Imagine a child running back and forth, chasing bubbles, jumping and grinning in delight. When he finished playing, did his parents ask him how he liked doing his squat jumps and shuttle runs? Did they compliment him on how many calories he burned or how he’d just worked off that ice cream cone?
People who struggle to maintain a consistent exercise routine often view working out as unenjoyable or not worth the effort. At the other end of the spectrum, avid exercisers sometimes believe they need to go to war with the weight room. To elicit change, exercise should be challenging enough that our bodies are forced to adapt to the additional physical stress. These adaptations are manifested through muscle growth, strength, endurance, etc. However, within that challenge there can be enjoyment.
There’s one very simple guideline to follow with physical activity—if you don’t enjoy it, don’t do it. Viewing exercise as a burdensome chore doesn’t work for us. This brings us back to our little bubble popper from earlier. He was lost in the activity, with no sense of time. Chasing the bubbles wasn’t a chore or obligation and he wasn’t trying to “sneak in a 30-minute bubble popping” workout. He was playing, and you can, too.
Get Your Play On
“Play is intensely pleasurable. It energizes us and enlivens us. It eases our burdens. It renews our natural sense of optimism and opens us up for new possibilities.” This wonderful quote from Stuart Brown’s book, Play, succinctly describes the essence of what is missing from a lot of our physical activity as adults and is the cornerstone of any physical activity children engage in. Our inherent need for variety and challenge can be buried by an overwhelming sense of responsibility. We “have to” work out, so it can’t possibly be fun. Finding a way to give yourself a physical challenge while doing something you love is a great way to find long term fitness success.
Think back to the last time you were feeling physically challenged and enjoying yourself. Perhaps it was a game of tag at a family gathering. Or maybe you were walking your dog around the neighborhood, or helping a friend in need move to a new place. Physical activity was most likely not the main area of focus in the memory you’ve conjured up. It was part of something bigger and more enjoyable—spending time with the people who matter in your life or doing something you love. The lighthearted sense of connection with others will elevate the emotional experience of physical activity to deepen its sense of meaning.
Consider ways to connect all forms of physical activity, including exercise, to a larger sense of enjoyment or fulfillment. A sense of connection, playfulness, and purpose is what is often missing from our modern attitude about physical activity and exercise. Exercise is too often an abstract feature of modern living or another chore you need to fit into your day. Bring back the playfulness and fun to physical activity whenever you can.