Look back to the 80s and rediscover some fun exercise options, writes Susan Edmunds.
If you find yourself regaling your PlayStation-bound children with stories of your own childhood spent running around outside, it might be time to put your money where your mouth is. One of the best ways to get fit is to have fun doing it - so cast your mind back to playground games for modern-day exercise inspiration. Lose weight, tone up and spend time with your family all at once.
Put aside the memories you might have of the 1980s - big hair and fluoro hairbands included - rollerskating is a trend that is worth reviving. Strap on your skates for a workout that targets all the main muscle groups - glutes, quads, abs and calves - and, because it has only about half the impact shock of running, is a lot easier on your joints. You can expect to get all the same health benefits you'd get jogging or cycling and burn up to 2500kj an hour if you are skating at top speed. It's a cheap sport to get the family involved in, whether you go to a rink or just down to your local school's netball courts. Get a helmet, knee and elbow pads for added safety.
It's hard to take hula hooping seriously as an exercise, which may be the key to success with it. No matter how ridiculous you think you look, it's fun to twirl a hula hoop - and modern hoops, due to their different sizes and weight options - are easier to manage than the hoops you might have played with as a child. There are classes and DVDs available if you want some committed exercise time, but you really just need a hoop to give it a go. You burn roughly 41kj a minute hula hooping and it's a low-intensity exercise, so is good for burning fat. Hula hooping helps with core strength, spine flexibility, co-ordination and tones your waist and stomach. You can also twirl the hoop around your arms, legs and chest to target those areas.
Skipping is excellent cardiovascular exercise. It's cheap and easy, improves co-ordination and is a medium to high-intensity exercise so will help with bone density. Keep your elbows tucked in and try to avoid looking down, to maintain your posture while you skip. The faster you skip, the less likely you are to get the rope caught under your feet. While you are building up fitness, alternate a minute of skipping with a minute of something else, such as marching on the spot or doing sit-ups. Skipping burns about three times as much energy as jogging but should be avoided if you have joint problems. Get a rope that is the right size for you: hold the handles and then stand on the middle - if your hands are higher than waist level, the rope is too long.
Anyone who went to school in the 1980s or 1990s will remember elastics. Groups of usually three players stretch what is basically a big elastic band around the ankles of two of them and stand facing each other while the third jumps in and out over the band, as it is moved progressively higher up the bodies of the players holding it. As soon as the jumping player comes into contact with the elastic, they are out and usually switch with one of the holding players. If you can find someone willing to revert to childhood with you, this is a great exercise - lots of jumping is excellent for improving your fitness, and it's a challenging way to work on your co-ordination. You'll need a 2m-long piece of elastic, or a couple of old pairs of tights tied together. At a stretch, you can use chairs to hold the elastic, although I used to find it hard to keep them in place.
Used to train Roman Empire foot soldiers, hopscotch is a fun way to develop balance, co-ordination and throwing accuracy, particularly in young children. With all the hopping and jumping, though, it's also a good way to burn calories. Use chalk to draw the hopscotch grid. The first player throws a marker such as a pebble into the first square, hops over that and down the hopscotch grid, picking up the marker on the way back. They then throw the marker into the second square and repeat until they get right through the grid, or until they make a mistake - losing balance or landing on a line. Once the first player is out, they leave the marker where they got to and the second player goes, having to avoid the square the marker is in.