Movement – It’s What We’re Made For

12 Fun Ways to Exercise and Stay Active 

When it comes to exercise, the research is clear: we were built to move. Getting 2.5 hours of moderate-intensity physical activity (or 1.25 hours of vigorous-intensity exercise) plus 2 days of muscle strengthening activity per week has been shown to produce numerous health benefits, including:1 

  • Better sleep 
  • Improved mood 
  • Sharper mental focus 
  • Reduced stress 
  • Lower risk for chronic illness or disease  
  • Healthier blood pressure 

Despite these perks, developing and maintaining an exercise routine can be tough. Some people love mainstream approaches like hitting the cardio machines at the gym, going for a run or hike, and lifting weights. However, if those exercises feel like an unenjoyable grind for you, or if they just don’t suit your body type, you’re not alone! Movement can take countless different forms, and you can keep your workouts fresh, fun, and feeling right by exploring creative ways to stay active. 

Note: If you don’t already exercise regularly, or if you have a history or symptoms of a kidney, metabolic, or heart condition, it’s important to check in with a health professional before initiating a new routine.2

1. Dance

Dancing is fun, and it keeps both your brain and your body active. Research has shown that dance is just as effective or, in some cases, more effective than other forms of exercise in improving physical and mental health outcomes.3,4 Some early research even suggests that dancing may reduce your risk for dementia.5 You can see positive effects starting with as little as a weekly 30-minute class, and the benefits extend across dance types, from Zumba, to modern dance, to ballroom dance, to line dance and more.3,4 

The takeaway is, if you’re interested in any type of dance, go for it! Beginner classes are available at gyms and studios across the country. If you’re shy about learning new moves in public, remember, this is your journey. Learning, growing, and making mistakes are part of it. But you can always start by cranking up your favorite songs at home and getting comfortable dancing in a private space first.

2. Tai Chi and Qigong

Tai chi is a Chinese form of martial arts that involves slow, deliberate, and controlled movements and postures that are paired with deep breathing and focused attention. When tai chi is performed for health without a martial art component, it is called qigong.6 Tai chi and qigong have been shown to be a safe and effective exercise for people with chronic illnesses such as fibromyalgia, arthritis, heart failure, and cancer, but that doesn’t mean it’s only helpful for these populations.7 Tai chi can strengthen your muscles, build flexibility, improve your balance, and foster a more harmonious mind-body connection.8 

To learn tai chi, look for classes in your area or check out one of the many online instructional videos that are available. Depending on your age and fitness level, you may need to incorporate more intense aerobic exercise along with tai chi, but a health professional can help with developing a well-rounded routine that works for you.

3. Yoga

Like tai chi and qigong, yoga connects body and mind using physical poses, breathwork, and meditation. There are more than 100 different styles of yoga, some of which are slow and gentle with others being very intense and physically demanding. Scientifically established health benefits of yoga include improved fitness level, lower blood pressure and heart rate, better stress management, and more efficient digestion.9 

To get started in yoga, all you need is a yoga mat and an open mind for new experiences. Some classes use other pieces of equipment like blocks or straps, but many don’t. You can look for beginner classes in your area, check out a yoga book, or try an instructional video.10  

4. Pilates

Pilates uses repetitive exercises to build strength and endurance. Pilates workouts range from mild to vigorous, so you don’t need to be an athlete to be able to jump in on this fitness trend. Evidence suggests that Pilates promotes muscle-building, flexibility, as well as abdominal and pelvic stability.11 

Reformer Pilates is a specialized type of Pilates class that uses equipment designed to increase spring-based resistance while performing controlled movements. Traditional Pilates can be performed in either online or in-person classes, while Reformer Pilates requires signing up for a class to access the equipment and learn how to use it.

5. Mixed Martial Arts

Mixed martial arts (MMA) is a sport that incorporates different fighting techniques like kicking, punching, and wrestling. Participation in MMA has exploded in popularity over the last 20 years because it is accessible, practical, competitive, and excellent for building strength and conditioning. People who practice MMA report that it provides a strong sense of community, develops confidence, and hones self-defense skills.  

Due to the full-contact nature of MMA, it does carry a greater risk of injury, so it’s important to work with a trained professional when learning MMA techniques.12,13 To get started, check out televised or in-person MMA events to familiarize yourself with the sport, and look for MMA gyms or classes near you.

6. Rock Climbing

Rock climbing can be a thrilling way to build fitness. Some types of rock climbing, like sport climbing and traditional or “trad” climbing often involve higher vertical gain and use harnesses and ropes to protect from falls. Another type of climbing, called bouldering, doesn’t use ropes but instead involves routes with less vertical gain and climbing over soft mats in case of a fall.  

Both types of climbing can be performed in climbing gyms or outdoors on natural rock formations. Studies indicate that climbing improves physical fitness, muscle strength and control, range of motion, and hand dexterity.14 With the option to practice outdoors, rock climbing allows you to get fresh air and experience the natural world.  

