A couple months ago, we went to our 8-year old nephew’s soccer game. It was a beautiful Sunday – crisp, cool weather with a bright, sunny sky. I was watching the kids on the field sprinting toward the ball, darting left and right, stopping and restarting based on the direction of the game.
Two thoughts struck me.
The first was just how badly I wanted to RUN! To sprint hard towards something and feel that exertion, to play and be active and out of breath. Eleven months of light workouts and modified exercise while I was pregnant and then early postpartum really made me miss my high intensity workouts.
Second, it had me recalling the wondrous days of my childhood when I was on the soccer field with my friends. I remember my Saturdays typically consisting of a soccer game in the morning, tumbling practice and then dance lessons at my studio. My week would consist of after school practices for soccer, playing in the backyard with my family or practicing dance and gymnastics in my basement. In high school, I was heavily involved in cheer and dance. In college, I was walking all the time – to and from my car parking spot far from campus, from one side of campus to the other for classes, then doing regular workouts as well.
Then, I graduated college.
I started working full-time…on a computer….at a desk. My daily movement decreased to walks with my dog and regular 30-minute high intensity workouts.
Yes, there are great new tools for incorporating movement into our desk job days – standing desks, walking treadmills, foot pedalers. I have always spent portions of my day standing at my kitchen island working since I know how detrimental prolonged sitting and inactivity is for our bodies and our minds.
Today, I have a newborn, am back to work and am busier than ever. If I thought I had a good excuse for skipping a workout before, I was kidding myself! Luckily, caring for an infant keeps me on my toes and I don’t have to worry about sitting for prolonged periods of time since I have to tend to him throughout my day. In this new stage in my life, it can be difficult to find time for a dedicated, uninterrupted workout.
So, I’ve shifted how I view my physical activity.
I no longer place pressure on myself to do a long, hard workout. Instead, I am focusing on how my 8-year old nephew and my younger self would approach physical activity – as play! Kids aren’t worried about fitting in a 2-mile run on the treadmill or completing 20 push-ups. Kids just play – whether it’s a sport, a game of tag or chasing after the dog outside. Kids explore their environments and make up imaginary scenarios to act out. They wear themselves out having FUN. We don’t tell our kids to go outside and exercise, we tell them to go outside and play. So why do we as adults, shift our physical activity from a state of natural play to a singular task on our daily to-do list? You don’t need to answer that – I know all the reasons: we don’t have time, we’re tired after a long day, we want the chance to sleep longer, we’ll do it tomorrow, etc.
This coming year, let’s “play” more!
What if we stopped viewing exercise as a chore, and instead viewed it as an opportunity to play?
What if we let go of mental inhibitions about how we look to others when we work out or how we’ll look to others if we don’t work out? And instead, allowed ourselves to listen to how our bodies are telling us they want to move.
What if we acted like children, who don’t even realize they’re exercising their bodies because they’re having so much fun playing?
Would we be fitter, and happier in general?
I believe so.
If you have kids, they make it easy to play. My workouts are now bursts of physical activity throughout my day. I dance to music with my baby in my arms and he loves it! I do push-ups over him, kissing him on the forehead with each descent and he smiles back up at me. I do squats with him in my arms as my nearly 20-pound weight. I do “presses” with him, lifting him high above my head with several repetitions. I go on walks with a weighted vest (aka my nearly 20-pound infant in a baby carrier on my chest). When I feel like it, I run hard on my mom’s Woodway treadmill or do a session on her Echo bike to complement my daily movement. As my son gets older and becomes more physically active, I’ll be right there with him playing make-believe on the floor, running around in the backyard, going on hikes, playing catch and who knows what else.
While having a young child certainly makes it easy to play more, you don’t need to be hanging out with kids to incorporate play in your life.
Join a recreational sports team – my husband plays basketball every Thursday night with a group of friends. Go on walks, hikes or a run with a friend or your significant other. Start a walking group with your coworkers and go before or after work, or on your lunch hour.
Physical activity doesn’t have to equate to sweating. Walking more will provide you with great benefits, without having to break a sweat.
Move more throughout your day – run up the stairs as quickly as you can, do a set of squats or push-ups every hour.
Most importantly, find activities that bring you JOY while making you move – that’s when it becomes play. My mom and I go country line-dancing every Wednesday night and it’s the best. We LOVE to dance and it physically tires us because we are on the dance floor almost the entire time.
Music is a great bridge to having more fun with your physical activity. Stand to work while swaying to your favorite music. Turn on some tunes at home and literally dance like no one’s watching – and see how good and light you feel afterwards! We all danced as kids and I bet you still love to move to music today if you just let yourself do it. Even just creating a playlist of songs you love to listen to can make your normal workout feel more like play.
I hope reading this inspires you to do more of what brings you joy.
We are giving you permission to STOP placing so much pressure on yourself to do exercise that you dread. We are instead encouraging you to find those activities that move your body AND you look forward to. You’ll find that your body (and mind) will benefit so much more, as a result!
Active-ist for your health,