Spice up your summer fitness routine by trying something new, whether it's paddling a canoe on a serene lake or volleying on a tennis court. We've sampled a few activities that we hope will persuade you to switch from swimming to surfing or cycling to kayaking. Doing something new may kick your body and mind into a higher level of awareness.
Fitness benefits: Kayaking and canoeing are intense upper-body workouts, involving a lot of shoulder work, says Dixie Stanforth, M.S., a lecturer in the department of kinesiology at the University of Texas, Austin.
Emotional payoff: "Gliding across water as smooth as glass, listening to the quiet splash of the paddle, my worries melt away," says Heather Nelson, an ultra-marathon kayak racer and instructor in Bellingham, Wash. "My mind clears and I feel energized."
Getting started: For canoeing, channel your inner camper and head out with an experienced friend. Kayaking novices need lessons from a pro. Check with your local canoe/kayak shop or outdoor store to find out about classes in your area. To lessen the apprehension of rolling or capsizing, use an open-top or a sit-on-top kayak during your first few outings. Be sure to set aside enough time—at least a few hours—to enjoy the experience and hone your skills.
Fitness benefits: Since you have to pay close attention in order to hit a small ball with a long club, golf can sharpen your concentration. The game also improves flexibility, coordination, finesse, and trunk stability. Plus, if you skip the cart and walk the course while carrying your bag, you can get a decent workout, says Carla Sottovia, Ph.D., an exercise physiologist and head of personal training at the Cooper Fitness Center in Dallas. "It's like fitness walking with benefits."
Emotional payoff: Golf is good for setting goals, says Tracy Hanson, an LPGS tour professional. "You can challenge yourself to drive the ball farther or sink a putt in fewer strokes." And the scenic quality of golf courses can make playing a round feel like a mini vacation, says Sottovia.
Getting started: Unless your boyfriend is a pro (and incredibly patient), sign up for group lessons at a local course. Practicing at a driving range is another fun way to improve your game (and decrease stress).
Fitness benefits: Tennis develops agility, power, and endurance, while sharpening motor skills. It's also a great cross-trainer, forcing you to work in different planes of motion, says Sottovia. "Activities like running and cycling are done in one plane of motion—forward. In tennis, you have to turn to hit the ball and move side to side." In addition, it forces you to use your hips instead of your back to initiate moves, which can help you avoid back injuries, says Stanforth.
Emotional payoff: "I think of tennis as meditation," says Pam Austin, director of tennis at Riviera Tennis Club at Pacific Palisades, Calif. "At dusk, at the end of a hot day giving lessons, I like to have a 'rhythm hit,' where my partner and I hit the ball consistently back and forth. It's restorative."
Getting started: As with so many activities, it's best to take lessons, either in moderately priced group lessons or privately at a club. During the long days of summer, you can play tennis before or after work. Recruit a neighbor or your partner for twice-weekly sessions. No need to play for points or even serve—just have fun rallying back and forth.