Published on 03/09/06

Get your Irish up, not your weight on St. Paddy's

By Faith Peppers
University of Georgia

If you just can't turn your back on Irish-American St. Patrick's Day traditions like corned beef and green beer, counteract it with some Irish exercise.

Many cities have St. Patrick's Day parades, join in the fun.

"If you walk one hour at a brisk pace of one mile every 15 minutes, you will burn 280 calories if you weigh about 150 pounds," said Connie Crawley, a Cooperative Extension health and nutrition expert with the University of Georgia College of Family and Consumer Sciences. "Naturally, you'll burn more or less if you weigh more or less."

Multiply the number of calories you burn per mile by the number of miles in the parade route. Then see how much fun you can have waving at the crowds and waiving goodbye to excess calories.

If you must hit the Irish pubs after the parade, take the opportunity to get jiggy with it.

Many pubs and parties bring in live music and Irish dancers for the day. Join in the fun, learn a new skill and work off a whopping 420 calories an hour. Not that you could actually do it for an hour on the first go. But divide the hourly burn number by the number of minutes you can keep it up, and it's still a great calorie-burner.

"Both are excellent aerobic exercises," Crawley said.

Most Irish dances you can just jump right into are called ceili, or ceilidh (pronounced "kaylee" either way), or figure dances. They're similar to American square dances or line dances.

At a St. Patrick's Day ceili, someone will usually give basic instruction and turn you loose to have fun doing traditional Irish dances.

"These dances were brought to America by Irish immigrants," said Karl Drake, dance master of the Drake School of Irish Dance. "They've been passed down through the generations. Some have mutated into American-style dances like clogging and square dancing. The traditional style is still performed by Irish dancers around the globe. Almost every weekend, somewhere in America, you can find an Irish dance competition."

Figure dances follow a set of steps in a pattern. Ceili or progressive dances have a few set steps in a pattern. Then you move on to a different set of partners, as in American line dances or reels, until you've danced with everyone in the room.

"It will definitely make you work up a sweat to burn off the extra calories you take in on St. Patrick's Day," said Jan Best, an instructor for the Drake School. "It's great fun and exercise for all ages."

Faith Peppers is the director of public affairs with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.