NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Mixed martial arts, or MMA, is one of the fastest-growing sports in the country.

It’s not just for the pros – more and more people are gloving up and sparring to get in a good work. As CBS2’s Vanessa Murdock reports, it also offers some perks that might surprise you.

She asked John Matos, of Deer Park, what brought him to the sport.

“Look, I’m good looking and I’m lean, but there’s one quality that’s missing and that’s the ‘mean,’ and that’s what I get here,” he said. “It’s more like self-assurance in a bad situation.”

Ralph DiCosimo said he hates running but wanted to do something to stay in shape. So he started working out a year ago at Long Island MMA in Farmingdale.

“I leave exhausted every time,” he said.

Owner and former UFC fighter Ryan LaFlare told Murdock his center has about 450 members, and only about 15 want to fight.

“So we have another 335 members that just want come here for the exercise, to learn self-defense,” he said. “We’re working our glutes, we’re working our core, we’re working our trap, we’re working our back – everything gets worked. You leave and you’re like, ‘Wow, why am I so sore here, why am I sore here?’ Because I’m teaching you that everything is a full-body workout.”

He adds you’ll do more than burn calories – it also teaches you self-defense.

Sure, it’s a great workout. But is it safe?

“The fitness benefits are there. As long as you limit the risks, you can get a great workout doing it,” said Dr. Guillem Gonzalez-Lomas, assistant professor of orthopedic surgery at NYU Langone Medical Center.

He also said tackling MMA for fitness offers real social benefits in this digital age.

“Combat sports actually provide this sort of unique access to interact physically with other humans,” said Dr. Gonzalez-Lomas.

Plus, you can work out in a space that revolves around a sense of community.

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