NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Juggling needn't be just for medieval court jesters, street performers and circus clowns.
The ancient skill of keeping two or more objects aloft by alternately tossing and catching them can boost your hand-eye coordination, improve your alignment, and even pump up your heart. Your perseverance, patience and focus will also get workouts.
"Most jugglers don't to it expressly for fitness," said Rod Kimball, who teaches juggling classes in New York City. "They do it for fun."
Kimball said juggling as exercise can be as versatile, and as demanding, as the juggler.
"Juggling three clubs with under-the-leg throws is far more strenuous than running, whereas a basic three-ball pattern takes about as much energy as doing dishes," Kimball, a member of The Flying Karamazov Brothers juggling troupe, added in an interview.
"For an aerobic workout, you can do high throws and spinning pirouettes. To weight train, I juggle a set of five 13-ounce balls."
Juggling also involves body work. Kimball's students adopt a stand as precise as any yoga pose -- weight back slightly on heels, elbows edged in front of torso -- before even attempting to toss (let alone to catch) anything.
"Asymmetry in the body means asymmetry in juggling," he explained.
The word "juggle" comes from the Middle English word meaning jest or joke, but the skill is as old as antiquity. Images of early jugglers adorn Egyptian tombs, Greek vases, and Etruscan reliefs.
The ancients were so impressed by the ability that their texts often confuse "juggler" with "magician" or "conjurer," or consider them interchangeable.
These days the observations are more scientific than supernatural.
Juggling requires timing, rhythm and focus. A 2004 study showed that people who spent three months learning to juggle had enlargement of areas in the cerebral cortex of the brain, the part believed responsible for higher thought processes.
For star performer Anthony Gatto, the manipulation of clubs, balls and rings is an art. But he believes juggling has much to offer the amateur.
"Hand-eye coordination would be the main benefit, as well as reflexes. It can also help your balance," Gatto, now touring with Cirque du Soleil Kooza, said in an interview.
Gatto's practice sessions consist of a "vigorous, a nonstop two-hour endeavor in which high numbers are juggled for long periods." But he does not limit his workouts to juggling.
"I do have to augment my juggling training with running and weight training to maintain my level" Gatto said.
Chicago native Perry Romanowsky, has been "joggling" -- combining juggling and jogging -- for 15 years.
Romanowsky, who writes a blog called "Just Your Average Joggler," said joggling caught on in the 1980's when jugglers at a juggling convention organized races.
"It was a new challenge for jugglers to test their skills," he said.
"It's fun! It adds a new dimension to running so it helps break the monotony," said Romanowsky, a cosmetic chemist who has completed 23 marathons while juggling.
"I love the added challenge of running fast while keeping the juggling pattern going."
He said worldwide there are likely 800 to 1000 jogglers.
"Someday, I'm going to do a juggling triathlon," said Romanowsky. "I've just got to figure out how to juggle while swimming."