as to not confuse it with a similar sport by the name of power lifting. Olympic lifting comprises just two lifts: the snatch and the clean and jerk.
Art therapist Arjun Lakshmipathi, 43, began lifting in 2018 and says that the whole thing is so scientific and engrossing that he got completely hooked to it. “After three years of being at it, I understand the theory of it yet when I am performing the lifts I don’t always get them right. It remains challenging enough to keep me interested and invested in it,” says the Bangalorean. Lakshmipathi says he finds a lot of learning and value in the sport. It’s much more fun to him than doing bench presses or using gym machines.
What makes the snatch and clean and jerk challenging is the fact that these two lifts made up of multiple movements—variations of squats, deadlift, press, pulls and jumps — that are performed in a flow. About 90% of your time is spent in training the accessory movements which build the requisite skill and ability to perform the two big moves, says AK Abhinav, coach and founder of Namma X Fit in Bengaluru. “Only after your performance on the accessory movements are refined, you attempt the full movement to test your skill,” he says. Lakshmipati remembers the hours he spent working on technique with an empty bar in the beginning before being allowed anywhere near the weights. Training this way reduces the incidence of niggles and injuries and the full movement is performed very sparingly while still building your strength.
Olympic lifting involves a lot of neuromuscular coordination and muscular involvement, which makes it more potent than any other weight-based training programme, adds Abhinav. “Since Olympic lifting emphasizes overall fitness, the athlete will realise that it enhances optimal body composition, which is increased muscle mass and decreased fat. Olympic lifting also accentuates general athletic capacity, which means you would be running faster, jumping higher, punching and kicking harder and performing better at your weekend sports,” he says.
For Lakshmipathi Olympic lifting has helped him broaden his understanding of fitness instead of accepting the social definition and helped him learn to be happy with the relationship with his body and adopt a healthier approach to body image. However, special care must be given to technique and intensity and the athlete should not be rushed into lifting too heavy too soon, Abhinav warns.
Shrenik Avlani is the co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness.