Have you ever found yourself dreading going to the gym? Is your vision of a gym a bunch of people with headphones in, grunting away on a treadmill or in the weight room?
This unfortunately, is what exercise has come to. With the advancement of technology like step counters, heart rate monitors and fancy treadmills more and more people are attaching numbers and stats to their exercise. This technology is useful for performance athletes training at the top levels of human capacity, but for most people this feedback is just noise. Yes, at times it can be fun and empowering to measure your progress, but I don’t think this should be the standard.
As a fitness professional, my biggest challenge has been introducing people to the concepts of play and joyful movement. For some reason, our culture sees play as an inferior form of exercise. It seems as if exercise must be measured or hurt to count.
Introducing play to a group of adults is no easy task. At first, most adults look around at each other embarrassed and wondering am I actually going to do this. But, once they get started you usually find people running around (even those who hate running), sweating, giggling, thinking and having fun.
So why is play so valuable and fun?
First off, play is contextual. When we give people the objective of a game movement becomes instinctual. In a game of tag, it never needs to be stated that you will run, change directions, reach, duck – that’s just what people will do. In an obstacle course you don’t need to tell people to crawl or jump you just need to state the objective: get under the bench and over these boxes. Movement like this is natural and feels good.
Second, play involves the mind. Play goes beyond mindfulness as movement and thinking become intertwined. Humans did not evolve to move and think in isolation. Humans moved to complete tasks. Early on this was to hunt, fight, gather food, and build homes. We didn’t think about breathing, lunges, deadlifts, and farmer carries. We thought: carry these supplies up this hill and set them down.
Third, play encourages social interaction. In a world starved for authentic interaction, I often see this as one of the most valuable pieces of play. Games are a way to learn and communicate. Games build trust and social bonding. Games are an integral part of all cultures dating back 1000s of years to ancient Egypt, Mespotamia, China and Zanzibar. Even back when people were moving more in context to build and survive as a community there is still evidence of games and play.