An Epic Start to Fitness Fun #2 — Play

A very important factor in finding the fitness that works for you is the element of “play.”  Try activities that involve some sort of play, this doesn’t have to be a sport per se.

There are different types of play and we can, through exploration, implement these different types of play into our physical activity. There are two good reasons to do this: 1—Play is important to our growth and well-being and 2—Play will help us enjoy physical activity more.

Movement is at the very core of being human. We first move in order to find food. Pleasure signals in the brain arrive in the thrill of the capture or the till and harvest. Nowadays the thrill of finding and providing is accomplished through less physical means for modern, Western societies. Likewise, learning to move and strategize comes about through play.

We tend to de-value play in our society, especially in adulthood. But who would rather listen to, society or yourself? Of course, so start allowing yourself to play more, because you know you want to…and as if that isn’t a good enough reason, then know this: Play is good for you!
Play stimulates the brain. Play increases neural connections in the amygdala which is in charge of our emotional state. Play helps us with decision making through stimulating the pre-frontal cortex. Play increases our creativity and learning which results in being more productive.
So wait…you’re thinking, “I thought this was a post about how to find a fitness activity that works for me and you’re writing about my brain?”

Yes! And I’m sure you’ve heard by now about the mind-body connection. When we combine play with physical activity we are more motivated emotionally to continue or return to that activity or create new ways of participating in activity through play. We simply need to get over the idea that we’re grown up and shouldn’t play.
Before I give an example of how I add play to my physical activity, here is a list of different types of play that you can consider as you explore various activities. Before you think I’m suggesting you join your local parks and rec softball team (knowing that you possibly exist in that portion of the population that loathes team sports), consider how you might use these different types of play in your chosen activities.

Construction Play
Curiosity Play
Imaginative Play
Ritual Play
Role Play
Rough & Tumble Play
Social Play
Spectator Play
Story Play

My example:

I use play in various ways, especially for the types of physical activities that I enjoy less, but know are good for me. I enjoy mountain biking on the trail, but I’m not very good at pushing myself on the road to get a vigorous work out and get ready for the trail. So recently I rode to a city park that had some grassy hills. That was a step up from the flat roads. But I found myself taking the easiest lines up the hills and only four sets per round; it was almost cheating and not much tougher than a road ride. Two rounds and I was done. I was satisfied, but felt like it was a missed opportunity for working my legs and lungs as well as my coordination and reaction time for trail prep. So the next time I went on a Sunday afternoon I decided to play a little game with myself.

At the top of the hill I would choose an obstacle (tree, trash can or picnic table) at the bottom and one at the top so that I had to go around the obstacle at the bottom and then be at the top again before the one I chose at the top. Before I knew it I had done three rounds and 6-8 reps per round! I was having so much fun I wanted to go a fourth round, but I convinced myself that it was quite possible I would over-do it. I completely wore myself out and had to take a nap! This kind of self-challenge play is part imaginative in that I sort of pretend I’m on the trail and I have to stick it out like I would if I were on the trail.

There are other ways to involve play in movement with or without work out buddies. Using this same example you could take turns with a partner picking the lines and obstacles. I have a natural aversion to indoor work outs and strength training, so sometimes I play games to get through a workout and keep my mind occupied on the game so I don’t think about how boring it is, or I will count the reps in another language. You get the point?

Great, now go play!