You may remember kids playing with hula hoops decades ago, but the exercise known as “hooping” is now gaining popularity among adults of all ages who find that it adds variety and fun to their fitness routines.

Hooping is more than just a welcome respite from the tedium of a treadmill workout. There’s scientific evidence supporting its benefits—and it’s safe for many people, regardless of their fitness level.

Hooping for better health

You may be surprised to see the number of ways that hooping can improve your overall fitness.

Hooping has cardiovascular benefits on par with boot-camp classes, step aerobics and cardio kickboxing, according to research conducted by the Exercise and Health Program at University of Wisconsin in LaCrosse for the American Council on Exercise (ACE).

Besides its aerobic boost, hooping slims down the waist and hips. A study published in The European Journal of Obesity found that six weeks of daily hooping beat out a comparable amount of walking in some key health markers. For example, hooping led to more muscle in the core area and a loss of about 1.2 inches in waist circumference. Unlike walking, hooping also decreased LDL “bad” cholesterol “significantly,” according to the study.

Hooping is a good calorie-­burner, too—about 210 calories during a 30-minute workout. Because hooping improves core strength and mobility, it also may help prevent or treat back pain caused by stress or strain on muscles of the vertebral column. When done regularly, it can help prevent falls by improving balance and proprioception (one’s perception or awareness of the position and movement of the body).

Getting the hang of hooping

Hooping can be your primary cardio activity or a lively add-on to your usual heart-health workout. When performed at an easy pace, hooping also makes a good warm-up or cool-down for any type of cardio exercise or before strength training or stretching.

Whenever you need a break from sitting, hooping is a great way to add five- or 10-minute chunks of exercise to your daily total. To get started…

Choose the right hoop. There’s a wide range of hoop sizes available. If you’re a beginner, choose one between 37 and 45 inches in diameter. To find the right one for your height: When you hold the hoop vertically on the ground, it should reach between your waist and your mid-chest. If you’re buying online, use a tape measure to measure the distance from your feet to the midway point between your waist and your mid-chest and buy a hoop in that range. Note: Don’t worry if the size is not exact—a hoop that is slightly bigger or smaller will work.

You can find a good-quality hoop online for less than $30 or make your own with inexpensive PVC piping—check YouTube for videos to learn how to do this.

Some fitness hoops are also ­weighted, usually between one to four pounds. However, inexperienced hoopers may injure themselves if they use a weighted hoop, so start with one without any added weight.

Ease into the technique. If you’re a newcomer to hooping, give yourself time to master it. Some fitness centers offer classes to fast-track learning, but you can get the hang of it on your own.

What to do: Step into the hoop, and position it against your back. Then use your hips to keep it in motion and parallel to the ground as your hands let go. The key is pushing back into the hoop at the point of contact on your body to keep the momentum going. This motion can be forward to backward or side to side, depending on what works for you. The big mistake that people make is moving the body in a circular motion. If you have a favored side, switch your lead leg for a balanced workout.

Set some goals. When first learning, you may be able to keep the hoop off the ground for only a few seconds or rotations at a time. Set a gradually increasing number of rotations as your goal. For example, do one rotation and catch the hoop…do two rotations and catch it. Keep adding rotations until you find your rhythm. Of course, the longer you can keep the hoop up, the more calories you’ll burn and the more you’ll raise your heart rate to contribute to your aerobic fitness.

Once you get the hang of it, you can gradually build up to a 30-minute ­session. Depending on your fitness goals, you can add hooping to your exercise regimen a few times a week.

To keep your hooping workout interesting, alternate direction every five minutes and/or use a combination of fast and slow rotations. Above all, don’t give up—it takes practice, but half the fun is learning how.

Hooping with modifications   

Even though hooping is great exercise for most adults, traditional stand-up hooping isn’t recommended if you have weakness or severe pain in your hips, knees and/or ankles that makes you unstable or at a high risk of falling…have a fracture or instability in the spine due, for example, to a condition such as osteoporosis…or have an open wound.

Depending on your personal situation, individuals with these conditions may be able to work with an experienced teacher or physical therapist on a modified routine. If you have any concerns, check with your doctor before starting.

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