By Ainsley Laing, MSc
The other day, I was working out to music in my living room, when my 8-year-old daughter and two of her friends came in. Naturally, questions followed: what am I doing, why am I doing it, etc. After a while, the three of them joined in.
Of course, kids being kids, my workout soon expanded into a free movement and dance session. The sound levels increased with lots of laughter and squeals. After a while, the festive atmosphere was too attractive even for a grown-up friend of mine to resist, and she joined in. What started as a workout became a party!
Kids have such an amazing way of moving just to move, which we adults sometimes forget how to do. With a few exceptions (obesity, physical disability, etc.), kids don’t need organized workouts, personal trainers, posh workout clothes or equipment to get them moving. Have you ever watched children playing on a playground? Now that’s a tough workout! They move, run, jump, tumble down and get up again, over and over. They move because moving feels good, not because they “have to” or “need to” exercise.
Most of us adults did a fair number of physical activities involving free play when we were young. How many of those activities do we do now? If not, why not? The common phrase I hear from adults (I have heard myself say this) is “I used to be able to do that, but now I am too old.”
Honestly, is being too old a valid reason or just an excuse to allow ourselves not to do something? Personally, when I say “I am too old to do that,” I really mean I am afraid of hurting myself. I know I was afraid of getting hurt as a kid, too. What did I say back then? Certainly not “I am too old.” I would have said, “I am afraid of hurting myself”; then I would give it a try—again and again.
This idea of giving up things as we become “too old” seems to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Stopping activities because we are too old means becoming more sedentary and, hence, less excited about daily life—just plain old. To quote Barbara Morris, author of Put Old on Hold: Who decides when you are old? You do!
OK, OK. Of course, many of you reading this would disagree. But more and more people are saying, “I am not going to stop doing activities that I did when I was younger.” Stopping is just not an option for these determined and vibrant people. Of course, because of past injuries, safety issues or whatnot, the way of doing the activities might have to be modified.
Back to the free play idea. Free play is about learning. Learning keeps us young. This is true for our bodies as well as our brains. Our bodies learn with use or unlearn with disuse. If we are doing the same activity over and over, our bodies will learn to do those things very well and will unlearn those things that we don’t do anymore. Likewise, our bodies will learn to do new things that we take up.
We fitness trainers convey this notion to clients as a “practical explanation” that there is a need to do a variety of activities to keep from hitting a fitness plateau and losing motivation—often referred to as cross training. It would be very difficult to convince adults that they need to go to the playground and just play like a kid, so we apply lots of science and logic to the argument. But free play is the message. New experiences, challenges and fun keep us young.
As an example, my current partner, a fortysomething fitness buff, recently decided he wanted to take up something completely new for his body: kung fu. After the first lesson, he said he was really sore and felt injured because “the guy really did hit me hard.” I thought for sure he wouldn’t continue. The next day, he was buying special kung fu shoes with great enthusiasm. Hmm…like a kid on the playground, he tries, gets hurt and tries again. Why? Because he is doing it—for fun. While doing the same activities over and over is a comfortable routine, getting out of the comfort zone expands us physically, mentally and spiritually. How to get out of the comfort zone? Play like a kid!
Ainsley Laing, MSc, has been a fitness trainer for 25 years and writes exclusively for the Body for Mind eZine. She holds certifications in group exercise, sports nutrition and personal fitness training. To see more articles by Ainsley, visit http://www.bodyformind.com. Copyright © 2007 Ainsley Laing.
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