For ‘mature’ folks, this could be the king of all workouts

At 63, I’ve gradually become aware that my balance, my strength, and coordination are not what they used to be. I don’t walk as smoothly, and I’m sometimes unsteady on my feet, for no apparent reason.

It’s kind of snuck up on me, but I now realize that, physically speaking, I’m not who I was even ten years ago.

This disturbs me, and I’ve been on the lookout for some form of exercise that can give me back some of my former agility. And I’ve found it, in an activity I never would have thought about trying before.

It’s technically a self-defense activity, which is something I’ve never engaged in. But I’m strongly considering it, not as a way to protect myself, but as a way to stay steady, strong and balanced as I approach my 70s.

What is kickboxing?

Kickboxing is a form of martial arts that combines karate with boxing. It is usually performed in bare feet.

Despite the name, kickboxing for health is a non-contact activity. Punches, jabs, and kicks are thrown into the air or onto a mat.

And don’t be fooled into thinking that you’re too old to engage in such a strenuous activity. For older adults, the benefits in terms of weight loss and redistribution, stress relief, better balance, and improved concentration are hard to beat.

Kickboxing can make you very strong, very quickly. In a 2014 study, thirty participants trained for one hour per day, three times a week.

Over a period of just five weeks, kickboxing participants showed significant improvement in upper body muscle power, anaerobic fitness (sustaining short bursts of activity), aerobic power, flexibility, speed, and agility.

Sounds like what I’m looking for! But here’s a study that really excited me.

In 2012, a study in the Journal of Neurologic Physical Therapy reported on how a group kickboxing program for patients with early-stage multiple sclerosis involved clinical measurements of gait, walking speed and balance.

While I don’t have MS, I’m impressed with these results, mainly because it tells me that kickboxing could serve to improve my balance and help me regain a smooth, even gait.

Another thing that’s happened to me is that my ability to concentrate on work for long enough to get tasks done has waned. Kickboxing improves focus and the ability to concentrate on a task.

And it makes sense. It takes extended periods of focus to learn and to master the kicks, punches and other moves involved in kickboxing.

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Specific benefits for older adults

There’s a difference between power and strength. According to Kurt Jackson, associate professor of neurology and rehab science at the University of Dayton, it’s strength that’s the better predictor of mobility and decreased risk for falls.

“Pure strength is what a weightlifter uses, but producing power is about both force and speed,” Jackson says. And it’s both force and speed that keep you moving forward steadily.

Jackson also describes how kickboxing improves the two types of balance that can save a senior from a damaging fall: anticipatory balance and reactive balance.

“Anticipatory balance is something you use when you can see a need coming, like when you’re stabilizing yourself to reach up into a cupboard,” says Jackson. Reactive balance, on the other hand, is the mind-muscle coordination you need to save yourself from a fall when something makes you suddenly unsteady.

Finally, kickboxing is a form of high-intensity interval training (HIIT). Studies show that HIIT is some of the best exercises for reducing belly fat. And fat carried around the midsection is a greater health risk than carrying excess pounds spread throughout the body.

How to give kickboxing a try

Kickboxing blends the best of martial arts, dance, and basic calisthenics.

Many fitness centers and gyms offer group cardio kickboxing classes. Just make sure your instructor is certified by an organization like the American Council on Exercise, the International Kickboxing Federation or the International Sport Karate Association.

Beyond that, just take things at your own pace. As with any sport, stay hydrated, and take breaks when you feel the need. Don’t try to prove yourself by being “super kickboxer.”

If you’d like, you can seek out specialty gyms where you can use a heavy punching bag. No matter how you do it, if you stick with it, the changes in your body, your energy, and your mind won’t be long in coming.

Sources:

  1. How Kickboxing Can Change Your Body and Your LifeTime
  2. Short Bursts of Exercise Are Better Than Exercising NonstopTime
  3. 12 Benefits of Kickboxing That Will Have You Fighting For Your Health — Fit&Me
  4. A Group Kickboxing Program for Balance, Mobility, and Quality of Life in Individuals With Multiple Sclerosis: A Pilot StudyJournal of Neurologic Physical Therapy
  5. The effects of five weeks of kickboxing training on physical fitnessMuscle, Ligaments and Tendons Journal

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Joyce Hollman

By Joyce Hollman

Joyce Hollman is a writer based in Kennebunk, Maine, specializing in the medical/healthcare and natural/alternative health space. Health challenges of her own led Joyce on a journey to discover ways to feel better through organic living, utilizing natural health strategies. Now, practicing yoga and meditation, and working towards living in a chemical-free home, her experiences make her the perfect conduit to help others live and feel better naturally.