17 Things That Don't Feel Like Exercise (But Actually Are)

how to exercise without realizing it

Not too long ago, I picked up a skateboard for the first time since 8th grade.

By the end of the afternoon, I was admittedly a little tired, and even had broke a sweat. But I didn’t think anything of it—it was just so much fun.

The next day, I was shocked—my legs were actually sore, and I’d only done a moderate leg workout the day before. My calves hurt, and so did my quads. I racked my brain for what I’d done the day before to cause the level of soreness I was experiencing. And then I figured it out: it was the skateboarding!

By skating, I’d actually been exercising without even realizing it.

Making exercise fun

Sometimes, you just don’t feel like working out. Maybe your hands are all beat up, you’re feeling under the weather, or it’s just too dang nice outside and it seems like a total shame to spend your time working out rather than taking advantage of the outdoors (although don’t forget, no excuses!).

The best thing to do in times like these? Find something that gets you moving—but doesn’t actually feel like exercise.

Here are 17 ways to exercise without even realizing it:

Swimming – Swimming is a fantastic exercise, but you don’t have to swim laps in order to get any benefits from it. Just splashing around, trying underwater handstands and doing cannonballs will get you plenty of exercise without making you even feel like you’re exercising.

Hiking – The next time you have an open day on a weekend and don’t want to spend it in a gym, get some friends together (or get your dog) and go for a hike. You’ll get some fresh air, see some really cool views and burn some calories as well. I like to pack a picnic for extra fun.

Dancing – Despite being a fantastic form of cardio, dancing rarely feels like you’re doing anything active (unless, of course, you’re doing Zumba, which I think is just weird) – it’s just fun. Whether you just like to bop around to the music, like swing dancing or even breakdancing, the type doesn’t really matter—it will all get you moving and you may even break a sweat before you know it.

Take a walk – Don’t feel like exercising? Go for a long walk instead. Walking is one of the best ways to get moving even you’re feeling lazy, your muscles are sore, or you just need to clear your head. I especially like to use walking as a way to explore a new city – you can see way more when you’re on foot versus in a car and it’s a great way to get a sense of a new culture.

Gymnastics – I started doing adult gymnastics for the first time in over 20 years about six months ago, and I’ve seriously never had so much fun in a sport. Yet despite being a fantastic form of exercise, I never think of it as exercise—it’s challenging, and humbling, and just pure fun. I leave every class feeling exhausted, but with a huge smile on my face.

Play video games – There are plenty of active video games out there these days, Wii Sports, Wii Fit and Dance Dance Revolution being just a few of all the options out there. Gather some buddies together and get into an active video game competition—you’ll feel a little silly at first but you’ll have way more fun than you would just sitting around for hours at a time!

Play with your kid (or niece or nephew) at a playground – Playgrounds are awesome—not only do the good ones have awesome tools like monkey bars, rings and stuff to climb on, they make these things seem fun—unlike, say, most gyms.

So rather than doing something sedentary like sitting around and watching a movie on the weekend or after work, go to a playground instead!

Skateboard – When was the last time you tried skateboarding? Junior high? Yeah, me too—until recently. Brian and started to teach me a few basics about how to move, turn, and (attempt) to ollie on a skateboard, and not only was it a blast (I couldn’t stop smiling), it was also surprisingly tiring. By the end of the afternoon, I was pretty exhausted and my legs felt like they’d done a million box jumps, but I’d been having so much fun at the time I didn’t even think of it as exercise.

Backyard games – Games like bocce ball, croquet and cornholl bag toss (yes, that’s a real game) may not get your heart rate up much, but they’re a lot of fun and are a lot more active than simply sitting around. Adding alcohol to the mix no doubt negates any calories you’ll burn during activities like these, but that’s ok – the whole point is to train your body and mind that being active is fun, not something to dread.

Jump on a trampoline – The other day Brian and I decided to go to an indoor trampoline park in town because neither of us had been before, and, well, it just sounded like a fun afternoon activity. It was awesome! We jumped, flipped, and bounced off walls for an hour, and had huge, goofy smiles on our faces the entire time. When the hour was up, we were both thoroughly exhausted without ever having set foot in a gym.

Try a new sport – Along with HIIT, I highly recommend that you try new sports that you’ve always wanted to try in order to keep challenging yourself and break up your usual routine. When you’re learning something new, whether it’s kiteboarding, or judo, parkour, fencing, or whatever else you’ve always wanted to try – you’re much more likely to focus on the skills you need to learn and all the fun you’re having rather than the fact that you’re actually getting in exercise. Picking up a new sport can also help you stay more motivated to work out since you’ll undoubtedly want to stay in good shape in order to progress more quickly at your new sport or activity.

Capture the flag – I don’t know how many of you played capture the flag as a kid, but I did – and it was a blast! I also remember it invving a lot of sprinting, but it didn’t ever feel like exercise because I just wanted to win.

Biking – Sure, we all know that taking your road or mountain bike out for a two hour ride will get you a great workout, but not all of us have the right gear (or the motivation) for that type of bike riding. So if that’s not your thing, try riding around where you live or renting bikes on your next vacation. It’s way more fun than driving, and you’re bound to have a blast while you’re at it.

Skating – Get out your old rollerblades, or visit the nearby skating rink with your kids, nieces or nephews or whoever. You’ll laugh at how dorky you feel, but skating is a lot of fun – especially when there are disco lights involved. And you’ll end up surprisingly sweaty after all the racing (and possibly falling) you’ll inevitably do.

Tennis – Tennis is one of those sports that I’ve always wanted to get good at, because the idea of it is just so fun. Fresh air, sunshine and good company? That’s a pretty awesome combo if you ask me. Now I just need to start playing more than twice a year if I ever actually want to get better.

Rock climbing – One of the reasons I love rock climbing so much is not only is it incredibly fun, it’s also a killer arm workout. After just an hour or so of climbing, I’m always surprised at how tired my upper body is! Plus, anyone can rock climb, whatever level you’re at.

Water sports – Whether it’s surfing, kayaking, stand up paddle boarding, wake boarding, or water skiing, water sports are a fantastic way to get some sun, spend time with friends or family and have a blast all at once. Some will get you more of a workout than others, but they’re all great ways to get moving and stay active in the summer months, and will all leave you feeling tired and worn out—in a good way.

Clean – This one’s not that exciting, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be included in the list. Every time you vacuum, mop or scrub down your house you’re not only making it nice and clean, you’re also burning calories while you do so. I know I’m not the only one that has broken out in a sweat during a good cleaning session!

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