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Fun fitness Friday: 5 childhood activities that are great exercise.

Posted Feb 20 2009 7:20pm

First an administrative note: In an effort to write more often, I’m trying out different themes on different days. As you can see, Friday will be for fitness fun (alliteration! all the cool kids do it!) Monday will be random polls. Wednesday will be food/recipe posts and Saturdays will be science stuff. I won’t promise to post 4 times a week, but hopefully having some prompting will lead to more and better posts.

Anyway, one of the most unfortunate things about being an adult is the overdeveloped sense of dignity that most people walk around with all the time. Dignity is no fun in most situations, but it can be a total deal-breaker when it comes to exercise. Whether it’s suffering through a pilates or yoga class with stomach hurt because you desperately need to let one go (and seriously some of those moves are totally intended to bring on the farts.) Or just refusing to give into random urges to start running in the middle of a very dignified power walk because running like a spazz for just 10 seconds is silly, losing touch both with your own body’s rhythms and with any sense of fun or play is a great way to come to hate working out.

Now, if you have 3-5 like-minded friends who are totally up for a game of tag or duck duck goose, then go forth and have tons of fun. If though, like me, you want to add a bit of fun to your fitness routine, but you’re on your own amidst the throngs of indifferent cardio folks and ultra serious weight lifters, then here are five moves that can bring back some of the fun and how I work each of them into my fitness routines.

1) Skippingskip

Skipping is less an exercise than a series of miniature joy explosions. It is actually impossible to stay unhappy when skipping (it’s science.) And the awesome thing is that it’s really good exercise. It burns more calories than walking, but is easier on the joints than running. Plus it’s skipping FFS!

If you’re worried about what other people think of a grown person skipping, you can do what I do and play the game of stealth skipping. This game is super awesome both for sheer silliness and because everyone else is playing with you, only they don’t know it. My gym has a track where the two curved ends are behind a wall. I make it a game to start skipping when I am safely behind the wall and then i don’t stop until I am spotted at which point I slow down to a respectable walk which totally fools everyone. “Hey is that woman skipp….No, she’s just walking.”

2) Jumping rope

A favored activity of both Rocky and schoolchildren everywhere, jumping rope can make even the most intense session on an elliptical feel like a relaxing massage. This intensity can work against fun though especially when stone-faced gyminites (gymions? gymsters?) put the jump rope right between the hair shirt and the thumb screws in their workout routine.

Kids have the answer to this possible problem. Rhyming. Nothing makes the jumps go by like a good ol’ fashioned chant. If you like, you can do what I do and update them for more mature audiences:

I like coffee
I like tea
I want Katee Sackhoff to jump on me.

Remember, when we were kids it wasn’t about being perfect. It was getting through as much of the rhyme we could without messing up and then trying to get better and better.

Let’s put the rest of these behind a cut.

3) Hopscotch

Balance, powerful jumps and bizarre rules that I suspect each person basically makes up. Hopscotch is all of this and more…ok, not more, but still, not bad. I’m not saying that you need to grab some chalk and draw out the whole hopscotch board, but hopping on one foot, turning while hopping and balancing on one leg as you bend over are good ways to improve balance. They’re also a good thing to do any time you have to wait for something in the gym. Here’s the hilarious thing; almost everyone in the weight room at my gym is male and they genuinely have no idea what it is I’m doing. I told the one guy who asked that it was a personalized plyometric workout. I’m fairly sure he believed me.

4) Wandering/Exploring

You don’t always have to have a plan. And you don’t always need to stay on the path. I have what I call my podcast/audiobook meanderings. I put on my headphones, I pick a location (sometimes driving to different areas I’ve never really been to, or going to a big park with lots of trails) and I just explore until I’m done walking. Sometimes, I end up off the trail and climbing up hills and over rocks. Sometimes I just walk around for a couple of hours and look at neat stuff. And I do it all without worrying over my heart rate or about how many calories I’m burning.

5) Make everything a game

When my sister was much younger, I could get her to do pretty much any task that I was too lazy to do for myself. Go upstairs and get my shoes? Yup. Go get the mail? Absolutely. How? Simply by telling her that I was timing her and setting a completely arbitrary goal for her to beat. Kids are eager to play and eager to win even when they’re only competing against themselves. Cultivate a sense of play during your day. Can you get from your desk to the bathroom without anyone seeing you? Can you get the laundry upstairs, sorted and folded in under 2.5 minutes? Can you jump up onto the couch with both feet seven times in a row? Finding out the answers to these questions may make you feel silly, but exercise doesn’t always have to be dignified.

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