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Roller Skating Is Back: What to Know About the Retro Fitness Trend
The ’80s is making a comeback with this fun-for-everyone approach to exercise.
When you think about roller skating, you likely picture teenagers in the 1970s and ’80s zooming around a rink, disco music thumping. But it’s not just a relic of the past. Roller skating is hot again, with people of all ages and backgrounds gathering on streets and in parks—and yes, even indoor rinks (so retro)—to lace up their skates and get rolling.
“Roller skating is having a moment,” the New York Times recently declared, as The Washington Post called the sport “a balm during a challenging time.” Among numerous factors driving the trend: Accessibility (just swap your sneakers for skates and go); viral roller skating videos on TikTok and YouTube (#rollerskating on TikTok has 5.7 billion views); and the Instagram-friendly visual appeal of skating fashion.
It also scratches a collective quarantine-related itch to get out of the house and try something new. “With the pandemic, people were looking to get outside and have some fun,” says Salt Lake City-based fitness instructor Amy Fanella. In roller skating, she notes, they found “a lower cost form of exercise and a way to be social in a safe way.” But the perks go far beyond socializing, says Fanella, who notes that the sport is a great cardiovascular workout as well.
If you’re curious about taking your workout retro-style, these are five things you should know about roller skating for fitness—and how to get the most out of it.
#1. Roller Skating Is a Major Cardio Workout
The sport provides an overall workout that’s comparable to running, says Rebecca A. Battista, Ph.D., a professor of health and exercise science at Appalachian State University, in Boone, North Carolina. But because it’s low-impact, it’s easier on your bones and joints.
“It’s a great aerobic exercise,” agrees Angela D. Smith, M.D., a retired Philadelphia-based orthopedic surgeon and past president of the American College of Sports Medicine. “Roller skating helps your cardiovascular system—your heart, your lungs and your blood vessels.” In addition to reducing your risk for cardiovascular disease and hypertension, roller skating regularly can help you reach and maintain a healthy weight and lower your risk of type 2 diabetes, she adds.
To maximize the health and fitness benefits, Battista suggests aiming for 150 minutes of roller skating a week—gradually working up to that goal, if necessary. “Try 30 minutes at a time,” she says. “Anything you can do toward that 150 minutes of physical activity is going to be really beneficial from a health perspective.”
#2. Roller Skating Builds Strength and Endurance
When you roller skate, you’re giving your glutes, quads, calves and hamstrings a solid workout. “It’s a very good strengthening exercise,” says Dr. Smith.
Perhaps less obvious: In order to maintain balance and control and propel yourself forward, you’ll also work your arms and engage the muscles of your abdomen and lower back, so your core will get a good workout, too. “It is a full body exercise,” Battista says. Beginners may feel sore in some unexpected places, she warns: “You’re going to use muscles you might not have used before.”
To keep building your muscle strength, try adding new skills as you get comfortable on your skates—like doing tricks or skating backwards—to challenge your balance and test new muscles.
#3. Roller Skating Burns Serious Calories
Roller skating has an intensity rating of 7 METS, or metabolic equivalents, meaning it burns about as many calories as swimming laps at a moderate pace, lacing up for a game of tennis or slipping on shorts and playing soccer. Of course, the harder you push, the more energy you’ll use up. For every hour of vigorous roller skating, Dr. Smith estimates you’ll burn about 600 calories. But, she stipulates, that depends on “your size, how fast you’re going and your abilities.”
#4. Roller Skating Can Boost Your Mental Health
Any form of exercise is a known depression-buster, and the aerobic nature of roller skating also improves blood flow to the brain. Plus doing something new can boost mental health, Dr. Smith notes.
If you take your skating outdoors, even better. “Being out in nature, breathing fresh air and getting away from your screen are pretty critical to improving your mental health,” she says. Not to mention the social nature of getting together with family and friends to roller skate, which can be tremendously beneficial to your mood.
#5. Roller Skating Is an Activity for Life
The best form of activity, Fanella notes, is one that you will consistently do. “If you like it, you’ll keep doing it,” Battista agrees. She adds that skating with a buddy who offers support can help you stay committed to your fitness goals.
So how can you get the most out of roller skating? Fanella recommends interval training. “Alternate between moments of higher intensity and lower intensity while out on your roller skates,” she advises. Other tips: Listen to music that inspires you—or just tune into what your body is doing.
Also, wear protective gear, especially if you’re a beginner. Dr. Smith, a former head of the sports medicine committee for U.S. Figure Skating and competitive ice skater in her youth, suggests wearing a helmet and wrist guards when roller skating, especially outdoors where uneven terrain can send you flying. Ultimately though, “don’t be too cautious,” Dr. Smith advises. “Sometimes, you have to just go for it.”