Last week one of my clients traveled to go see her sister. We had a quick discussion about what to do as far as exercise during her trip and as always I give the client the option of what they want to do. Some people don’t mind exercising while traveling, others would rather not and just work on getting their steps in. At the end of the day the purpose of the travel usually dictates which approach is best. In this case we decided to play it by ear, essentially if making it to a gym was possible then great, if not just focus on steps.
Soon after arriving at her sister’s place my client sent me this message…
“This morning I spent a couple hours at the park with my 4 year old medium (nephew). He was set on collecting firewood, so I got a healthy dose of squatting in. Some sprints playing tag and hide and seek. Plenty of up and down and all around the playground equipment.”
In response I told her this…
“That beats any workout I could program. No worries about trying to make it to the gym if that is what your days are going to be like!”
What my client was doing is incorporating an important part of exercise that gets lost in today’s highly regimented, overly tracked, and tightly scheduled world….
As kids we don’t exercise….we play!
We run, jump, squat, hop, dig, crawl, hang, throw, and swing.
Terms like reps, sets, intervals, anaerobic, aerobic, strength, endurance, RPE, one rep max, ketones, fat, glucose, heart rate zones, lactate, hypertrophy, and strength don’t cross a child’s mind, and yet most children are far more physically fit than any adult.
The other great thing about play is that it comes with so many additional benefits besides being physically active. Since play is so much less structured, it can actually be quite relaxing as opposed to a more formal workout. In addition, play usually involves other people, such as your kids, friends, family members, or even complete strangers. This makes it a great form of social interaction that we lack when we hit the gym with our headphones on to do our 1 hour strength workout. Finally play usually occurs outdoors, meaning you get all the benefits of sunlight, and exposure to nature. (Bonus points if you get dirty because you are probably enhancing your body’s microbiome! Yay gut health!)
Oddly enough the hardest part of play has nothing to do with the physical nature of it, it’s the logistics of how to do it.
That sounds so silly….I can’t believe I wrote it…but it is true.
Ask an adult how to play, and I am sure they have no idea what to do. We lost that ability as we “grew up”.
So where do we start?
Your best bet for incorporating more play into your life is to find an activity that you like to do that involves moving your body and do it.
A good example of this might be playing golf or tennis with your friends of family. I am not talking about competing either, once you turn something into a competition that you are training for its no longer play. I am talking about just going out and PLAYING a round of golf or tennis for the pure enjoyment of it. It is more about the people, the social connection, being outdoors, the mental relief you get from the activity than how you perform or who won.
If you have little kids, grandkids, nieces, or nephews, an easy way to incorporate play is to….wait for it….play with them! Do what they do, let them lead. If they want to play tag, play tag. Want to climb a tree, climb a tree. Want to play hopscotch, play hopscotch. The benefit here is that trying to figure out how to play is taken out of your hands, your kids will do it for you, not to mention the time you get to spend with your kids. This is exactly what my client did!
You can even make the argument that play was an important component of our ancestors’ survival.
We know that our ancestors weren’t hitting Gold’s Gym doing a 5×5 routine of deadlifts, squats, bench press, and overhead press to get some exercise in. Most of their exercise came due to the fact they needed to move their bodies to survive. For them play probably looked more like singing, dancing, playing ancient instruments, religious celebrations, and activities that might hone survival skills (like spear throwing).
Peter Gray, Ph.D, theorizes that play was one of the core attributes of successful hunter gatherer societies …
“Children growing up in hunter-gatherer cultures have more opportunity to play than do children growing up in any other culture that anthropologists have observed (Gray, 2012), and as they become adults their playful ways continue. Hunter-gatherers’ approach to work (e.g. to hunting and gathering) is playful in that it is social (people hunt and gather with friends, in groups) and always voluntary—nobody is required to hunt or gather, they will be fed anyway. Their religions are playful, highly imaginative and non-dogmatic, with gods that are vulnerable and serve as playmates in religious festivals. The adults, as well as children, engage regularly and playfully in music, dance, art, and noncompetitive games.
Even their means of putting down someone’s budding attempts to dominate are playful, at least at first. They may make up a silly song about the person, as a way of making fun of the person’s excessive pride, or they may tease him about thinking he’s such a “big man.” If the early humor doesn’t work, however, the teasing may become more pointed and less playful.”
Any way we look at it, play is an important, yet overlooked, piece of our health and wellness. It involves us moving our bodies, using our brains, being outdoors, and interacting, and even cooperating, with other people. All of these things are critical for our health. When was the last time you played? Maybe this week you should scratch that long run, HIIT workout, or intense gym workout and find something fun to do instead. It will likely help you get closer to your goal than you might think.
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- (2019, August 31). The Play Theory of Hunter-Gatherer Egalitarianism | Psychology …. Retrieved April 29, 2021, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/freedom-learn/201908/the-play-theory-hunter-gatherer-egalitarianism ↑