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The Secret to Fitness? Play More

Finding fun activities will stoke your motivation for the long haul

There’s no doubt about it, lack of physical activity is hazardous to your health. A large body of medical research has shown a direct correlation between a sedentary lifestyle and increased risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, anxiety and depression, as well as cancer and type 2 diabetes.

Many people look to formal exercise programs to help stave off these serious conditions, but studies show that more than 50 percent of individuals who start an exercise program will drop out within the first six months. Among the general population, only around 30 percent of adults get the recommended 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week. And as we age, those numbers fall even lower.

The key to beating those odds has a lot to do with motivation. Don’t think “exercise.” Think “play.”

What Floats Your Boat?

But first, you have to figure out what kind of fun physical activities you really like to do. A fascinating Malaysian study published earlier this year found that personality type has a large influence on which ones different individuals enjoy.

Competitive types tended to favor racquet sports and martial arts. Among introverts and those who simply enjoy getting out and being active, running and cycling were popular. And those who reported that the way they looked was most important to them hit the gym for traditional exercise including strength training, cardio machines or aerobic classes.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a single peer-reviewed study or paper that examined activity levels for non-traditional modes of exercise. But what the Malaysian study did show was that, regardless of exercise mode, if individuals are motivated by a particular activity, their rates of adherence are significantly higher than those among the general population.

I like juggling because it challenges my brain as much as my body, but there are tons of other fun activities you can do.

So if things like tennis and tae kwon do can retain more than 60 percent of participants, imagine what the rates might look like for fun activities like playing Frisbee, wall climbing or geocaching!

Get Up and About

Increasing the amount of play in our lives can do more than just help us stick to an exercise regimen. In recent years, a number of studies have found that even for those who exercise regularly, long periods of sitting pose a significant risk to our health that exercise sessions alone can’t erase.

To spend less time sitting, standing at your work desk and walking on a treadmill while you watch TV are great ideas, but they’re not much fun. What’s more fun is taking frequent play breaks throughout the day.

Getting up and doing five or 10 minutes of activity every hour is a great way to add another hour or more of activity to each day. I like juggling because it challenges my brain as much as my body, but there are tons of other fun activities you can do.

Connect to Your Past

Think about what you used to love to do as a child on summer break: Did you hunt butterflies, climb trees, catch frogs or take target practice with a bow and arrow? Did you live for rec league baseball or basketball or were you the kid they could never get out of the water? If you’re a younger boomer, maybe video games were your thing. If so, then the active versions of those can be an excellent way to boost activity levels, too.

Of course, none of us can move quite as well as we did back then. But that doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy a grown-up version of those activities you loved.

Seek out some local resources and I bet you’ll be surprised at what you find. There are classes and tours and leagues and meet-up groups for nearly any activity you can imagine. Just throw the name of the activity you’re interested in and the town where you live into your favorite search engine and see what pops up.

If there’s not an established group already in your neck of the woods, why not start one? Call up a friend or two and convince them to do this amazing thing with you. You’ll be smiling and laughing and reminiscing in no time, but most importantly, you’ll be up and moving!

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