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Why playing a sport is a great way to maintain your fitness

Bored of the same old gym sessions or fitness classes? Maybe you could try playing a sport instead to stay fit

Playing a sport like tennis ensures that you stay fit.
Playing a sport like tennis ensures that you stay fit. (Unsplash/Chino Rocha)

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With the weather still very pleasant and some restrictions easing, this is probably the best time to go beyond just workouts and play some sport to keep your active lifestyle fun and interesting. A 1993 study published in the Journal of Sport Behaviour compared the differences in motivation for sport and exercise. The researchers found that persons engage in sports are driven by “interest/enjoyment and competence motivation, while persons engage in fitness activity are driven by body-related motivation.” 

The American Psychological Association also notes that regular physical activity reduces “the risk that you’ll develop high blood pressure, heart disease, colon cancer or diabetes” and it also reduces “stress, anxiety and depression.” Here are four sports that are a great workout while adding the element of competition, camaraderie and social interaction and they also ensure your safety as they are played outdoors.

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Football: No matter what time of the year it is or what weather, it is the right time to play football. Thanks to the turfs popping up all through the country, you no longer need to expose yourself to possible injuries like twisted ankles and busted knees due to poor grounds while playing the beautiful game. Though India doesn’t rank high in the global football standings, the popularity of the sport is constantly growing and more and more people are playing it and old players returning to the game because it provides them with a chance to get in some exercise while interacting with others. 

Football is an excellent anaerobic exercise where you work at a very high intensity in short bursts, says Delhi-based general physician Dr Roonam Patir. “When you football, your body continues to burn fats even after you stop playing. So, it is a good way to burn fat and lose weight. However, if you are just starting out, it is a good idea to go slow otherwise you could pick up injuries such as strains, sprains and stress fractures,” Patir adds.

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Tennis: Tennis is a tough sport because it requires not just skills with the racquet, but also plenty of athleticism to be able to cover the court. Gurugram-based tennis coach Rekibul Hussain says 4-6 hours of tennis per week is enough for maintaining your weight and fitness levels. “Regular tennis also helps in staying mentally fit, strengthens bones and joints, increases energy levels, improves posture, breathing, stamina, immunity and blood flow… it, basically, improves your quality of life,” he says. It is also one of the most socially distanced sports you can play outdoors, given that you and your opponent are on two different sides of the court separated by a net. 

Rugby: This isn’t a mainstream sport yet in India, but more and more youth, especially women, are playing it. The pandemic hit rugby in India hard just as the Indian women’s team had started winning international games but it is staging a comeback. While rugby is definitely a game that involves a whole lot of intense sprints in short bursts, it also involves an element of strength as players have to physically tackle, block and stop charging opponents while defending and need to be strong and agile enough to burst past them or nimble and swift enough to slip and slide away while on the offense. A team game like rugby, where you interact with others is excellent for holistic fitness as it improves your physical, mental and social health, says former Indian rugby captain Gautam Dagar. “The element of competition in rugby keeps people interested and invested better than working out in a gym.”

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Hockey: Hockey is enjoying a good run in India at the moment after the men’s team won the bronze medal and the women secured a fourth-place finish and won hearts at Tokyo Olympics last year. Bengaluru, Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Bhubaneswar, Pune and almost every city and big town have turf fields fit for hockey so getting a game isn’t a problem. Hockey in its present avatar is a fast-paced game with quick turnovers and lung-busting surges from one end of the field to the other. Like basketball and football, it is a high intensity sport and apart from giving you a good cardio workout, it is also an anaerobic exercise. 

Shrenik Avlani is a writer and editor and the co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness.

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