The mind & body benefits of boxing

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It happens every year. After daylight saving time expires, and the days grow shorter and chillier, I struggle to find motivation to exercise. While I love to run, going out in the dark after a long day at work somehow has less appeal than snuggling up on the couch. I know I’ll feel better if I work out, but it’s so much easier not to.

This year, to stave off the wintertime blues, I’ve reconnected with an old flame: boxing. My dalliance with boxing and mixed martial arts began about a decade ago when I took a free trial class of Krav Maga, a form of martial arts developed for the Israeli Armed Forces. I was instantly hooked and trained for about 18 months at a studio that taught “Krav,” as it’s called by aficionados, in the small town where I lived at the time. When they stopped teaching Krav, I dabbled in Mixed Martial Arts (made popular through MMA and UFC fighting), but missed the focus on self-defense. I’ve since trained off and on at Krav studios in different places where I’ve lived.


While relatively easy to learn, Krav is technical, and so classes are generally divided between instruction and drills and are not always an intense workout. To supplement the instruction, most Krav studios also have boxing and/or bag classes, where you can build fitness by whaling away at a punching bag or sparring with an opponent under the guidance of an instructor. To me, Krav is work, while boxing is pure fun.


This winter, I’ve returned to boxing at an excellent gym—and coffee shop!—in San Francisco that offers boxing and fitness classes seven days a week. I’ve found it to be a great way to relieve stress and build muscles that are underused in running.

Health Benefits of Boxing

Boxing is a great cardio workout that can burn up to 800 calories an hour. Women’s Health Magazine ranks it as the second biggest calorie burner among fitness classes. But there’s more to health than burning calories, and boxing also builds strength and bone density, which is especially important for women. As we age, and particularly during and after menopause, women lose bone density, which puts us at greater risk for osteoporosis.

A Mental Health Boost

While almost any form of exercise can help relieve stress, taking out your aggressions on a punching bag feels particularly satisfying. In addition, while they might seem like polar opposites, boxing—like meditation—requires focus, which can draw your mind away from stressful thought patterns. According to MMA Channel:


This level of focus helps to take your mind off other problems that are increasing your stress levels and gives your mind something constructive to focus on.


Boxing also builds confidence. Unfortunately, being a woman in our society can come with a certain sense of vulnerability. While I will never deliberately put myself in harm’s way, it’s nice to know that I have the power to defend myself if need be.

How to Get Started

If you’re interested in trying out boxing, Krav Maga or Mixed Martial Arts, most studios offer free trial classes or the ability to pay for a single class. Some studios also have self-defense seminars, which are a great way to get an introduction to the sport while also learning critical self-defense skills.

Here are a few more tips from my experience:

  • Not all gyms are the same. Some are more focused on fitness while others are more focused on technique. Find one that feels right to you.
  • Similarly, not all martial arts are the same. I found out this out the hard way with my failed attempt at Taekwondo, which I talked about in a recent podcast episode. If you’re trying martial arts for the first time, do some research on the style and approach and don’t be afraid to ask questions of the instructors.
  • Hydrate! Because of the intense focus and fast pace of these classes, it’s easy to forget to drink water. Bring a bottle and take a few sips during breaks to keep from getting dehydrated.
  • Wrap you hands. Boxing gyms encourage you to use hand wraps for a reason—it protects your hands and wrists from injury. Ask someone at the gym to show you how or watch a video tutorial.
  • Make sure you feel safe. At a well-run gym or studio, the instructors will provide ample guidance and supervision so that sparring drills are performed safely. If that’s not the case, find another gym. And if you never want to spar, that’s fine too—you can get a great workout on a punching bag.
  • Keep it simple. If you have access to a punching bag and a pair of boxing gloves, you can do your own workout with a guided program or freestyle. Boxing with a buddy is fun, too. You can take turns on the bag with the other person calling out punches and lending encouragement (or trash talking, depending on. your motivational style).

Boxing has been my way to beat back the wintertime blues. What are some of yours? Drop a note in the comments, and be sure to check out the Practically Fit podcast, where Alex Johnson and I share stories and tips about real fitness over 40.

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Here’s how these 19 famous sports traditions started


Ever done The Wave? Seen Gatorade get dumped on an MVP? Ordered Ballpark hot dogs?


No matter what teams you root for or even what sports you follow, the odds are high that there’s at least one tradition you or your favorite team takes part in without even thinking about it.


So, if you’ve ever wondered about things like why hockey players shake hands before beating each other to a pulp, keep reading!



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Many people believe The Wave first started in 1986 during the televised FIFA World Cup in Mexico. However, ESPN tracked down its origins to cheerleader George Henderson via a tape owned by Oakland Athletics of a game in 1981 at San Jose State University.



