Making Exercise Fun Again

couple dancing

Thinking back on my childhood, I remember spending hours outdoors with friends, engaged in sports such as dodge ball, football, baseball, bike riding, and other types of carefree play. Without even trying, I got a ton of exercise and developed social and problem-solving skills at the same time.

Then came adulthood, and all the responsibilities that come along with it. The days of outdoor play became a distant memory, replaced with trips to the gym, staring at a TV while I jogged on a treadmill. Talk about boring. If this is how most of America exercises, it’s no wonder we have an obesity epidemic. Not many people can stay motivated long enough or even find enough time with this kind of routine to make any significant difference in their health.

Exercise should be fun; it should keep us motivated and wanting to come back for more. And especially as we age, exercise should work out our bodies, our balance, and our minds so that we can protect ourselves not only from physical disease, but from falls, cognitive decline, and dementia.

For all these reasons, I say it’s time to channel our inner child and start playing instead of mindlessly exercising. If you’re with me on this, here are some excellent options for bringing fun activity back into your life.

Dance, Dance, Dance

Think back to your youth? Like a lot of older adults, I bet you used to dance. Many people I know have stopped due to arthritis or other aches and pains. In reality, though, dance is a wonderful low-impact activity for joint health, as well as cardiovascular endurance. Plus, a newly published systematic review shows that dance enhances balance, flexibility, gait, strength, and physical performance in older adults, which may reduce the risk of falling.

This is especially important because an estimated 30 million people suffer from poor equilibrium. In fact, a third of adults aged 65 or over fall yearly due to balance problems.

Another research study published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine revealed that one of the best reasons to dance is what it does for brain health. This study showed that dance is the single best activity to improve a person’s cognitive skills—whatever age they might be. This was particularly true in older adults, where it was demonstrated that 76 percent of those who danced frequently exhibited lesser signs of dementia. In fact, dancing was a much better activity for cognitive health than answering crossword puzzles or reading.

I absolutely love to dance, especially to the soul music of the 60s and 70s. I dance by myself when no one is watching every morning getting ready for my day, and I am the first on the dance floor when any live music starts. Even without the research telling me so, I deeply sense how dance connects the mind, body, and spirit like few other activities. So dance! Even if you have two left feet, dance anyway!

Playgrounds for All Ages

Another emerging trend that encourages older adults to have fun and get fit at the same time is senior or multigenerational playgrounds. These first cropped up a couple decades ago in China and have made their way around the globe to Japan, Canada, and several countries in Europe. Several major cities in the US have also built these fitness parks for seniors, so it’s worth it to check and see if there’s one in your area.

Don’t be intimidated. Senior-focused playgrounds have replaced slides and monkey bars with low-impact apparatus geared toward promoting balance, flexibility, and overall fitness. You’ll often see self-propelled elliptical machines, stationary bikes, and equipment designed to use body weight to build strength, such as lat pull-down machines, parallel bars, and leg presses. They also include walking and jogging paths with steps, arches, ramps, hoops, tubes, and other elements to work balance. Some even have games like bocce or horseshoes.

A couple years ago, researchers at the University of Lapland in Finland followed a group of older citizens as they navigated their way around a senior playground. They discovered that, after three months of “play,” these people boosted muscle mass, reduced fat, and improved coordination, speed, and balance. Just as importantly, these parks also provide a wonderful place for social interaction, so they help combat isolation and loneliness that commonly occurs as we age.

I love this concept, but I personally don’t have an adult playground near me. I also don’t have the time to drive to the gym every day. So the neighborhoods, and particularly the sidewalks and park benches around my work, are my daily playground.

At some point every day, I find time to put on some workout clothes, exit my building, and begin to fast-walk the streets around my office. Every half mile or so, I stop to do pushups, bench dips, lunges, squats, and other bodyweight exercises. All the while, I am getting fresh air, feeling the sunshine, smiling at the people that I pass, and clearing my mind. It’s only about an hour, but it’s me-time that I cherish. It gives me a beautiful break between the pressure and hustle and bustle of my day.

Maybe your situation doesn’t lend itself to working out during the day. Maybe your play needs to take place before or after work. However, the point I am trying to make is that to truly get a good workout—for mind, body, and soul—you really should focus on workouts that are fun. You’ll be more likely to stick to it, reap the benefits long term, and perhaps most importantly, find joy in your play every day.

So think about what’s most enjoyable for you on every level. Gardening? Dance? Swimming? Yoga? Group fitness? Whatever it is, commit to it and…have fun!

About Author

Brian Matthews

Brian Matthews is the President of Gene Smart and the leader of our Gene Smart team. His mission is to provide supplements to help you control your inflammation, your weight, and your life, based on the latest scientific information.

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