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Olympic Sports Even You Can Do!
Ways to Work Out like a Champion

olympic ringsThe Olympic games: a time for torch-bearing, flag-waving, biting your nails and wondering if that .10 of a second determines whether your favorite Olympian makes it to the podium. But cheering wildly during the London games doesn't count as a workout. As you're glued the TV watching the best athletes in the world, get inspired and set some exercise goals for yourself!

You don't need to train as intensely as an Olympian to get a good workout. However, there is not an off season for getting and staying in shape. As Sam Vicaretti, physical therapist at VA Western New York Healthcare System in Buffalo, explains, "You should exercise because it helps you to stay healthy. Similar to your car, your body needs preventive maintenance to run smoothly. Regular activity helps prevent illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer."

If you're not sure where to start or if you have trouble staying motivated, "partner-up with a friend or family member, join an exercise class, or play a team sport. If you don't feel like exercising, your buddy or teammates may spur you on," says Vicaretti. "Also, incorporate activities that you love, such as biking or swimming, into your exercise routine," says Vicaretti. Even though most of us will never receive an Olympic gold medal, the same sports can improve your overall health and help you feel like a champion.

Here are a few Olympic-inspired ways to work out:

Swimming - Did you know that swimming is the second most popular sport activity in the U.S.? It's a great way to exercise during the summer or to sneak in some extra cardio at your friend's pool party. Because your body's buoyant in the water, your weight and movement are less harsh on your joints. That's great news for pregnant mothers, amputees and those with arthritis and weight restrictions. Even better news: you don't need to keep pace with Michael Phelps to get a good workout. If swimming laps doesn't make you want to dive in, other workout activities such as water aerobics, pilates or yoga are well-suited for the water.

four women olympic games team USA
Natalie Dell (far right) is a Bronze Medal winner at the Summer Olympics in women's quadruple sculls. She is a VA researcher from the Bedford (Mass.) VA Medical Center. Photo: Allison Frederick/US Rowing

Taekwondo - In the name of this ancient Korean martial art, "tae" means foot, "kwon" means fist, and "do" means way. So the name itself spells out how Taekwondo combines discipline, exercise and unity of body and mind. Whether you are working your way to a black belt or just want to build strength and agility, taekwondo teaches strategies of kicking and punching that increase flexibility, sharpen reflexes, focus mental energy and boost self-defense skills.

Cycling - Chances are you graduated from training wheels at a young age, so crank up those age-old skills into the next gear. Cycling is a great way to build muscle strength, especially in your lower body. And like swimming, it's a form of exercise that has a low impact on your joints. Whether you are transforming your commute home into workout time or spending Saturday cruising down a mountain trail, getting back into exercising can be, well, just like riding a bike.

Volleyball - Volleyball is a fun way to get a full-body workout! Running, jumping and squatting develop your lower body muscles. Passing, hitting and serving engage all the muscles from your abdomen, shoulders, back, and arms. Playing volleyball means that exercise isn't restricted to stationary machines at the gym - take a break from tanning at the beach, and set up a game with your friends!

Tennis -Tennis is another great way to work all your muscles. With the quick pace of this game, tennis gets your heart rate up, improves your hand-eye coordination and trains your body to react and dart as fast as Roger Federer's serve. Better yet, players of all ages can take to the tennis courts, so throughout your life it can always be game time.

Log your exercise, and chart your progress at My HealtheVet!

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Questions answered about getting fit from a VA Physical Therapist.


Updated/Reviewed: August 7, 2012