It's a great mental challenge too, since surfers have to think about timing and how to suss out the good waves. But the biggest reward might come when the sun sets. "You're euphoric yet mellow by the end of the day," Ali says.
Not all runners hit the streets for their workout. Trail runners take to the dirt, bounding up and down hills and mountains on hiking trails, working legs and building cardio while getting a big dose of nature.
"All you know is that here are the mountains, and there's a deer and you're smelling the flowers and you don't think at all about your problems," says Stan Swartz, chairman of the 175-member L.A.-based Trail Runners Club.
Waxing rhapsodic about the sport isn't unusual in this crowd. "This is the most time-efficient and effective way of eliminating stress and refreshing your mind," says Elinor Fish, managing editor of Trail Runner magazine. "That is definitely a big draw of the sport, especially for people who don't have a lot of time."
While trail running requires no special skills, there is a bit of a learning curve, even for experienced runners. Trails are often hilly, making for slower but more heart- and lung-taxing workouts. Running on soft dirt puts less stress on joints, but traversing uneven terrain — even streams — can make for a wobbly gait and ups the ante for injuries. Fish recommends that beginners not only work on strengthening their legs but also add balance training on a wobble board or balance ball to increase coordination.
Legs do the bulk of the work — and what a workout it is, as hamstrings, quads, glutes and calf muscles engage on the ascents and descents. The core works to stabilize the body as the arms continuously pump.
An infusion of younger runners and more races has invigorated the sport in recent years — the American Trail Running Assn. listed 55 races across the country for December alone. But the demographics are wide and include older runners, some of whom have made the leap from road running or do both.
Trail-running gear is straightforward. Fish recommends getting shoes specifically for trail running, with treads designed to better grip the ground and more reinforcement on top to provide extra stability for the foot.
Novices are welcome to join the L.A. group, Swartz says. Weekly runs are held in various parts of Southern California, but the group also does longer excursions in such places at Santa Cruz Island and Yosemite, where runners scale up to 10,000 feet. "The accomplishment of doing 10,000 feet is terrific," he says.
Any doubts about the transformative abilities of ballroom dance should be dashed after watching one season of "Dancing With the Stars" and seeing celebrities going from flabby to fit in a matter of weeks.
Sure, they're rehearsing five to six hours a day, week after week. But the spins, turns, lifts, kicks and fast footwork of the routines show the athleticism and technique that make up the waltz, tango, cha-cha and other dances.
"I think people are happy it's a workout," says Erin Stevens, president of the Pasadena Ballroom Dance Assn."At the end of a class you feel like you've enriched your life in so many ways — you've burned calories and made friends and learned an art form."
Workout intensity varies by dance, but all have something to offer. "In the rumba, which is a sensual dance, you work your hips a lot," says Peri Rogovin, owner of 3rd Street Dance in Los Angeles, where many "DWTS" contestants rehearse. "That's good for the waistline, and also for coordination."
Faster dances, such as the salsa and cha-cha, build up endurance, while slower ones, like the Argentine tango, feature more muscle control via leg extensions and holds, torso rotations and back posture. Legs get most of the workout in ballroom, but the arms are engaged as well, toning muscles and raising heart rates.
Diana Bolinger has been taking swing and other ballroom dance classes at PDBA for a dozen years and credits it with regaining her fit self after having children. "It's mostly cardio, but you're also strengthening your arms and legs. You can sometimes feel it the next day." While she didn't need to lose weight, she adds, "I felt like I was more fit and not as flabby."
Most studios offering ballroom classes for pairs don't require students to pony up a partner; dancers typically rotate partners anyway. But the ballroom craze has also spawned fitness-dance hybrid classes in which an instructor leads a roomful of people in easy choreographed steps. Louis Van Amstel, a "DWTS" regular and champion competitive dancer, kicks off a class called Dance Blast at Crunch in L.A. later this month, teaching men and women such dances as the cha-cha, salsa and jive to an eclectic and high-energy mix of music.