If you’re interested in getting started with rock climbing, look for a rock climbing or bouldering gym in your area, as they often provide lessons for beginners.

7. Sports Leagues or Group Sports Activities

Joining or building a team not only provides opportunities for physical activity but also develops camaraderie and teamwork. Early research shows that playing in a sports league as an adult is associated with improved quality of life and higher self-assessment of health.15 

Adult sports leagues come in all shapes and sizes: volleyball, soccer, softball, ultimate frisbee, pickleball, and more. Some are designed to create a more competitive experience while others are geared toward informal recreational play. Join an existing team, form your own, or simply gather friends to play. Whether you're a seasoned athlete or new to the game, adult sports leagues offer a fun and engaging way to stay fit and healthy.

8. Swimming

Swimming is a holistic workout that offers numerous health benefits. The low-impact nature of swimming makes it ideal for individuals of all ages and fitness levels, reducing stress on your joints while providing a challenging workout. Additionally, regular swimming has been shown to improve markers of cardiovascular health, like lowering total cholesterol and blood pressure.16,17 It’s also fun! Some evidence suggests that people enjoy swimming more than exercising on land.18 

Many gyms and community centers offer pools, or you might live near a pond, lake, river, or other body of water that’s safe to swim in. Be sure to take care and know your limits. Swimming can be dangerous in rough conditions, cold or contaminated water, or if you aren’t an experienced swimmer. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers tips for staying safe while swimming in pools and open water environments at Steps for Healthy Swimming

9. Slacklining

Slacklining involves walking across or balancing on a long, flexible strap or line that is suspended between two trees, poles, or other points. This challenging activity improves balance and strength. Slacklining is unique in that it also enhances your neuromuscular control, or your mind-body connection relation to muscle contraction and relaxation.19 It can also sharpen your focus and concentration. 

To begin slacklining, you’ll need to invest in a slackline, learn to set it up, and then start practicing. It’s normal to feel wobbly at first and you’re bound to fall often while you’re learning, so be sure to set the slackline close to the ground. With repetition, your balance and confidence will improve.

10. Aerial Arts

Aerial fitness uses hanging silk fabric, hoops, or hammocks to execute hanging dance moves, poses, or other acrobatics. Aerial arts require precise movements and body control and can help strengthen muscles, improve flexibility, and may help relieve back or joint pain.20 Research has shown aerial fitness to be comparable in health benefits to other moderate intensity exercises, like walking or cycling, and it has been associated with improved cardiovascular health outcomes.21 Furthermore, this dynamic activity promotes cardiovascular endurance and boosts mental well-being by fostering creativity, confidence, and stress relief.22 

You can practice aerial fitness in classes at an aerial studio, or you can even set up your own aerial equipment at home on a sturdy support beam, tree branch, or freestanding metal frame.

11. Geocaching

Geocaching is a modern-day treasure hunt that encourages physical activity as you search for hidden stashes using GPS coordinates. Individuals can create caches by hiding a logbook and sometimes tradeable trinkets and sharing the GPS location, then searchers—or geocachers—use location data to seek out and find the hidden cache. Accessing caches often requires trekking or hiking to the location, so this activity promotes fitness and stamina as well as problem-solving skills and a deeper connection with nature. 

There are over 3 million active geocaches around the world, so the odds are you’ll be able to participate in geocaching near where you live. To get started, simply download the Geocaching® app, pick a cache to hunt for, and head out! 

12. Moving Meditation

Moving meditation is a practice that pairs physical movement with mindfulness. Mindfulness is a mental state characterized by being fully present and focused on the current moment. Yoga and tai chi/qigong are forms of moving meditation, but they aren’t the only examples. Mindful walking, mindful stretching, and even mindful dance are all forms of moving meditation that you can try.  

Studies have indicated that mindfulness can promote numerous mental and physical benefits, including helping to address depression, anxiety, insomnia, high blood pressure, pain, and more.23 Working meditation into your physical activity may even be more effective in reducing stress and promoting physical health compared with physical activity alone.24,25 

To apply mindfulness during physical activity, bring acute awareness to your breath, your body, and the physical space you’re in, letting go of distractions. Whatever form of movement you’re practicing, move with intention and focus. Notice how your movements affect your whole body. If aches or tension arise, acknowledge them without judgement. Notice any thoughts passing through your mind like passing clouds. If you find yourself getting carried away by a thought or feeling, simply bring yourself back to the present by focusing on your breath.  

Physical activity can do more than just promote health; it can create a stronger connection between your mental and physical self, your community, and even nature. Refreshing or reinventing what your workouts look like through creative movement is a great way to stay motivated, connect with others, and have fun. Trying something new for the first time can be intimidating. But you’re capable of more than you may realize; leave your self-doubts at the door and remember that you can do anything you set your mind to! 


‡ The products and claims made about specific products on or through this Site have not been evaluated by the United States Food and Drug Administration and are not approved to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent disease.   

