As adults, it’s easy to forget how to play. We rush from bed to work to gym and back home to bed again, with exercise becoming a routine chore to carry out, rather than a space to relax, laugh and de-stress – rarely mixing two minutes of joyful movement into our packed days.
Considering that a May 2018 study of over 4,000 people indicates that three quarters of us are struggling with stress, and that recent research from the British Lung Foundation suggests that one in four Brits nearly never exercise, it feels like we’re missing a trick, here.
“Our lives of sedentary chair sitting and the other environments we inhabit discourage play and free movement outside of the gym,” Tony Riddle, a lifestyle coach who has studied healthy, natural lifestyles for nearly two decades, told HuffPost UK.
“Play, even as adults, is a fundamental human need. As children we actively play and have fun: running is fun, climbing is fun, balancing, crawling, wrestling and pillow fights are fun.
“However, as we grow up and move into education, our play is removed and in its place a serious subject, called physical education, is born.”
Riddle says that PE can introduce us to feelings of inadequacy towards movement.
When we grow up and enter the world of work, he adds, we then bump playful pastimes off our busy schedules, and view fun as childish and unproductive.
“The good news is that it’s never too late to find your movement flow, uncover and hone your own hidden movement skills and talents and reconnect with the body nature intended you to have,” he says.
The National Institute for Play is a nonprofit that supports research into the power of play, and is working towards “a longer term future in which the science of human play enables individuals, parents, teachers, leaders, and organisations to harness the power of play to create transformational differences in their individual, family, school and organisational lives”.
Dr Bowen White, a physician and founding member of the institute – which says that play is as basic and pervasive as sleep – has frequently called for more recognition of the importance of playtime.
“Play is so deeply ingrained in terms of our own evolutionary drive to survive,” he has previously noted. “Play helps us connect with other people because we are open in a way that allows them to feel this is a safe person to be with.”
Play often leads to laughter, which has been linked to decreasing stress and inflammation, as well as improving your immune system in the long term. Think play fighting, hide and seek and cartwheeling on the lawn with friends: all sure to have you howling in a matter of minutes.
As to using play as a fitness device? Jay Curry, founder of personal training company ‘Jay’s Way’, tells HuffPost UK that workouts should “always” have a fun element to them.
“That’s what keeps you motivated to keep going,” Curry explains.
Curry takes many of his clients to the park, using items like benches, trees and hills to make workouts more fun.
“I like to start workouts with some kind of icebreaker game-like exercise. Did you ever play that game in PE where you have to run around cones and flip them over, and another team or person is flipping them the other way round, and whoever has the most cones their way up at the end of a certain time period wins the game?”
“That’s one warm-up exercise that my clients respond particularly well to. Then I also have various hurdle races, or a tag rugby-style game that I use as well. It works best with partners, but with my single clients I will go against them and occasionally handicap myself with a weight vest to make it a bit fairer!”
As for obstacle courses, Curry suggests purchasing small hurdles, cones and rope ladders on eBay, or just finding objects around the house and garden, for a couple of minutes of movement.
“Use your imagination,” he advises. “Think about objects you can safely climb over or hop across. A DIY obstacle course can be completely tailored to you and your workout.”
Riddle says clients who attend his retreats, which focus around his “rewild and thrive” philosophy, rediscover their connection with nature by playing outside.
“In essence, it’s going from being a stressed out city dweller who rushes through life, to being someone who wakes up alert and excited to start the day.”
Riddle recommends trying to tap into the “amazing repertoire of movement” humans have in order to access our inner children.
“You can add more fun to your life by wrestling, or playing good old-fashioned tag – a tough workout with lots of free running and belly laughs. You can play ‘follow my lead,’ where you keep the same body part in contact with your partner and move. You can play heckling games, where you are trying to stop your partner from getting from one area to another.”
“Join a capoeira [a type of Afro-Brazilian martial art] class, or a parkour [a type of training derived from military obstacle courses] class or natural movement class, to explore what your body is truly capable of.”
The most important thing to attune yourself to?
“Find opportunities to play in your everyday life and you will find yourself stimulating something else unique to us human beings. Creativity.” Not only can play make finding your natural fitness groove easy - it could have you laughing more loudly and thinking more clearly, too.
Not bad for messing around.