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Achieve Fitness Success with Martial Arts

Written by T.G. Rand

If you enjoy mixing a meditative mindset with aerobic fitness, why not trade in your current workout and experiment with martial arts like karate, tai chi, judo or kung fu?

Changing your workout routine can take you out of an exercise rut and can boost your fitness.  Experimenting with martial arts can lead you to a healthy heart and a tight abdomen.

There's growing consensus among exercise physiologists that these ancient practices also fulfill many fitness goals.

For instance, two recent studies published in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise found that the practice of martial arts is effective for weight loss and overall fitness and can also improve cardiovascular function in people who have had heart surgery.

More rigorous martial arts, such as karate, judo and the Brazilian form known as capoeira, meet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's definition of "vigorous," meaning they can provide the highest benefits in terms of lowered risk for heart disease.

(The CDC recommends that adults burn at least 2,000 calories a week with exercise, which translate to about 45 minutes each day of exercise that burn at least 7.5 calories per minute.)

An added benefit is a tight midsection. Since martial arts' philosophies view the abdomen as the source of energy, many instructors are fanatic about repetitions and variations of sit-ups.

Many health clubs and Ys incorporate martial arts routines into programs designed to build cardiovascular fitness, improve flexibility, tone muscles and shed pounds. Some of these programs combine traditional martial arts with the rousing music and dynamic moves of aerobics classes.   

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If you're tired of running, jogging, walking or cycling in pursuit of fitness, try a new routine. More than a dozen forms of martial arts are taught and practiced in the U.S. today. Here's a list of the most popular ones:

Aikido: A graceful Japanese martial art in which you use your opponent's energy to throw him off balance. It is said to be effective for body, mind and spirit.

Judo: An Olympic activity, it involves learning to throw your opponent, and since you are sometimes the opponent, you'll also learn to fall properly. Judo students also learn to grapple on the ground, a challenging activity that resembles wrestling.

Karate: Punches, kicks and pressure points are only part of the karate story. This art relies on isotonic and isometric training techniques that can lead to a taut, muscular body.

Kung fu: Also known as wu shu, this Chinese martial art is fast, dynamic and dance-like; students learn a series of moves that flow into each other.

Tai chi chuan: This increasingly popular martial art consists of balletic, meditative movements that look like a slo-mo version of kung fu. The balance and centeredness required to master tai chi lead many to consider it even more challenging than kung fu.

Other forms of martial arts include kickboxing (popularized by the tae-bo workout) and capoeira, a Brazilian martial art developed by slaves who concealed its defensive aspects by layering it beneath a beautiful acrobatic dance.

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