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Fitness that's fun: The hula hoop revival

About the author: Marla Hardee Milling is a freelance writer in Asheville, North Carolina. Her articles have appeared in a wide variety of publications, both online and in print, including Cooking Smart, Healthgate, Pinnacle Living, Blue...

Shake it! Hula hoop fitness

Sure, we all know that it's important to stay fit. Still we resist. Why? The biggest obstacle to getting enough exercise is that it's not usually any fun. Whether plodding along on a treadmill or pretending you're riding a bicycle reallysuperfast with 20 other people, pretty much any fitness regimen gets dull after a couple weeks.

What we need is a type of exercise that seems like anything but. Something fun. Something like... hula hooping.

Yes -- seriously. Chances are, you had a hula hoop as a child, and you spent hours swinging your hips to keep the circular hoop rotating your body. Guess what? Now you can reconnect with your inner child while you tighten and slim your body.

Hula hoopingWhat's all the hoopla?

"Hooping is becoming such a popular form of exercise because it includes multiple elements that contribute to creating a successful exercise habit: It's fun -- a total blast -- it's creative, never boring, never the same, and it provides both muscle toning and cardio," says Rayna McInturf, the founder and Vice President of Hoopnotica.

It doesn't take a big commitment to start, either. You can begin by hooping for only ten minutes twice a day -- about as long as it takes to listen to three songs on the radio or your mp3 player -- and then build from there.

This ain't your mama's hula hoop

Now, for starters, you'll need a hoop. But don't run out to the toy store to pick out one of the plastic rings from your youth. Instead, to get the greatest health benefits, seek out a professional weighted hoop. 

If you don't know where to begin your search, here are several online stores that can help:

 

The best part of going with pro equipment: It's easier to keep a weighted hoop from falling into the floor, because a hollow plastic hoop will likely begin spinning faster than you can rhythmically swing your hips.

Heavy hoop-de-doo

Eighteen years ago, Wendy Iverson, a former fitness instructor, decided to become a stay-at-home mom and picked up a hula hoop to get rid of the extra pregnancy weight. 

She padded her hoop with telephone wire and insulation, and held it in place with duct tape. The bulge around her middle quickly evaporated, and she became what she calls "thinner than ever" from hooping. From that rudimentary model, she went on to develop her "Heavy Hoop" (www.heavyhoop.com).

Since Iverson had experience teaching aerobics, she quickly realized the potential of working with the big ring toy. "All of those exercises -- aerobic, yoga, pilates -- you can incorporate with the hoop," says Iverson. "The hoop works as a tool with every movement. It takes pilates to a whole new level. Some positions in pilates are very hard, and the hoop makes it easier."

While Iverson prefers to work with a 3 or 5 pound hoop, Christabel Zamor, founder of HoopGirl.com, says she enjoys working with a hoop that weighs less than two pounds, because it's easier to use for a sustained workout. (Get one great hula hooping move -- the booty bump -- from her here.)

Getting around to results

How long do you need to hoop before noticing a change in your body? "Results from any form of exercise vary depending upon the individual's fitness level, weight, age, diet, et cetera," says McInturf. "I can say that based on my experience teaching Hoopnotic Hoopdance, many people begin to see results in just a few weeks -- of course the results become more dramatic over time. People do often report 'feeling it' in their core the day after their very first time with the hoop." 

To start, Iverson suggests two 10-minute sessions per day; however, Zamor advocates building a hoop routine starting with 30 minutes three times a week, pushing that to 40 minutes, and up until you can hoop for an hour at a time. As with any workout, something is better than nothing -- so figure out what works for you and still leaves the experience pleasurable.

Going full circle

The physical benefits of hooping are multifold. In addition to strengthening your abdominal muscles and lower back muscles, doing this kind of shimmy provides an intense cardiovascular workout while enhancing coordination -- all with little to no impact on your joints. 

"There's no other ab exercise that takes you in a circular pattern. You're working everything in the core of your body," says Iverson. "You're moving those hips, controlling those abs to keep that hoop up, and the cardio benefits come in because your arms are up." Since you're not likely to keep your arms against your torso, "when you start moving those arms -- punching forward, swinging them -- then you're getting the double cardio benefit. Your heartrate skyrockets."

Bryn Starr Best, creator of www.hulahoopstar.com, says she has found that hula hooping is a great exercise for just about any age range, and she encourages sedentary middle-aged women and seniors to give it a try. "Even bending over and picking the hoop up when it falls can be good exercise, and they can get a good workout in ten minutes," says Best.

Hula hoopingA fitness revolution

More and more people are realizing that they need to get regular exercise to stay healthy -- physically, mentally and emotionally -- and hooping provides all of those benefits in one fun activity, says McInturf. "It's a multitasking activity, and in today's busy world, people are looking for ways to get the most out of every minute of their lives -- hooping allows people to accomplish multiple goals with just one activity." 

But the benefits don't stop there. "The wonderful thing about hooping is that it can help you create a whole new lifestyle that revolves around happiness and health and well-being," says Zamor. "It's not like you are dreading going to the gym. You can create a time to meet a girlfriend in a park to hoop. It's easier to make time for hooping. It also makes you feel sassy and flirtatious and feminine, because movements are based around the pelvis and undulating."

And while hula hoops probably won't sell 100 million units in a year as they did back in 1959, this revival doesn't seem to be a fleeting fad, either. In addition to the many fitness hoop stores, there's even an online magazine, Hooping.org, dedicated to the sport.

"Hula hooping started bringing joyful release into my life," says Best. "It allows me to tap into being a child again. You start training your mind to enjoy that joyful time."

McInturf is similarly enthusiastic. "Get outside and hoop! Enjoy the fresh air and sunshine as you spin your way to a healthier, happier you."

Want more fun exercise ideas? Check out:

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