Despite the benefits of good old-fashioned fun, somewhere between childhood and adulthood, many of us lose sight of the power of play. We exchange the joy of play for the responsibilities of life and work.
Our culture seems to frown upon adult play, and stereotypes it as unproductive and irresponsible. Sadly, rather than engaging in creative, brain-stimulating active play, we have become more sedentary.
Living With Joyful Abandon
By giving permission to play with the joyful abandon of childhood, we can continue to reap the benefits throughout life.
For me, play manifests in my aquatic fitness classes. Adding pool games and fun activities into the mix of moves and structured exercises, reminds participants of the pleasure of a playground, the amusement of a P.E. class, and the enjoyment of genuine swimming pool fun, while still integrating a high-intensity, athletic approach to water fitness.
The Power of Play
When you say the word play, what images come to mind? Riding bikes in a summer breeze? A game of hopscotch? Marco Polo in the pool? Perhaps you just envision enjoying time spent with others. Activities such as relay races, tag or a game of tug-o-war in the pool are efficient interval-type movements.
These options allow adequate levels of intensity throughout the workout, and yet add a bit of joy and humor to the activities. Play teaches adults, just as it does for children, ways of managing stress. Play connects us to others and the world around us.
To define play is a challenging task, as perception of play varies from person to person. Perhaps Peter Gray, PhD, best summarizes the aspects of play as it pertains to fitness adventures in the aquatic environment in Freedom to Learn, The Roles of Play and Curiosity as Foundations for Learning.
- Play is an activity in which means are more valued than ends.
- It has rules that are not dictated by physical necessity but emanate from the minds of the players.
- Play is imaginative, non-literal, mentally removed in some way from “real” or “serious” life.
- We play with an active, alert, but non-stressed frame of mind.
Have you recently had the opportunity to witness children playing in the water? They are profoundly happy jumping in, doing handstands, splashing and playing with one another. As wonderful as those feelings are, the power of play loses its value somewhere in the transition from child to adult.
Relax and Have Fun!
One of the challenges of instructing any fitness class is that some clients come to a session and exercise like it is their job.
Sometimes we need to gently and non-verbally remind individuals that their career is not dependent upon completing the class. , so why not make it fun? Elements of play help adults adjust their perspectives, foster creativity, and ultimately encourage them to let go of some stress.
The Art of Childsplay
Professor Karen Hutchison of Rowan University says, “Play is actually the work of a child in which they are preparing themselves for adult roles and for society at large.”
For a child, play is the vehicle for exploring and learning, developing new skills, and connecting with others. It’s that same power of play we harness in a fitness class that leaves participants smiling and with a sense of accomplishment.
Share Your Playful Side
Play can be contagious. It helps to ease life stresses, just as it rejuvenates and reenergizes the soul. When we play – and train – vigorously, we trigger a mix of endorphins that lifts our spirits and distances us from pain, fear, and other burdens for that short time.