Recess Works!

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Okay, I knew I was right.  I just love it when I discover new research that comes out supporting what we already know and are doing in FP4H.  Newest research shows:  You will stick to your exercise commitment longer if you connect it to play.

I must admit there have been times when I become totally bored with my workout and the emphasis is entirely on the “work” part.  When this happens, most people quit.  It has happened to all of us.  We are all pretty much in the same boat, caught in the ongoing struggle with weight, self-image, energy and overall well being.  We all know the prescription to lose the weight and the work involved, but often these efforts are short-lived.  What can keep us on the exercise straight and narrow track?

When we exercise with the mindset that exercise has to be something that is really hard and something we dislike, we have to rely on external goals which are easy to set but hard to sustain.  Psychological studies show that internal motivators – things we do purely out of enjoyment, are much more effective and sustainable in helping us reach our wellness goals.  One of the answers to my question above is:  make exercise fun again.  Many of my friends run on a treadmill day after day. Just the thought of that makes me want to quit!  I went to visit a friend who was feeling discouraged about her workout commitment. Once again, she was lamenting her failure to stick to it.  Her goal was to walk on her treadmill five times a week. I asked her to show me the treadmill.  It was downstairs in a closed off room with no windows and very bad lighting, and it was facing the wall.

The problem was not her level of commitment – I sensed a strong desire in her to start exercising – the problem was the location of the treadmill!  I told her to sell the treadmill and get outside and take a walk, even just a ten-minute walk, two times every day. With her personality, she is much more likely to take a walk to visit a friend than she is to lock herself away in the basement.  It is no wonder that she did not keep her commitment to get on that treadmill. Her exercise time seemed like time in a prison cell!  Total isolation with no stimulation!  What is boring to you may not be the exercise itself, but the logistics.  Set yourself up for success by honestly taking a good look at why something that you may have once enjoyed has become such hard work.

In a recent article from Play:  How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination and Invigorates the Soul, (Avery 2009), Stuart Brown, MD, states that there is a definite connection between sticking to an exercise program and fun.     I want you to think back and remember what it was like when you were a child. For most of us, childhood was a fun and carefree time.  We spent a great deal of time outside playing and exploring the world around us. My mom would lock the door and tell us to say outside and play until supper. Thinking back to those days, I remember being an active child.  I ran or skipped more than I walked. I rode my bike every day; it was my absolute favorite toy. I played jump rope with the girls in the neighborhood. My sister and I climbed every tree in the neighborhood.  And of course we played hide and go seek in the summer until dark.

What did you like to do when you were a child?  What kind of neighborhood did you grow up in? Were you in the country or city?  Did you enjoy the water? Did you like to play games with others? Did you like to ride your bike by yourself?  Did you enjoy being outside?   You may not be able to do all of the things you could do as a child, but you can recapture the spirit of the activity. We have forgotten how much fun it is to play!  Exercise can be hard work, but playing is not.

I have to be very creative in my exercise time. I love to cross train which simply means I work out in a variety of ways. I walk on some days, ride my bike, climb the rocks on the beach and teach classes on the other days.  On my walking days, I use the time as an extension of my quiet time and pray as I walk.  Other days I bring my favorite music and praise Him!

My suggestions for play time:

Play every day!  Make a list of a few simple physical activities you enjoyed as a child. You may have to improvise but you can still enjoy those things.  Engage in one of those activities at least once a week.  Here are some of my personal ones:

  • Jumping rope.  I picked up the jump rope last night and set a simple goal – to see if I could jump 20 times in a row.  I surprised myself that I remembered how to jump rope.  It’s only been about fifty years.    It was fun!  I ended up doing it for about twenty minutes.
  • Washing the car. As kids, my sisters and I loved washing our family station wagon. It was a chance to play in the water and do our chores at the same time.
  • Playing tag with my grandkids.  Whew is all I can say!  Playing tag brought back such fun memories.

Other suggestions: 

  • Learn something new! I remember the first time I tried the Wii. I thought it was going to be so dumb! I actually enjoyed it and worked out for an hour before I realized it.
  • Find a playmate – someone who you can share doing something fun with!   I took a trip to Alaska for a week of kayaking and hiking.  The purpose of the trip is just fun – with a little bit of exercise for good measure.  

I realize that play is a relative term. One person’s play may be another’s hard work.  That is why we are all so different.  We worship a God who loves being creative, so take advantage of your God-given creativity and discover ways to have fun and enjoy your exercise time.   I want you to consider turning your “workout” into a “playout” and have some fun!