Toiling away on a treadmill will work up a sweat, but when it comes to allover fitness, sports that engage your entire body will give you the biggest bang for your buck-not to mention the ever-important fun factor. “No machine will work your body the way moving around on a playing field can,” says Brad Cardinal, Ph.D., co-director of the sport and exercise lab at Oregon State University. “Any sport that combines all the elements of fitness-cardiovascular fitness, muscular strength, endurance, and flexibility-is going to give you a great workout.” Just how great a workout? Here are the stats on five team sports that will kick your butt-and whip you into shape. See how your favorite pastime stacks up.
Soccer (636/885* calories/hour) Twisting, kicking, darting, jumping, and, let’s not forget, running, running and more running (an average of 8 miles per game) put soccer at the top of the pack of cardiovascular workouts. Each 45-minute half will burn up a whopping 477 to 664 calories.
Basketball (509/709 calories/hour) Full-court basketball players run continually, and, like soccer players, cover a lot of distance: They do dozens of 30-yard dashes from one end of the court to the other and keep hustling in between. Basketball players develop upper- and lower-body muscular endurance and strength as they use their entire bodies to defend, handle the ball, twist, and jump. Each 20-minute half of a serious game of pickup hoops can burn up 170 to 236 calories, give or take a few for foul shots.
Water Polo (636/885 calories/hour) This game requires nonstop churning of the legs to stay upright and move around the pool, while the upper body and abdominals are taxed by defending and throwing the ball. Because water creates natural resistance, water sports are incredible muscle builders. The 63 to 88 calories you burn up during each of the four intense seven-minute periods will feel like a lot more than that aerobically.
Rugby (636/885 calories/hour) The brutal combination of wrestling, running, and tackling make rugby a rough but effective full-body workout. Pushing in the scrum develops all-over muscle strength, flexibility, and endurance, and the perpetual motion works your heart. Each 40-minute half burns some 424 to 590 calories, but your aching muscles will tell more of the story-and not just because of the bruises.
Football (509/709 calories/hour) Like rugby, football combines the whole-body muscle building benefits of pushing against other players with the cardiovascular benefits of sprinting. And if your game is more of a friendly weekend match, chances are you’ll be playing every minute of each 15-minute quarter and burning in the neighborhood of 509 to 709 calories total.