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All Workout and No Play? 

Think back to the games you used to play as a child: maybe tag, ghost in the graveyard, hop scotch, relay races, etc. Remember that heady mix of thrill and exertion: heart pumping, cheeks flushed, breathing rapid, senses alert? The thing is, I barely recall the exertion part. I was too excited. It was too fun. What a far cry from how so many of us view our workouts as adults. Exercise, we’re too often told, is serious stuff. It’s about measurements and regimentation. It’s Jillian Michaels yelling in your face. How did we get to this point? When it comes to a workout, when did so many of us accept the idea of all work and no play?

Think about a time when you actively played at something you truly love to do. Maybe it was chasing your kids or grandkids at the park or enjoying a swim at the lake. Maybe it was a lighthearted bike ride or ice skating on a gorgeous evening or a bout of Frisbee or volleyball with friends in the backyard. Were you smiling? Laughing? Even if you were feeling the exertion, you were appreciating the experience. It left you feeling refreshed, alive, connected. What if I told you participating in these activities you enjoy can have a huge impact on your health, fitness and even body composition!

Sure, some active play is more active than others. Sometimes, it’s more leisurely than intense. An ambling bike ride along the river front might be more movement than aerobic workout, but it’s activity—and a great way to spend a day. A game of Frisbee with friends or some relays with the kids, on the other hand, can easily get our hearts pumping in the aerobic range.

Wherever our active play falls in the 3 A’s of Intensity, it matters in ways we can’t imagine. We build our stamina, raise our endorphins, boost our motivation, and simply enjoy living and moving in our bodies. We even enhance our cognitive health. Particularly when we play hard or perform complex movements or balancing skills in our play (e.g. dancing, martial arts, etc.), we increase something called BDNF –Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor. As John Ratey, author of the book Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, explains, BDNF is like “Miracle Gro” for the brain, enhancing our brain’s neuroplasticity, its ability to remain adaptive, sharp, and vital. The benefits can improve everything from memory function to depression and ADHD symptoms.  

Beyond the activities and benefits themselves, sometimes workout vs. play is a matter of perception itself. When we label a playful experience a “workout,” does it automatically lessen our motivation or enjoyment? Perhaps our entire view of exercise is colored by such associations. It doesn’t have to be that way! Most people who participate in regular exercise have found a way to enjoy the experience, even when it gets hard. They make a game of it. They use visualizations. They use music. They channel a competitive or team spirit.

So, you’re on board with putting play back in your fit life. Start simply from where you are. Find what you enjoy doing—outside the gym or in the gym. Ask yourself what you love doing—or remember enjoying. Try bike riding, walking in the park, playing doubles tennis, doing some backyard sports with your friends or kids. It doesn’t matter if you’re good at it or not. It doesn’t matter is you can only do it for a few minutes at a time. Sure, the more rigorous the play, the more bang for the buck you’ll get in terms of health measures and body composition, but don’t let this point discourage you if you’d rather  “play” at more low-key activities. Your body will always benefit.

At the gym, join T.E.A.M. or check out the class schedules and consider trying something that looks like fun. Again, don’t worry about challenge level. Every class has people from a variety of fitness levels. Let yourself experiment and enjoy the possibilities available to you. The point is to play. In time your body will be able to participate in longer or more rigorous bouts of the activity. Along the way, you’ll also gain confidence and hone skills—new or long forgotten. Most of all, you’ll enjoy moving and working your body for the pleasure of it, for the fun of it.

Your turn! How do you bring play to your fitness? What active play— in and out of the gym—do you do just for fun?

Written by Jason Stella, National Brand Developer-Fitness and Certified Personal Trainer

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.


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