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Summer Camp-Inspired Exercises

Remember when you actually liked exercise? 

We're talking back in summer camp, when you were probably too busy skipping through the woods, paddling canoes, and teetering over logs to even consider how many calories you were burning. You didn't need a StairMaster to tell you to climb higher or run faster. In fact, at the end of the day, you likely needed a gentle nudge to stop moving and trudge back to your cabin.

Now, most of us could use a nudge in the opposite direction. The most beneficial workouts come from activities we do for the pure fun and thrill of it, says Mary Tedesco, a fitness trainer in Cross River, New York, who has worked with Martha Stewart for the past five years. 

"When you're doing something you actually enjoy, you're generally more relaxed, you breathe more deeply, and you are more likely to do it again," she says.

Tedesco wishes we would all take a cue from our younger selves. Try new activities, and you'll keep your mind engaged and work muscle groups better than you could with gym equipment. Better still, you'll feel like a kid again.

Row a Boat
Paddling down a lazy river can be so meditative that it's hard to believe you're getting a serious workout. That is, until the next morning, when your upper body feels as if it was pummeled. Give yourself a few days to get used to rowing, though, and you'll be rewarded with sculpted arms and shoulders and a stronger back.

What's more, sitting on a tippy boat makes you strive to stay balanced, and this requires more from the muscles of the core, lower back, and rear gluteals than any rowing machine, says Mark Blanchard, the owner of True Power Yoga Studios, in Los Angeles.

Earn Your Merit Badge
To make the most of your time -- and the strapless dresses in your closet -- focus on bending forward as deeply as you can when you move the paddles of the oars back. Then pull your hands all the way to your chest, keeping your shoulders down through the entire motion.

Walk on a Log
Something about inching along a fallen tree (or a playground bench) makes you feel like a 10-year-old -- in more ways than one. For starters, it helps restore your sense of balance, something we naturally lose as we age, says Gunnar Peterson, a fitness trainer in Los Angeles who works with professional athletes. Do this activity often enough and you may also get your waistline back, since your midsection -- including the tough-to-tone oblique muscles -- has to work hard to keep you from toppling over.

Earn Your Merit Badge
Put your hands on your hips for the next trip across; place them over your chest, and then on your head. The higher your hands are on your body, the more core muscles you engage.

Swim to the Dock
As a kid, you didn't think twice about plunging into a lake to cool off. Water offers natural resistance without stressing the muscles and joints, so the mere act of treading water increases your heart rate. 

Reluctant swimmers can start by treading water for 30-second intervals in the shallow end of a lake or pool, says Ashley Borden, a celebrity fitness trainer in Los Angeles. As you become more comfortable, ease into a freestyle swim or breaststroke. 

Depending on your weight, speed, and age, you'll burn 100 to 200 calories for every 30 minutes in the water. Over time, you'll see more shapely shoulders, a firmer rear end, and leaner legs, stomach, and back.

Earn Your Merit Badge
Toss some sprints into the mix, alternating two minutes of a slow breaststroke with 30 seconds of a more intense crawl.

Hike in the Woods
With every step through a hilly area, you firm up the calves, hips, buttocks, and core. And any time you have to adjust to unstable terrain, "your muscles have to fire differently than if you were on a smooth road or treadmill," Peterson says. Taking your body out of its comfort zone, by tackling a different trail or scaling a rock, ramps up your metabolism.

Earn Your Merit Badge
To turn a walk into a full-body workout, lengthen your strides and pump your arms with each step. For more of a challenge, carry 3-pound hand weights.

Get more functional (and fun!) fitness tips from Mary Tedesco every week on the Whole Living Daily blog.

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