Five sports with the best health benefits for women

If you're a woman who is interested in improving your health or overall fitness or just looking at trying out a new sport, here is a look at five of the healthiest sports you should consider checking out.

Rock climbing.
Wikimedia Commons

Whether you prefer individual sports or group participation, you'll be sure to find something you enjoy—and enjoyment is the key to keeping up good exercise habits.

Rock climbing

Rock climbing is a sport women of all ages can participate in and something that can be enjoyed for a lifetime. Though there was a time that climbing was considered a "man's sport," that is certainly no longer the case, as more and women are discovering the great benefits that the sport offers to women.

The American Mountain Guides Association certifies individuals as rock-, alpine- or ski-mountaineering guides, and of the 294 that were certified, only 26 are women. But in the future, those numbers are likely to increase as women realize they are at least as competent as the men who climb.

Climbing requires a lot of stretching, and improving flexibility greatly improves your overall condition and your balance. Having good flexibility will help you throughout your life. It helps to prevent injuries as you age and to develop a good range of motion.

Many women are under a lot of stress, having to balance a family and career, and the mental benefits that you'll receive from climbing are excellent stress reducers. Climbing boots your self esteem and confidence, and you'll also receive those great happy endorphins that are released when exercising.

Cycling

Grabbing your bike and taking off for a ride is not only great exercise, but it can bring back some of the best childhood memories. Back then, it was our only mode of transportation and a fun activity. Transforming a childhood love of bikes into an adult passion has a wealth of benefits.

Cycling can become just an excellent form of exercise or you can take it further into a competitive level. It is a low-impact exercise that can be performed with less risk of injury to your body compared to high-impact exercises like running. Even pregnant women can enjoy the benefits of cycling, and it is recommended by the American Academy of Family Physicians.

Cycling is at least as easy for women to take on as men, and it provides an excellent cardiovascular workout, muscle toning, stress reduction. Plus, it is a lot cheaper than heading to the gym. It's also a great way to lose weight or just improve your overall physical shape.

Swimming

Swimming is not only fun, but it is one of the healthiest sports women can participate in. It uses all the major muscle groups and also provides a great work out for your heart and lungs. You'll receive the same aerobic benefits as running, but without the strain on your body, including connective tissues.

Swimming is an excellent activity for women of all ages and skill levels and can also be a life-time sport. Water exercises are great for pregnant women, people who suffer from arthritis and other injuries, and senior citizens. It is considered one of the best injury-free activities there is.

Hiking

Hiking can be done alone or with a friend, and is a wonderful way to experience the great outdoors and improve your health. The average person burns up to 370 calories an hour, and while you're enjoying spectacular scenery, you'll hardly notice that you're also accomplishing something great for your body.

Hiking is known as an active meditation, perfect for women whose lives are bombarded with the stress of balancing a family and a career.

Just some of the benefits of hiking include increased bone density, better cardiovascular health, lowered blood pressure, and, of course, weight control. It's easy to start, and all you need is a good pair of hiking shoes.

Disc golf

Did you know that disc golf is the fastest growing sport in the world? It is, and it is also one of the best sports for women to participate in. There are disc golf leagues specifically for women, and by design, the sport is not only friendly to women but easy and inexpensive to start. All you need is a disc.

Disc golf is similar to club golf, only a disc (or Frisbee) is used. There are opportunities for women to play competitively or just for fun, and the sport also provides of wealth of physical and emotional benefits to women of all ages.

With many courses offering elevation changes, you can get the benefit of hill climbing as well as walking. You'll receive the benefits of aerobic exercise as well as improving concentration skills and working out both your upper and lower body.

Disc golf courses are popping up across the country—and most are free.

K.C. Dermody has been an avid runner, hiker, and yoga enthusiast for twenty years, and as a trained yoga instructor she taught a variety of students from senior citizens to competitive athletes. She enjoys combining her passion for sports, emotional and physical well-being with her love of writing.

More from this contributor:

Don't stop running: Tips for exercising in inclement weather

Running after 40: How to prevent injuries that will stop you in your tracks

Best hikes on the Northern Oregon coast

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Updated Friday, Oct 7, 2011