Personal opinion essay rom the archives of The Mind Body Moderate, March 30, 2009
When was the last time you hula hooped? juggled oranges? Played in a warm summer rain? Jumped rope or on a trampoline? Hung by your knees from the jungle gym?
Now hold up. Before the eye rolling begins, I want you to give it a serious minute. I want you to picture yourself hula hooping, in the backyard, with your children, grandchildren, or, niece and nephew. I can almost guarantee you want to smile just a little bit right now…in between the desire to eyeroll. Come on now. Embrace the cheese and let go.
Physical play is important as a child. It helps in motor skill development, exploration and curiosity inquiring into how things work. It is no different now. In a way it’s like riding a bike, you never forget, you just get rusty. You have to give yourself permission to let go, live a little, and just play.
We all know the benefits of exercise throughout our lifetimes. I’m just not convinced, however, that getting on the treadmill, or going to the gym really does it though. Let’s be honest. For most of us, it is not fun. You might feel better, or at least physically exhausted to match the mental work of sitting at a computer or in meetings all day, BUT, the thought of going to the gym does not make you smile. How can that truly be good for stress levels? Exercise soon becomes another “have to” or “should”, like bills and taxes. So now exercise gets a bum rap.
Usually play and exercise are not thought of in the same category, especially for adults. The usual connection is play equals embarrassment, or play only happens on Wii. Why should fun and “letting go” be so difficult? It is exercise too! Hula Hoops are great for coordination and the abdominals, back, and hips. The jungle gym is all about arm strength and balance, and jump roping, is pure aerobic activity. Coordination and balance tend to go as we age, but not so much if you continue to explore and challenge those skills in ways that are fun and relatively safe for the body.
Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to get outside on one of these fine blooming days, go get yourself a hula hoop (and perhaps a child relative to make you feel less self conscious) or a jump rope. Go to the park, find the playground, and play. And if you can’t? Most of us have one of those balance balls deflated in the house somewhere. Blow it up and jump around on it for 10 minutes or so, alternating legs, shifting your hips, going in circles…play with it. If your mission is completed, I think you might be feeling a little better, smiling a little more, and acknowledging the kid inside never has to really go away.