Bringing Play Back to Fitness

As kids, we all loved to move and play.

Even if you were a total bookworm like I was, no kid can resist a playground, a foam pit where you can flip and jump to your heart’s desire, or really anything involving a ball. Heck, as kids, we even get excited about sprinting across the schoolyard with our friends.

When we’re young, movement comes naturally to us. Anything can be turned into a game, and getting all worn out after a long day of playing (a.k.a. moving) is one of the most satisfying feelings ever.

So why does that have to change as adults?

Exercise Shouldn’t be Boring

I can’t tell you how much it pains me to see people slowly struggling on a treadmill or elliptical machine in the gym, looking like they’d absolutely rather be anywhere else than there. They know they need to make their health and fitness a priority, but the reality is if they could trade their hours of exercise for a pill that would give similar effects, they’d do it in a heartbeat.

As adults, most of us have it drilled in our minds that exercise can no longer be fun. Rather than something that brings us joy and makes us feel good, most of us turn it into something to dread.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Not only does staying active give you a whole bunch of awesome benefits and make you feel good afterwards, it can—and should—be something you actually look forward to, at least some of the time.

Bringing Back Childhood Play

Although most of us consider exercise something that has to be done in a gym (I actually used to think running was the only form of “real” exercise), this is so far from true. There are so many ways to get active, and slogging through a long, boring workout doesn’t have to be one of them.

When you were a kid, exercise and a movement was actually fun. So now your goal is to remember what used to excite you then—and recreate it as an adult.

Did you love the monkey bars? Try getting into bar calisthenics and learning some cool new skills.

Did you love going to gymnastics class? You can do that as an adult, too (I do!).

Did you love team sports? There are tons of adult sports leagues out there these days. You can join an indoor soccer team, an adult basketball league, play on an Ultimate Frisbee team, play baseball, hockey, rugby, or just about every sport you could imagine.

Did you love dancing? There are dance classes available these days in just about every style of dancing there is.

Did you (or always want to) do martial arts? There are so many different styles, and you don’t have to be under 10 years old to get started.

The options are endless—you just have to use your imagination.

Approach Your Workouts as Supporting Your Play Activities

The best thing about finding a new sport or activity you love is that your other workouts are no longer just for health or physique reasons—they actively support your play activity.

For example, if you discover you love the thrill of rock climbing, you’re going to be much more motivated to bust out your pull ups on a regular basis because the stronger you feel, the easier and more fun your climbs will be.

If you join a soccer or basketball league, you’re going to actually want to do your HIIT workouts and strength training on a regular basis because you’ll feel the difference out on the field or court.

And if you get into gymnastics, or acro yoga, or aerial classes, you’ll definitely be more excited to build up your core strength and practice your handstands regularly.

Once you have more of a reason to work out, all of the dread goes away and your workouts just become, well—fun.

Keep Trying New Things

I get it—trying something new or going back to something you haven’t done for five or ten (or more) years is scary. It’s a lot easier (although much less satisfying) to do your same boring workout a couple of times in the gym each week.

But who really wants to live such a safe, boring life? I sure don’t.

So go try something new and bring fun back to your fitness. Stop approaching fitness and health as a chore and treat it like what it really is: play.

If you’re not sure what to try first, look at the list above for ideas. Ideally whatever you decide on should give you at least a few butterflies in your stomach and make you feel a mix of slight fear and excitement at the same time. It’s that nervous excitement that in my experience gives people the best experiences and often leads to a newfound love of movement.

And if you’re really nervous to try a new sport or activity, you can always convince a friend to do it with you. There’s something pretty powerful about going into a new situation with someone to support you along the way.

Have fun!

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