Homo sedentarius. That's how Mayo Clinic researcher James Levine, M.D., describes modern adults, and for good reason: We rarely get of our duffs. In fact, kids—6- to 11-year-olds in particular—are twice as likely to meet healthy physical activity recommendations. Are you fitter than a fifth grader? If not, we'll get you there with a little playground inspiration.
Five Things the Average Fifth Grader Can Teach You about Fitness
Be a wiggleworm. "Kids are spontaneously moving all the time. We did an experiment where we tried to have kids stand still in the lab, and they literally couldn't do it," says Levine. Constant motion burns major calories—scientists discovered that obese people tend to sit, while lean ones spend their days fidgeting, tapping their feet, doing anything but just plopping down in a chair. The difference translates into about 350 calories a day, which can help you drop a dress size in a year. Sitters: Stand up, shift around, pace—repeat.
Just because it's tough doesn't mean you can't do it. "Kids are much more likely than adults to challenge their bodies," says Pamela Peeke, M.D., an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore. "They always want to go farther, faster, higher—which ultimately improves their physical fitness level." If you've been doing the same neighborhood walk since Hillary was First Lady, step out of your comfort zone a little. Hoof it up a hill or try intervals, and if that feels like a struggle, it means you're getting somewhere. (Possibly into a smaller skirt!)
Your body is your best piece of fitness equipment. When kids goof around on the monkey bars, they're building serious muscle. That's because exercises that use your own body as resistance—like pull-ups, push-ups, and walking lunges—require lifting more than half of your total body weight, according to exercise physiologist Pete McCall. The pay-off: Especially after age 40, muscle mass and metabolism begin to decline, and strength moves using a lot of weight (meaning—no offense—you) will keep you capable and slim.
Take it outside. Scientists will tell you that people who exercise outdoors enjoy it more and report better mood and higher energy levels than those who work out indoors. Kids will tell you that it's bright and open and liberating—the opposite of a sweat-sock-smelling gym.
Buddy up. Whether they're kicking a ball around or skipping rope, kids rarely exercise alone. Pals make fitness feel like a party.
Your Playground-Inspired Workout
These moves, from the playful mind of Los Angeles celebrity trainer Lacey Stone, strike the perfect balance: They're fun but not so kiddie that you feel silly doing them in public. And they're incredibly effective! You can do all of the exercises here for a full-body strength workout, or cherry-pick one or two at a time to try. "If you do the exercises back-to-back, you'll keep your heart rate up," says Stone. "It's like two workouts in one—you'll burn calories and build strength at the same time." So that's how kids do it!
Side Hop: Works calves, thighs, butt, hips, back, and abs.Find a crack in the pavement or a painted line and stand about a foot to the right of it. Bend knees, then jump up and hop sideways over the crack. (You can use your arms to help you.) Repeat, jumping from side to side. Do 20 hops. Work up to 3 sets.
Leaning Push-Up: Works your arms, shoulders, chest, abs, back, thighs, and butt. Stand facing a wall and place your hands shoulder-width apart; walk back several feet. Slowly bend elbows and lower your chest toward the wall. Push back up to the start position and repeat. Work up to 3 sets of 10 reps.
Ball Pass: Works your abs and back. Lie with arms and legs extended toward the sky, holding a ball, as shown. Keeping it in your hands, lower arms over your head and drop straight legs toward ground. Raise arms and legs slowly and grab ball between ankles, then reverse the move. Work up to 3 sets of 10 reps.
Jumping Jack: Works your calves, thighs, hips, butt, abs, back, and shoulders. Stand with feet together, arms by your sides. Jump legs out while bringing arms out and overhead. Do as many jumping jacks as you can in 60 seconds. Work up to 3 sets.
Balance Beam: Works your calves, thighs, hips, butt, abs, and back. Find a curb (a fallen tree log works too—if it's stable and wide enough to balance on) and slowly walk back and forth on it for 60 seconds, pulling abs in tight to help you balance. Repeat if you feel like it!
Tagging Lunge: Works your calves, thighs, hips, butt, abs, and back. Stand with your hands on hips. Take a big step forward with right foot, bending knees 90 degrees, and reaching down to "tag" the ground with your left hand. Rise and stand back up and repeat, stepping left foot forward and tagging ground with right hand. Work up to 3 sets of 10 reps.
Park Bench Dip: Works your triceps, shoulders, chest, and back. Sit on a bench and place your hands on the edge, arms straight; walk your feet out until your butt clears the bench edge, knees slightly bent. Slowly bend your elbows straight back, lowering your butt toward the ground. Press back up. Work up to 3 sets of 10 reps.
This story originally appeared in the June 2015 issue of Dr. Oz The Good Life.