I am a scientist by nature. My degree is in biology, I worked in research, and I actually enjoy reading science journal articles! Making statements without validation really makes me uncomfortable. So please bear with me as I provide “proof” that playing like a kid improves health.
During my childhood, one rule I had to abide by was that I had to be home by dark, or by the sound of my mother’s second whistle warning. This was a perfect rule because during the school year, it was dark earlier, providing plenty of time to complete homework. It didn’t matter the season; I was usually doing one of three things: riding my bike, playing tag, or riding my bike. (grin)
When I ask friends and coworkers about their memories of childhood play, I usually get two responses. The “over 40″ year old population had similar experiences to me. The “under 40″ group referred to a lot of sports and day camp activities. (The science geek in me wants to do a correlation of physical activity levels/time of those in competitive sports verses the free range play kids).
Regardless of how and where we played, we all had plenty of physical activity…and it was fun! We didn’t go for a run because we had to “get into shape”. We didn’t ride a bike to improve blood sugar levels. We didn’t do pull-ups on the monkey bars to improve our back strength and posture. We ran because it was the only way to get to first base during kickball in the neighbor’s backyard. We rode our bikes because it gave us freedom to get to the other side of the neighborhood faster and because riding down hills really fast gave us a thrill. We did pull ups just because it was fun to see who could do the most and also to laugh at the first person to drop from bars into the mud puddle that seemed to always be under the jungle gym. Play made us physically stronger. We had endurance. We were social. We had great appetites. We slept like logs. We were happy.
It is fact that regular physical activity improves health; activity decreases risks for chronic disease and improves the quality of life. In other words, physical activities lower blood pressure, decrease stress, improve sleep, decrease body fat, increase strength, improve heart and brain function and so much more.
I propose that completing physical activities “like a kid” will make life fun and not make the task become a “health chore”. So this week, while you are on your morning run with friends, I dare you to tap your friend’s shoulder and yell ” tag, you’re it”! When you pick your kids up from school, I dare double-dare you to see who can cross the monkey bars the fastest. When you head to your group exercise class, be the one to “whoop” really loudly during the first Zumba song! Find the fun in physical activity, like when we were kids. Play hard, laugh a lot, and enjoy!