Hula Hoops, those baby-boomer toys that fired a worldwide craze in the 1950s, have come back as must-have fitness tools to strengthen the core and battle the love handle.

The hoop is an ancient toy, originally fashioned from dried grape vines in ancient Egypt and depicted on vases in 5th century Athens.

But today's hoops are bigger, heavier, gaudier and more portable. And on the hips of 21st century practitioners, "hooping" has morphed from child's play to low-impact workout, aerobic dance, and path to enlightenment.

"Hooping transformed my entire life," Christabel Zamor, founder and CEO of HoopGirl Inc., told Reuters.

According to Zamor, contemporary hooping has evolved into hoop dance — a form of fitness, healing and meditation for adults of all ages and ability levels. She said hooping is often called "the new yoga" because of its holistic and wellness benefits.

"When hoops emerged in the 50's they were kids' toys. It was all about rotating it around your waist," Zamor said of the mega-craze that circled the globe.

When the Wham-O Company rolled out their Hula Hoops in 1958, about 20 million of the lightweight plastic circles were sold in the first six months of production, according to the company.

''No sensation has ever swept the country like the Hula Hoop,'' Richard Johnson wrote in his 1985 book "American Fads." "The hoop remains the one standard against which all national crazes are measured.''

But to Zamor, whose program has licensed over 250 AAFA (American Aerobics and Fitness Association)-certified hoop dance teachers, contemporary hooping is all about fitness, self-esteem, and "getting your groove on."

"I was sedentary when I started hooping. But over time my body grew lean and my confidence soared," she said from her San Francisco headquarters.

Jonathan Baxter, founder of HoopPath, started hooping 16 years ago to heal a broken collar bone.

"It totally rehabbed me," he said. "One day I had a revelation that my depressive episodes — my crashes — were not lasting that long, that I was happy. So I caught the idea that hooping was a practice."

Baxter now travels the country teaching his Eastern-influenced hooping "practice."

Not Your Grandmother's Hula-Hoop

The business of hooping in the 21st century is mainly a cottage industry of hoop teachers and hoop makers. But these entrepreneurs seem to agree that the newer, heavier, more efficient hoops are the key to the discipline's increasing popularity.

"Our hoops are really big — 4.5-5 pounds (2-2.3kilos)," Baxter said of the hoops he markets on his Web site (www.hooppath.com). "That makes them easier for adults to handle."

HoopGirl (www.hoopgirl.com) has sold over 30,000 hand-made hoops since 2001. Weighted, covered with friction tape and extra-large, Zamor says they are built to spin more easily than their 1950s predecessors.

Perhaps the most technologically sophisticated hoops are manufactured by Brian Dube, owner of Dube Juggling Equipment. For his Troo Hoops label (www.troohoops.com), Dube has created special adhesives, unique buttons for snapping detachable hoops together, and carrying cases for hoopsters on the go.

He is particularly proud of his hoop decorator, where customers can decorate their own hoops on screen. "We designed a machine to tape them," he told Reuters.

Dube targets the serious amateur above the weekend warrior.

"These are not lightweight toys," he points out.

But don't cry for the folks at Wham-O, who five decades ago marketed one of the most popular lightweight toys of all time.

They went on to produce the Frisbee.