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updated 4/5/2004 4:10:23 PM ET 2004-04-05T20:10:23

Tired of treadmills? Apathetic about aerobics? Forget about them. For get-up-and-go, try soo bahk do instead.

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Soo bahk do is a martial art. Think of it as a cross between karate and tai chi. Better still, think of it as an alternative to the types of exercise more traditional for Americans.

A small study shows that middle-aged martial arts students are in pretty darn good shape compared with their couch-potato peers. In fact, the study shows that these soo bahk do students are getting all the exercise workout they need. The report by Peter Douris, EdD, and colleagues at the New York Institute of Technology in Old Westbury, N.Y., appears in the current issue of the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

"The soo bahk do practitioners displayed greater aerobic capacity, balance, flexibility, muscle endurance, and strength -- and less body fat -- then the sedentary [study participants] matched for age and sex," Douris and colleagues conclude.

Because of their regular exercise workouts, the martial arts practitioners had 19% body fat, compared with 30.8% body fat in the no-exercise group. They could last more than twice as long on a balancing test, bend twice as far on the sit-and-reach test, and averaged nearly 30 more sit-ups.

"It appears that soo bahk do training may be a complete form of exercise encompassing all the components of fitness," Douris and colleagues write. "Health professionals should be aware that there are alternative methods to traditional exercise that can increase the physical fitness and health of the middle-aged population."

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