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Putting the Play Back into Exercise


By Greta Boris

When you were a child and went out to play, what did you do? Most of us were bouncing balls, jumping rope, and racing through the neighborhood playing tag. When the street lights came on you'd beg Mom for five more minutes, just five more minutes! As an adult when you go out to exercise, what do you do? Many people find the most boring thing on the planet, an exercise machine in a windowless room, and plod through their workout muttering, "five more minutes, it's only five more minutes."

Nowadays we pay big money for someone to yell at us while we bounce balls, jump rope and race around. We call it boot camp. Why do we no longer equate exercise with play? According to the American Council on Exercise, the primary reasons adults give for not exercising regularly are boredom, lack of results, injuries, and lack of time (ACE, Fitness matters, Volume 13, Mar/Apr 2007, p.14). Let's address each one and see if we can put the play back into your day.

Boredom and Lack of Results

I'm going to address these two together because I believe they are related. If the exercise you've chosen is boring to you and the only reason you are doing it is to lose weight or get "vanity" muscles, you probably won't stick with it. It might be okay for a while but, honestly, unless you're 23 you're probably not going to look like a Victoria Secret model or Arnold Schwarzenegger in his heyday just from exercising. Exercise is one component of a healthy lifestyle. It can't be isolated and expected to do miracles.

What if you tackled this a different way and started to explore activities that you might really like to do? For example, a friend of mine began playing tennis and she really looked forward to her exercise sessions. As she progressed in her sport she joined a league. Because of the competition, she became interested in improving her game. My friend did a little research and discovered that if she improved her aerobic capacity and her running skills it would give her an edge. So, she hit the trail with a training goal in mind and running was no longer boring. When she saw the great results running had on her game, she was inspired to go to the gym two days a week to improve her swing by strength training. One day she put on her tennis shorts and they fell off because she had lost so much weight. She played her way to her desired end and in the process discovered a new joy in life that will stay with her for years.

Lack of Time

When you are just starting out on your fitness adventure, you may have difficulty finding the time for exercise. A wise person once said, “If you plan nothing, that's exactly what you get.” If you are not in a routine and you think that you'll just exercise when you have time this week, it won't happen. This is a recipe for failure that leads to guilt, despair, self-doubt, etc. Don't do this to yourself. Get out a calendar every week and schedule your workouts thoughtfully, taking all your week's commitments into consideration. These are important appointments that you've made with yourself. Take them just as seriously as a dentist appointment. Don't argue with yourself, don't let other people sidetrack you, just do it. If you aren't sure how, or you aren't able to begin an activity that really sounds like fun right away, let your motive for exercise be preparation for play. Start working on general conditioning. No exercise is fun if you are out of shape.

Note to parents, your kids will be healthier, happier kids if they have healthier, happier parents. Martyrs may be admirable but they are no fun to live with.  Sacrificing everything for your children isn't good for either them or you. Don't use your kids as an excuse, instead be a fit role model.

Injuries

People who are involved in sports occasionally get injured. There are things you can do to decrease the risk, but it does happen. I look at it this way: shin splints are better than heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, etc. The key is to play smart. Several rules of thumb for avoiding injuries are:

  • Give your body time to adapt. You need to increase the time and intensity of your workouts incrementally.  Weekend warriors are at very high risk for injury. You can't just jump back into your college swim workout after 15 years of being sedentary.
  • Stretching after exercise is very important. Make sure you stretch all the muscles that you used.
  • Having the proper equipment is crucial, particularly the right shoes for whatever activity you choose. Spend a little extra at the sports equipment store and a little less at the doctors.
  • Core strength training and general strength training all play an important part in injury prevention as well. If your muscles get out of balance because all you do is one activity you will be more prone to injuries.
  • Finally, make sure you are getting enough protein in your diet. Protein is the bodies' muscle repair kit.

Stick with it and you'll find an activity that you truly enjoy. God made our bodies to move. We're happiest when we are fulfilling His plan for our lives in every realm including the physical and He doesn't mind if we stay out after the street lights come on.

Greta Boris is a Weight Management Consultant and Personal Trainer. She can be reached at info@fitnessinsideout.com. www.fitnessinsideoutoc.com