Balance Your Exercise with Play
Sometimes the activities that we ask our clients here at FIT to engage in can heighten self-consciousness. For most people, going to a gym at all can be intimidating, let alone being asked to perform a complex movement such as a clean and jerk or being pushed to the point of physical discomfort for the sake of goal attainment. As a team of trainers, we frequently discuss how best to appreciate what we ask of our clients. For this reason, we opted to videotape ourselves in a Zumba class taught by a colleague, Sehin Belew. The thought was to experience feeling uncoordinated and mildly self-consciousness in a physical pursuit.
As I’m sure you too can note, some of us were a bit more inhibited than others, but the more notable observation would be how much fun everyone had. Too often exercise is associated with work or something that has to be done. How different would exercise feel if the mental association was fun and play instead of work?
Last year, we had the opportunity to spend time with Wes Walker, a young, Olympic-caliber runner. Wes was returning from studying the Tarahumara people of Northern Mexico who are renowned for their long-distance running ability. While coaching us during a run, he continually asked us to think, “how can I make this easier? What would make me more comfortable?” I’d always viewed running as an opportunity to literally pound out my frustrations; I enjoyed punishing myself by pushing to go faster and longer. Never once, since I began running 12 years ago, had I ever considered how to make running easier, and thereby possibly more fun.
Mark Sisson, author of www.marksdailyapple.com and the book, Primal Blueprint, emphasizes the importance of play in a way that resonates with me. He discusses how play has become a bit of a guilty pleasure rather than a necessity. For reasons that are unclear, or possibly different for everyone, ‘real life’ seems to get in the way as the drive for ‘success’ takes precedence. In contrast, Sisson goes on to note, “Besides its stress-reducing and social qualities, play has other quantifiable benefits.” The vacation gap study performed in 2006 showed that workers were 25% more productive following a vacation, and their sleep habits improved: averaging 20 more minutes per night and three times as much deep sleep. The New York Times recently covered a study showing that increasing leisure activities improves immune function faster than stress can suppress it. Although it has long been theorized that the more relaxed you are, the easier task seems, and the better you feel. Now there is research to support it. Couple that with the sheer pleasure that is inherent to play or the benefit of the laughter that often accompanies play, and a significant increase to quality of life is inevitable.
While Zumba may or may not be the fun you are looking for, something is. Finding it within yourself to laugh at yourself in place of being self critical, seeking opportunities to play with others, and, most importantly, making play a priority will not only be fun but will be as (if not more) beneficial to your health than the extra time spent at work, running errands or doing whatever else gets in the way. This month we are speaking of balance, which means something different to all of us. I’m not looking to define balance but I am suggesting that as you consider your social and physical engagements, prioritize those that involve laughter and fun, or consider approaching the activities you are engaging in with a playful spirit. Fun has always been an important component of how we design and implement programs at FIT but it is a team effort. We can’t make you have fun – that’s up to you. Not everything in life can or should be fun, but for the activities that can be, try to let them.