Article by Tom DiChiara, upwave.com | Featured on CNN.com
Dancing has always been an integral part of Irish life, from traditional Irish folk dances to vigorous jigs.
Every year, we like to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day by indulging in some quintessentially Irish things, such as stout beer, strong whiskey and/or corned beef and cabbage.
Cabbage aside, those aren’t exactly the cornerstones of a healthy lifestyle — but the good people of Ireland do know a few things about staying fit.
According to data collected by the Irish Sports Monitor in 2013, 47% of Irish men and women aged 16 and over participate in some form of regular exercise. While some choose common activities (gym-based workouts, swimming, running, cycling), others enjoy singularly Irish ones like dancing (think: Riverdance) and the sport of hurling.
Want to celebrate St. Paddy’s Day (or any day) in a healthy way? Here are a few Irish-themed workouts that’ll help you earn a Guinness or two.
During the Irish potato famine of the 1840s, many citizens of the Emerald Isle immigrated to the United States and Canada and found employment as lumberjacks and loggers in the booming timber industry.
Today, there is an exercise known as the “Irish Lumberjack,” which builds the arm and core strength needed to chop down trees. Sure, you probably won’t have to hew gargantuan trees anytime soon, but great arms, abs and balance always come in handy.
Here’s how the exercise works: Execute a few sets of one-armed dumbbell rows while balancing on one leg with the knee slightly bent. Be aware of your posture and try to keep your back from rounding. Your non-weight-bearing leg should be fully extended behind you with your torso parallel to the floor, so your body makes a “T” shape.
Repeat until you feel like an Irish lumberjack.
Better: Give hurling a whirl
Believed to be the world’s oldest field game, the Gaelic sport of hurling is a mixture of soccer, hockey and lacrosse, with two teams of 15 players squaring off to put a small ball into the opposing team’s net.
Since you need 30 people for a full game, it can be hard to get one going on a whim (unless you join a club team). Luckily, though (and the Irish are full of luck), reaping the physical benefits of the sport can be accomplished without heading to the field.
Personal trainer Paul O’Brien recommends mixing aerobic and anaerobic conditioning to train like a hurler athlete. Some days, run two to three miles at a steady pace to build up endurance. Other days, do a series of 50-meter sprints to hone in on your explosiveness.
That way, if you do ever make it onto the hurling field for a game, you’ll have the speed and the strength to play hard until the final whistle blows.
Best: Leap like you’re Lord of the Dance
Dancing has always been an integral part of Irish life, comprising everything from traditional Irish folk dances to the vigorous step dances and jigs popularized in modern times by “Lord of the Dance” creator Michael Flatley.
It’s also excellent exercise — especially step dancing, which requires the dancer to execute intricate and rapid movements with the feet (making it a powerful workout for both the legs and the lungs).
Another perk of Irish dancing is core development, since the body and arms are mostly kept still as the dancer performs the elaborate footwork.
The benefits of getting footloose also extend beyond the physical. A recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that dancing keeps your brain nimble and can help to ward off dementia as you age. And because you’re listening to music while you dance, it feels like less work than comparable exercises.
“Music reduces your perception of exertion by about 10%,” says Costas Karageorghis, a sports psychologist at London’s Brunel University. To get started, see this basic Irish dance routine created by the lovely people from Riverdance.