Adults Find Fitness Value in an Old Toy: the Hula Hoop

(By Noah Berger -- Associated Press)
Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Twirling a hula hoop isn't just kiddie business these days. Some adults are channeling their younger selves and gaining health benefits by hooping, rolling their hips and performing tricks they may not have attempted the first time around.

Marketed as aerobic exercise, hooping improves flexibility and works the abdominal muscles -- and legs and arms for people who can spin a hoop around those limbs.

A little mental flexibility is also involved, says Baltimore hooping instructor Noelle Powers. During her hour-long classes, she tries to get exercisers to switch the direction of the hoop, which is more of a challenge to the brain than to the muscles. The exercise can also induce a meditative trance, Powers adds.

Classes usually involve stretching with the hoop and then performing various tricks and routines: walking while hooping, for example, or moving the hoop up the body from the waist, ending with a lassoing movement around a raised hand.

If exercisers can get over any traumatic memories of playground harassment, Powers says, hooping isn't that difficult. Custom hoops sold by instructors are larger and heavier than the traditional toy-store variety and more proportional to the size of an adult, so they revolve more slowly and don't take as much effort to sustain. Even with a potbelly, it's doable, Powers insists. "And it doesn't feel like exercise," she says. "It feels silly and childlike."

-- Kathleen Hom

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