Healthy Activities New Zealand

If you’re thinking of making a trip to New Zealand this year and are looking for ways to immerse yourself in local culture, then start your journey with these traditional leisure activities and sports. Not only will these Kiwi pastimes introduce you to the glorious New Zealand landscape but they can help you stay in shape and feel fit and healthy on the road.

What do New Zealanders know about health and fitness? The country was ranked 2nd of 20 nations for life expectancy in a global comparison and topped the Legatum Prosperity Index, a report which calculates national performance in health as well as wealth.

Regardless of your age and level of fitness, the top five ranked New Zealand leisure activities below are proven to have plentiful physical, mental and social benefits.

1. Rugby

You don’t have to be a league player to live up to the image of Dan Carter in New Zealand. While over 150,000 native Kiwis lace up their boots for the love of the sport each year, rugby is a field game that can be practised outdoors any time of day.

Although the perception of rugby is closely connected to injury risk and health hazards, there is a brighter side to the modern game that people all of ages can embrace. Whether you are staying in a dorm or journeying through the backcountry in a tour, there will no doubt be a rugby ball within reach. Get your Haka cry on and invite your comrades to stretch their legs with a game.

As a contact sport Rugby relies partly on physical strength, but also flexibility, cardio fitness, speed and endurance. Each of these qualities can be improved with every game you play. Aside from the health effects, the team bonding environment that rugby is synonymous with can boost self-confidence and help lower stress levels.

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2. Surfing

Some say the best sports in life are free, and we do not disagree. Surfing is one of the key activities that combines both social and healthy living benefits and with over 15,000 kilometres of coastline in New Zealand, there’s no shortage of opportunity to get stuck in. Renting a campervan to explore the coastline is a fun way to find a secret surf spot and enjoy the rush!

As a natural high-impact exercise, surfing works the core like few other sports can - no muscle group is spared in the craft of riding the waves against the current. Men and women who take up surfing can expect a leaner and stronger physique as part of a physical transformation; carrying a surf board to and from the beach is a workout in itself!

In addition to the physical health qualities, surfing is praised for its therapeutic ability. Many health expects claim that it works well for helping people recover from mental illness manage bouts of depression.

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3. Glacier Skiing

No trip to New Zealand is complete without a day in the snow. For around half of the year those with a thirst for high altitude exploration can test themselves against the great outdoors by climbing a glacier. Tour operators make regular journeys up into the mountains to offer a variety of walking and skiing activities, tailored to your budget, timetable and level of expertise.

Skiing puts all major muscle groups to the test, chiefly targeting the inner and outer thighs, hamstrings and buttock muscles - this owes much to the crouching position that skiing involves. Exercising in this way allows your muscles to take in more oxygen and blood which produces more capillaries; this in turn makes your muscles to expand, resulting in calorie expenditure.

Experts state that just one hour of skiing can equate to burning around 400 calories. In addition to weight loss and muscle toning, skiing is known for boosting immunity and relieving the symptoms of depression.

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4. Horse Riding

Animal lovers will naturally warm to horse riding in the New Zealand countryside, although this leisure activity is suitable for all comers. Such is it popularity that 3% of young people, and 5% of adults in have participated in equestrian sports in New Zealand at least once in the past 12 months.

From the lower legs, through to your core, to your arms, horse riding works the entire body. Those who saddle up regularly will notice a marked difference in their posture and balance. Horse riding is known to help improve mental concentration and can clear the mind of daily distractions that may otherwise lead to stress or anxiety.

Although horse riding can be costly over the long-term some stables initiate special deals and offers for young people and backpackers on the road for one-off rides. Well worth taking advantage of if you’re close by and have a day to yourself.

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5. Hill Walking

Boffins at the American College of Sports Medicine claim that a mere 30 minutes of cardio vascular exercise five times a week will help to promote health benefits, and 60 to 90 minutes contributes to weight loss. The average traveller can also expect to burn up to four times the amount of calories when upping the incline on a walk.

The entire body feels the effects: muscle groups, including thighs, calves and hamstrings grow stronger; blood pumps faster around the body. If you’re taking on a well known path in New Zealand’s backcountry, expect to be on your feet for up to 7 hours - the equivalent of 19km. Always be prepared with protective clothing, accessories and water prior to setting off with your hostel or lodge. Check out these 9 New Zealand walks from short ones to much longer ones.

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Author: Tom Willis for Franz Josef Glacier Guides. Images provided by author.
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