Putting the Play Back in Exercise

When I was a kid, I never had to worry about my weight.

I could eat all the food I ever wanted, yet despite my rampant sweet tooth, there was never an extra ounce of fat on my skinny, Gumby-like body.

This is true for the majority of kids (or it used to be… childhood obesity rates are at frightenly high levels these days).

Until they reach puberty—or for some kids, college—the word ‘fat’ doesn’t even enter their vocabulary. They can eat as much pizza and ice cream as their hearts desire, and they’ll suffer no noticeable repercussions.

So why is this true? Why don’t kids have to watch their weight, despite their carbohydrate and sugar-filled diets?

Sure, a big factor is their high metabolisms and growing bodies—many of which require so many calories, their appetites can barely keep up.

But the biggest factor in keeping kids slim? Play.

What happens when we grow older

Think back to your childhood. What were some of your favorite activities as a kid?

When I think back to my days as a kid, I can come up with a number of things I loved to do:

  • Play for hours at the playground
  • Basketball
  • Swimming
  • Playing tag
  • Jumping on the trampoline
  • Running around with my dog
  • Playing soccer
  • (Attempting to) skateboard
  • Rollerblade
  • Climb trees

The list goes on.

Notice anything in particular?

Nearly all of my favorite childhood activities involved being active and simply playing (of course I liked watching movies and paying video games as well, but not as much as the other things).

And, if you’re anything like me, you probably had a similar childhood experience.

See, here’s the deal: when we’re young, playing, and being generally active comes naturally to us. As a result, we never have to worry about intentionally exercising, because many of the activities we love and do on a daily basis involve exercise.

But as we get older, things change. Unless you’re lucky enough to be from an active family, your activities will gradually get more and more sedentary—and you’ll most likely struggle to maintain a healthy weight unless you actively build exercise into your everyday routine.

But there’s an easier way. Sure, resistance training is good for you (and I do some hiit 6 days a week), but as long as you’re doing everything else right (including maintaining a healthy diet), you only need to actively work out for 10-20 minutes at a time to be in great shape.

So what’s the easier way?

You guessed it: play more.

And there are plenty of ways to play as an adult, whether you’re 25, 35, 45, or even 65 (my dad is in his 60’s and is one of the most playful people I know).

Here are a few suggestions:

Pretend you’re a kid again

Growing up doesn’t mean you have to be boring and lazy. In fact, my ultimate goal in life is to always be a kid at heart, and that means plenty of play.

Here are some of my favorite ways to like a kid and play:

Climb a tree. I’ve always loved climbing trees (and just about anything else). Sure, I’m a little taller and more awkward as an adult, but that doesn’t stop me from trying.

Go exploring. Try discovering something new! Walk around the forest, explore a national park, or look for seashells on the beach. Curiosity keeps the mind (and body) young.

Gather your friends for a play date. Kids love to play with others. So get your friends together and set up a Nerf football game, play capture the flag, get wet on a Slip N’ Slide, or even just throw a frisbee around.

Run, jump, and play. That’s the key.

Take up a competitive sport

There’s nothing like being around a group of other like-minded active people to get you in the spirit of fun and play.

Join a local soccer or basketball team if that’s your thing, or try something totally new to mix it up. My dad and big brother recently took up Cyclocross (a crazy form of bike racing)—and absolutely love it.

Whatever your interest, getting in the competitive mindset is sure to bring the kid out in you.

Play video games

Yep, that’s right. Playing video games can be a great way to put the fun and play back into your adult life. But although I’m all for playing games like Mario Kart and Zelda, that’s what I’m talking about here.

Nope—I’m talking about the games that get you to move.

There are plenty of options for combining screen time (using consoles like Nintendo Wii or XBox 360 Kinect) with movement these days—and they’re really fun.

Personally, I just have a Nintendo Wii, so my favorites are all of the Wii sports games plus the Just Dance games (hilarious to play with friends). Wii also has a bunch of yoga and balance-based games out now, and I’m pretty sure there’s even cardio and kickboxing ones if that’s your thing.

The active kinect games are supposedly pretty awesome too, though I’ve never tried any. (If you have, let me know which ones are your favorite!)

Your turn to play

How do you add play to your everyday life?

Let me know in the comments.

Now go run, jump, and play like your life depended on it.

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