In this day and age of high-tech exercise equipment, the jumping jack might be considered "old school." When Michelle Obama encouraged others to help her set a Guinness World Record in 2011 for the most people performing jumping jacks in a day, she not only became "Jumper in Chief," but she bestowed a certain modicum of cool on this most basic of calisthenics. The resulting buzz from fitness experts indicates that your PE teacher was on to something after all: Regularly performing jumping jacks imparts significant health benefits at any age.
Jumping for Your Heart
Jumping jacks are a form of aerobic exercise. Your heart is challenged to pump harder to meet the increased oxygen demands of your muscles, according to a May 2011 article published online by "Scientific American." As you do jumping jacks, your pulse increases and breathing is labored. These are signs that you are working your cardiovascular system. Incorporating jumping jacks into an exercise routine contributes to a stronger heart and more efficient cardiovascular system.
Jumpstart Your Muscles
While the cardio benefits of performing jumping jacks are readily observed through changes in pulse and respiration, muscular benefits are not so obvious. They are felt, however, in the glutes, calves, abs and deltoids. The size of your muscles is not likely to increase from jumping jacks, but there will be a detectable increase in muscle strength, said certified exercise trainer Katie Brown, in an online article for Real Beauty. She cites jumping jacks as one of the top-notch, high-intensity exercises for building muscle endurance.
Jack Up Weight Loss
Another fitness expert, registered dietitian Joy Bauer of TODAY, recommends jumping jacks to boost calorie burning. As part of her Weight Loss Challenge program, she prescribes 100 jumping jacks done three times daily as an effective method for burning an additional 60 calories. If you are trying to lose a pound a week, that 60 calories can go toward the 500 calories you need to cut daily to meet your goal.
Jumping Jacks in a Flash
The real beauty of jumping jacks is that, for all the health benefits, you don't need to invest money in equipment or devote a great deal of time to reap the rewards. You know the drill: Spread the arms and legs as you jump, then jump again, bringing the arms to the sides and the legs together. Brown recommends 60 seconds of jumping jacks to begin, gradually increasing by 10-second increments as your endurance improves.
Jump It Up a Notch
For a greater challenge and quicker benefits, increase resistance by adding ankle or wrist weights to your jumping jack routine. Adopt a pyramid-style execution, a method Julia Valentour, ACE Fitness program coordinator, uses to add variety and intensity to her own cardio routine. To do this, increase the number of jumping jacks with each set in your routine, resting in between. For example, perform as many jumping jacks as possible in 15 seconds. Rest for 15 seconds, then do as many jumping jacks as possible in 30 seconds. Rest 30 seconds, then do as many jumping jacks as possible for 60 seconds. Work your way back down the pyramid to complete.
Libby Swope Wiersema is a veteran health care journalist and features editor for newspapers and magazines. She writes and edits health, fitness, nutrition and travel features for multiple media outlets.