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You're Never Too Old to Jump Into Good Health

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DALLAS - The last time you jumped rope, Cinderella was probably dressed in yella, heading upstairs to kiss her fella. Yep, she made a mistake, kissed a snake and how many doctors did it take?

Then you and your buddies were called to supper - tuna-noodle casserole maybe, or chicken potpies. You rolled up your rope and carried it inside. The next day, you'd gather in the driveway and start the rhymes and jumps all over again.

You may think you're too old to jump now, that jumping rope is kid stuff.

Not so, not so. Freddie Cox of Dallas is 56 and hadn't jumped rope since - well, since she and her buddies Diane, Linda Sue and Joanne did it together as pre-teens.

Now, though, she spends 45 minutes just about every Wednesday evening taking a jump-rope class.

"When we were kids, we just jumped rope," Cox said. "We didn't do things like walk the dog.' I was really shocked at what you can do. Rachel might say,We're going to do side-swing, side-swing, double, double, double.' "

Rachel is Rachel Van Castle, jump rope aficionado and instructor of Cox's class. She credits jumping rope with helping her lose the last 10 pounds after her baby was born.

"I decided to take my rope and go into the studio," she said. "It helped me reclaim my body."

And once she realized what a great workout it was, she wanted to share it. So she talked to her supervisor and got the OK to teach a weekly class.

Her class is part of a resurgence of jumping rope, which even includes a competitive bracket. Plus, jumping rope is officially recognized as a sport by the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU).

Besides convenience (you can take a rope virtually anywhere) and economy (jump ropes cost as little as a few bucks and rarely more than $20), benefits of the exercise include the following:

Improving cardiovascular endurance and performance. "After jumping rope, all of a sudden, a spin class is like a walk in the park," Van Castle said.

Strengthening legs, especially after such moves as jumping on one leg and squatting as the rope twirls.

Improving coordination, speed and agility.

Toning upper body muscles as well as muscles of the lower body. It also helps sculpt abdominal muscles and reduce cellulite.

In addition, it's a good calorie-burner. A 150-pound person who jumps 120 times per minute can burn 10 calories per minute. That's 150 in a 15-minute workout. (Which, truth to tell, goes by rather slowly the first few times).

"The misconception has been that it's bad for your knees," said Van Castle, 30. "That's not the case. Like any activity, when you use proper form and technique, it can be totally safe. If you've had six knee surgeries, it's not the thing to do. But a normal, healthy person can benefit."

It's especially beneficial for women, she said, who are 50 percent more prone than men to have knee injuries (because of bone structure and physiology).

She recently sat next to a woman in her 60s on a flight to Los Angeles. The woman told Van Castle that her doctor had told her to jump rope every day to help with her osteoporosis.

The day after Cox, who has diabetes, takes the class, her blood sugar level drops significantly.

"People say I'm losing weight," she said. "I can tell in my arms. My legs are a little firmer, too. I think it helps my muscles, my endurance. It helps with my coordination. It's a good workout."

Joey Sabella, 38, also cites increased endurance as a benefit. When he started taking aerobics classes that included jumping rope, he could do it for maybe 30 seconds - a "painful" 30 seconds at that.

He can now jump for 45 minutes to an hour, which he does about four times a week.

"You do different things and not just jump, jump, jump," Sabella said. "They're moves like you'd do in a dance studio. I go across the floor do figure eights. I danced for years and did similar things."

He has two ropes: A heavier one just for jumping, and a lighter one for tricks.

"It's amazing how much of your shoulders you use when you jump rope," said Sabella, who also enjoys mountain climbing and various extreme aerobic workouts. "I can't do shoulder weights the days I jump rope because I won't be able to finish the class."

Nitia Collins, a 34-year-old Dallas yoga instructor, also takes Van Castle's class. She'd taken other classes in which jumping rope was incorporated into the curriculum. But this was the first with sole emphasis on the exercise.

"I go through phases with my workout," said Collins, who recently ran her first marathon. "I took a bunch of step classes and thought, `This is tedious; I can't do that.' Jumping rope was just different.

"It's an intense workout, it really is. Rachel tries to get us to do fancy footwork, double jumps, crossing the rope over, jumping jacks, jumping backwards, knees high, jumping fast, jumping slow. Even if you turn your head sideways, you can feel different muscles moving."

In her classes, Van Castle said she incorporates intense 3- to 5-minute series of nonstop jumping with 30 seconds of resting. But even in those half-minute segments, class members still twirl the rope in figure-eights or side swings. They're always moving, which keeps the workout interesting and constant.

And while they don't recite the Cinderella rhyme or the one Freddie Cox remembers ("Ice cream! Soda water! Le-mon-ade! Tell me the initials of your boyfriend's name!") they still have fun.

"I feel real energetic when it's over," Cox said. "After the class, I just go right to church."

As for her childhood jump-rope buddies, "they'd probably trip out if they knew I was jumping rope," she said.


(c) 2003, The Dallas Morning News. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.

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