‡ This Site is not intended to provide diagnosis, treatment, or medical advice. Products, services, information and other content provided on this Site, including information that may be provided on this Site directly or by linking to third-party websites are provided for informational purposes only. Please consult accredited healthcare professional organizations, evidence-based herbal monographs, and published clinical research regarding any medical or health related diagnosis or treatment options.    


  1. Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. “Benefits of physical activity.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2023, Accessed 19 February 2024. 
  2. American College of Sports Medicine. “Exercise preparticipation health screening recommendations.” Accessed 19 February 2024. 
  3. Fong Yan, Alycia et al. “The effectiveness of dance interventions on physical health outcomes compared to other forms of physical activity: A systematic review and meta-analysis.” Sports Medicine, vol. 48, no. 4, 2018, pp. 933-951,
  4. Fong Yan, Alycia et al. “The effectiveness of dance interventions on psychological and cognitive health outcomes compared with other forms of physical activity: A systematic review with meta-analysis.” Sports Medicine, 2024,
  5. Verghese, Joe et al. “Leisure activities and the risk of dementia in the elderly.” The New England Journal of Medicine, vol. 348, no. 25, 2003, pp. 2508-16,
  6. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. “Qigong: What you need to know.” National Institutes of Health, 2022, Accessed 19 February 2024. 
  7. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. “5 tips: What you should know about tai chi for health.” National Institutes of Health, 2024, Accessed 19 February 2024. 
  8. Harvard Health Publishing. “The health benefits of tai chi.” 2022, Accessed 19 February 2024. 
  9. MedlinePlus. “Yoga for health.” National Library of Medicine, 2022, Accessed 19 February 2024. 
  10. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. “Yoga: What you need to know.” National Institutes of Health, 2023, Accessed 19 February 2024. 
  11. Kloubec, June. “Pilates: How does it work and who needs it?” Muscles, Ligaments and Tendons Journal, vol. 1, no. 2, 2011, p. 61-6,
  12. Bueno, João C. A. et al. “Exploratory systematic review of mixed martial arts: An overview of performance of importance factors with over 20,000 athletes.” Sports, vol. 10, no. 6, 2022,
  13. Rainey, Charles E. “Determining the prevalence and assessing the severity of injuries in mixed martial arts athletes.” North American Journal of Sports Physical Therapy, vol. 4, no. 4, 2009, pp. 190-9,
  14. Gassner, Lucia et al. “The therapeutic effects of climbing: A systematic review and meta-analysis.” PM&R, vol. 15, no. 9, 2023, pp. 1194-1209.
  15. Blake, Henry T. et al. “Sport participation and subjective outcomes of health in middle-aged men: A scoping review.” American Journal of Men's Health, vol. 16, no. 2, 2022,
  16. Lee, Bo-Ae, and Deuk-Ja Oh. “Effect of regular swimming exercise on the physical composition, strength, and blood lipid of middle-aged women.” Journal of Exercise Rehabilitation, vol. 11, no. 5. pp. 266-71, 2015,
  17. Omar, Jamal Shaker et al. “Regular swimming exercise improves metabolic syndrome risk factors: a quasi-experimental study.” BMC Sports Science, Medicine & Rehabilitation, vol. 13, no. 1, 2021,
  18. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Health benefits of swimming.” 2022, Accessed 19 February 2024. 
  19. Baláš, Jiří et al. “Metabolic demands of slacklining in less and more advanced slackliners.” European Journal of Sport Science, vol. 23, no. 8, 2023, pp.1658-65,
  20. Kosma, Maria et al. “The effectiveness of performative aerial practice on mental health and the love of movement.” Research in Dance Education, vol. 22, no. 2, 2020, pp. 210-27,
  21. American Council on Exercise. “ACE® study evaluates health benefits of aerial yoga.” 2016, Accessed 19 February 2024. 
  22. Ruggieri, Rachel M., and Pablo B. Costa. “Contralateral muscle imbalances and physiological profile of recreational aerial athletes.” Journal of Functional Morphology and Kinesiology. vol. 4, no. 3, 2019,
  23. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. “Meditation and mindfulness: What you need to know.” National Institutes of Health, 2022, Accessed 19 February 2024. 
  24. Obaya, Hany Ezzat et al. “Effect of aerobic exercise, slow deep breathing and mindfulness meditation on cortisol and glucose levels in women with type 2 diabetes mellitus: A randomized controlled trial.” Frontiers in Physiology, vol. 14, 2023,
  25. Edwards, Meghan K., and Paul D. Loprinzi. “Affective responses to acute bouts of aerobic exercise, mindfulness meditation, and combinations of exercise and meditation: A randomized controlled intervention.” Psychological Reports, vol. 122, no. 2, 2019, pp. 465-84.

Alexa Fry is a health educator with a certificate in technical writing and 10 years of experience in the medical field. She has held roles as a science writer and clinical trial specialist at the National Cancer Institute's Cancer Information Service. She also wrote, edited, and coordinated content for,, and Alexa is passionate about making meaningful, actionable medical information available to everyone.