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For this sticky sports tradition, hit the highlight reels of a 1984 game when the Chicago Bears beat the Minnesota Vikings. Then-Bear head coach Mike Ditka was drenched in Gatorade for leading the team to victory.



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Well, are you? For over 20 years, ABC used Hank Williams Jr.’s “All My Rowdy Friends Are Here on Monday Night; as its theme song. In fact, the phrase “Are You Ready For Some Football?” is trademarked by ABC.



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While tailgating is a large part of the fun during football season, this tradition’s roots can be traced back to 1906. Unsurprisingly, this tradition started on a college campus — Yale, to be precise — and has stuck ever since.


Before the bottom of the sixth inning at every home game, Milwaukee Brewers can see an array of sausage-themed mascots race around the track. This tradition started as a simple scoreboard animation in the 1990s, but by 1992, physical mascots were created so bored kids could watch people race in about 7 feet tall sausage costumes.


Now called The Sausage Race, competitors include The Bratwurst, The Polish, The Italian, The Chorizo and The Hot Dog. As of June 2021, The Hot Dog has won the most number of races (12 total).



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Legendary Indy 500 driver Louis Meyer would drink buttermilk on every race day after he did it in 1936 and won. The superstition has since become a tradition carried out by many Indy 500 winners, although the winner now can choose from whole, 2% or whichever other type of milk they want.



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If you’ve ever wondered why people throw octopus at a Detroit Red Wings game, wonder no more. This tradition started in 1952 after the Red Wings beat the Montreal Canadiens. A local fish seller threw an octopus on the ice in celebration, creating a longstanding tradition. Fans still throw octopuses out on the ice.



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Also called the Iowa Wave, this University of Iowa tradition started in 2017. That’s when a UI Children’s Hospital opened up near the football stadium. Ever since, you can catch fans waving hello to the hospital at home games.



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This tradition comes courtesy of THE Ohio State University marching band. The marching band members have been forming “Ohio” during its halftime performances since 1936. If you look closely, you can see they even dotted the “i.”



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The “toast” toast is another tradition you’ll have to go to a college campus to see. University of Pennsylvania fans got cheeky during a rendition of the school song, “Drink a Highball,” in the 1970s. After alcohol was banned in stadiums, fans started throwing toast, bagels and other bready goods during the lyrics, “Here’s a toast to dear old Penn.”



Penn Archives / Twitter


If you’re not familiar with WWE, this tradition may have you saying, “What?” In 2001, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin  first annoyed his opponents by interrupting their sentences with, “What?” You can still hear fans chant “What?” during WWE matches.


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While people have been wearing hats to the Kentucky Derby since its formation in 1875, the hat craze escalated quickly in the 1960s. A combination of loosening fashion rules for women and the emergence of TV screenings of the Derby gave many women the chance to get noticed, so Derby hats got bigger, bolder and brighter.



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Grabbing a hot dog during the season opener is a tradition held by many baseball fanatics. This tradition started in 1893 during Louis Browns games in Milwaukee. However, the now famous Ball Park Franks wouldn’t appear until 1958 at a  Detroit Tigers game.


Every year, the current golf master prepares to “hand off” The Green Jacket to the winner of the next tournament. This tradition started in 1937, although each winner actually keeps the jacket. It’s stitched with the winner’s name on the inside label and takes about a month to make.



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Since 1908, hockey players have been shaking their opponents’ hands before beating each other up. Canadian hockey player shook his opponent’s hand after a game, creating a tradition that lasts today. Hockey is the only sport that regularly does this handshake.



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Wimbledon’s been serving strawberries and cream since 1509, according to some accounts. Historians found that Thomas Wolsey was the first person to pass out the sweet treat to spectators. Wolsey was an administrator for King Henry VII, and part of his duties included serving delicious snacks to the king’s guests at tennis matches. Wimbledon still sells this popular fan favorite.



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Some fans have noticed that soccer players tend to ask their rivals for their jersey after they defeat them. This “jersey swapping” is believed to have first happened in 1931, when French players asked their English counters for their jerseys to remember their sweet victory. However, not all losing teams offer up their jersey, as was the case during the 1966 World Cup when England defeated Argentina.



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Mascots have been around for quite some time, and there’s disagreement over which team had the first mascot. However, most people point to Yale’s bulldog, Handsome Dan, as one of the first team mascots.


He debuted in 1892, and Yale still has both an actual bulldog and someone dressed as a bulldog at every home game. They’re currently on their 19th Handsome Dan bulldog, the latest of whom joined the Yale family in March 2021. Its caretaker is a staff member at the Yale Visitor Center.



f11photo / Deposit Photos


The Haka dance is a New Zealand war dance that their rugby team, the All Blacks, made famous in the 1990s. The team still starts each game with the dance, and other teams have since adopted their own dances and chants.



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