Odd sports can provide great fitness boosts
  • Thursday, February 21, 2019
  • 66°


Odd sports can provide great fitness boosts

  • CRAIG T. KOJIMA / 2016

    People play pickleball at the Hale Koa Hotel courts in Waikiki in 2016.


You may not have heard of chess boxing (11 alternating rounds of fisticuffs and chess moves) or underwater rugby (apparently, above-ground rugby isn’t tough enough for guys from Sweden and Norway).

But while these offbeat battles may be a little over the top, there are several often-overlooked sports that provide enormous fun and extensive health benefits. We’re talking about table tennis, pickleball and joggling.

One 2011 study looked at the info on more than 1 million exercisers and found that vigorous (300 minutes) or moderate (150 minutes) weekly exercise reduced the risk of death from all causes over the study’s lifetime by up to 34 percent.

Another study, in BMJ Sports Medicine, found that participants in aerobics (joggling), cycling, racquet sports (table tennis and pickleball) and swimming, reduced their risk of death by 27, 15, 47 and 28 percent respectively.


Table tennis was recognized as an Olympic sport in 1988, but it began in the 1920s as an after-dinner activity. Because of its fast pace and demand for focused attention, it is great for your:

>> Hand-eye coordination

>> Balance

>> Problem-solving, learning, remembering, anticipating

>> Increased cerebral blood flow

>> Improved response of gross and fine muscle movement

>> Increased social interactions (you can play singles or doubles) that are so essential for health and happiness

Plus it’s easy on the joints, and burns around 270 calories an hour (for someone weighing 150 pounds).

Check out Team USA’s website at teamusa.org/USA-Table-Tennis.


This sport is cropping up all over the place. Find local groups and facilities at the USA Pickleball Association website, usapa.org. Played outdoors on a 44-foot-by-20-foot court (a tennis court is 78 feet by 27 feet) with a racquet, net and a whiffle-like ball, this game is a cross between badminton, tennis and table tennis, and can be played as singles or doubles.

It’s gentler on the joints than tennis, while still demanding focus, quick responses, strategy, balance and problem-solving. Its health benefits, like those of table tennis, embrace physical, cognitive and emotional functions. In fact, a study in the Journal of Positive Psychology found the more involved pickleball players were in the game, the more positive an outlook they had on aging — and that translates to a longer, happier life.


Juggling while jogging (or walking) combines aerobics with a demand for precise focus, adept hand-eye coordination, good upper-body strength and a sense of humor, all proven to extend longevity and improve quality of life.

Now, you might think this is ridiculous, but there are folks who have completed joggling marathons! And a current world record is held by Zach Prescott, who ran a four-minute, 43.2-second mile this spring while juggling three lacrosse balls. But you can walk and juggle or go at a slow trot and still get the bone-strengthening that comes from doing weight-bearing exercise while improving mental acuity and aerobic capacity. For more info, check out jugglingworld.biz.

If these don’t appeal, search the web to find a listing of many other alternative sports that you can try out.

Mehmet Oz, M.D., is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D., is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. Email questions to youdocsdaily@sharecare.com.

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