When I observe my children, I see into an entirely different world. I see a world full of excitement, discovery, imagination, and adventure. I see a world full of activity. The type of activity that is fun, exciting, compelling; activity that is the opposite of work – it is play. Their play builds healthy strong bodies. Their play increases their heart rates, develops muscles, and gives them a good dose of exercise; without even trying.

Play - In the snow

What has happened to us?

It’s no secret: generally speaking, adults have lost the ability to play. To enjoy romping in puddles... mud oozing up over our shoes, hot lava games... narrowly escaping the singing of our barefoot toes, tag, time travel to distant lands, and stretching our imaginations while giving our bodies a healthy boost of exercise. As we emerge into adulthood, play becomes a thing of the past and exercise becomes a work-out that we check off our to-do list. We trade play in for work. We trade fun in for the latest yoga DVD or a possibly boring treadmill run (I say “possibly” because I own a treadmill and run on it in the winter months when I feel compelled to do so – and this is fun for me).

When I look at my children I find a culture of little people who are healthy, flexible, and engaging all muscles in their bodies (including their minds). When I look at many adults, I see a culture of people who are bored working out so they quit or force themselves through because they know they need to do it. I see a culture of people who are not eager to exercise or eager to engage all the muscles in their bodies. I see a culture of people who are exercise specific, unwilling to dare, unwilling try something new, unwilling to allow play back into their active lives.

What has happened to us? Why have we traded the fun and excitement for the drudgery, work, and routine? When did we lose the desire to play? When did we start substituting a “work-out” (even the name makes it sound awful) for playtime?

Play - Winter hiking

Take a Lesson from children

For children their play is their exercise. They do not think, “I need to run for 30 minutes today” or “I need to hit the gym today.” They play. They run, jump, slide, climb: they become completely immersed in their imagination, and their bodies explore nature and life. It is not just exercise, it is holistic living, and it is art.

Where is the art of play in our lives? My children are an inspiration to me. They challenge me to think outside the box, to get outside and play. They challenge me to ice skate, to run the trail home (in full snow gear, pulling a sled full of skates). They challenge me to play hot lava tag, to jump over rocks and stumps, to try something new and to laugh at myself when it doesn’t quite work-out. They inspire me to do handstands and jump rope, to ride bikes and climb trees. They challenge me to make art out of my exercise, to make play a priority and, in turn, make healthy living a priority.

We have taken a season to mimic the play our children exhibit. We took a hike. The children ran ahead, jumped on logs, balanced, rolled around on the ground, and climbed anything taller than they. So we did too. We were bone tired by the end of the hike. We can run a 5K with the best of them, we can do work-out videos, we can do push-ups, but we were exhausted after playing. We used muscles we forgot we had. And we were happy. Exercise does not have to be grueling or boring. It should be challenging but not something we dread. If you dread your work-out, don’t do it. Find something FUN to do because then it is no longer something we check off the list; it is play. It is enriching and fulfilling. We can enter into a whole new way of thinking: Playful Living. Our lives become enriched with play: soccer, skiing, skating, swimming, playground tag, hot lava monsters, circus, obstacle courses... all of these are FUN expressions of exercise, and our children do these things naturally, every day.

Play - Snow mountain

Play builds relationships

Children are naturally drawn to each other through play. My children can make instant connections with other children at the playground simply by suggesting a game. These connections turn into relationships that strengthen over time. Play gives space for challenges, excitement, and adventure all while building relationships.

Last night we played ball in the living room. We played with our kids and their friends. We were jumping, diving, and laughing hysterically as we all tried to keep the ball from touching the floor while only passing it with one hand. We were completely immersed in the game, in the expression of love, in the fullness of healthy living. Our bodies fully embraced the play. We experienced a piece of health that cannot be gained from a simple work-out. Our minds were challenged to work alongside our bodies, we were working as a team, and we were laughing together. These are all things missed when I take a run on my treadmill.

We all NEED to play. We need to play on a physical level. Our lives need the beauty and relaxation that play brings. We need to stretch our imaginations and expand our creativity and this happens during playtime. Our bodies need spontaneous movement and process not monotony. Our lives need play. Take the time to mimic your children not for the sake of mimicry but for the sake of play: for the love of imagination, for the beauty of relationship, and for the joy of playing.

Play - In the snow

Do Something Fun

I ran a 5K last year. I am not a competitive runner, but I run. I enjoy a nice run. I embrace the joy of running, but I am not competitive. I talked with some fellow runners. Some admitted that they hate running, but they need the exercise. Others showed up to the race in colorful tutus with smiles on their faces. They were ready to play.

We all know that there are hundreds of studies that support the need for free play in children; in terms of brain development, problem solving, creativity, and overall health. This does not change as we age. We still need play for overall healthy living. The reality is that play has become inconvenient. We cannot always plan play into our schedules. Sometimes play is messy and takes more focus than a simple workout. It is far easier to get up, run on the treadmill for 30 minutes and call it good. Rather than get our snow gear on for a hike through the woods with the children while pretending we are being chased by dinosaurs and that the snow is quickly turning to lava right underneath us. The only way to save ourselves is with the sled (because, of course, it is lava proof). One person (of course this is me) must pull all the rest on the sled while jumping from snow pile to snow pile (because in between it is all lava) until we get to safety. This type of playful scenario can bring joy while providing our bodies with the necessary exercise that we need.

So the next time you dread a work-out: Choose something different. Choose something that is fun! Choose to add play to each day. Choose to forget the crunches and take your kids cross country skiing. Choose to dance in your living room. Choose to throw off your shoes at the beach and play tag with the kids while running through the sand and waves; laughing together, playing together, and living together. The next time you cringe at the thought of your work-out, I challenge you to put on your tutu and go play!