Keeping It Fun – Exercise Doesn’t Have to Be a Grind

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It’s a proven fact that just 20 minutes of exercise a day can improve your mood and decrease depression and anxiety.  But what if your trip to the gym is a major cause of depression and/or anxiety?  Let’s face it, if straight exercise was that much fun, we’d all be svelte.

A large number of people (or is it, a number of large people) just plain find exercise boring.  After all, where’s the motivation to spend twenty minutes sweating, straining, and doing monotonous repetitions of motions you wouldn’t otherwise do on a bet?

Quite the conundrum, isn’t it?  You hate exercise, so you skip it, which can contribute to depression and anxiety.  After a while, you’re depressed and anxious because you’re skipping exercise (and gaining a few pounds around the middle).

One of the tricks to breaking this vicious circle comes from Dr. Michael Otto, one of the co-authors of Exercise for Mood and Anxiety Disorders: Proven Strategies for Overcoming Depression and Enhancing Well Being.  Otto suggests that a change in perspective is in order when thinking about exercise.

It is hard to run on a track, but it is much easier to run as part of a chase game or on a basketball court.  The game absorbs your mind, and takes your focus away from the physical feelings and boredom of prolonged exertion.

Otto goes on to say that using play as the basis for his exercises changes the feel, and thereby the motivation, of exercise.  It’s one thing to run around the track for half an hour; it’s quite another thing to chase your kids or grandkids around the backyard in an all-out game of tag.

There are plenty of sites online that offer fun exercise tips to encourage movement and fitness.  It can be as easy as going out dancing with someone special or a group of good friends, or as elaborate as joining a LARP (Live Action Role Playing) group.  You can certainly work up a sweat on the dance floor, or fighting Orcs at your local park!  Here are some great suggestions to add an element of play to your workout:

  • Walking the Dog: Depending on the size of your pooch, this could also translate to the dog walking you!  Getting out to the dog park, throwing the frisbee, chasing the stick (okay, you can let the dog chase it sometimes, too) all get the blood pumping and the heart rate up.  And don’t forget that spending time with pets can improve your overall health.
  • Bike Riding: Although you may have a completely adversarial relationship with the stationary bike at the gym, there’s nothing to promote peace like fresh air, sunshine, and scenery.  Now you don’t have to do a 3000 mile Race Across America like these Denver women. Exploring the back roads and lanes around your home can be adventure enough for most of us.
  • Gardening: Whether you live in the country or have an urban fairyland garden on your roof, mucking about plants can do more for you than ensure a bumper crop of zucchini at the end of the summer.  According to WebMD, you can get a triple-threat workout as you tend to those beans and squash–aerobic, strength, and flexibility.

Even First Lady Michelle Obama knows that health and fitness, while serious matters, need an element of fun to be effective.  She recently invited talk show host Jimmy Fallon to join her in an alternative workout which involved hula hoops, tug-of-war, and other playful sweat-inducers.  There was even a game of dodgeball.  We’re not sure who won, but we bet the First Lady was on the winning team!

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