Editor’s Note: The following is a guest post by Mike Donghia.
I used to be a gym rat back in my early college days. In the spring semester of my sophmore year, I worked hard in the weight room and put on nearly 20 pounds of muscle. It was fun while it lasted – during that particular season of my life.
These days, however, I’m more interested in staying fit and having fun and creating life long habits that keep me active.
I don’t really care about “getting big” or breaking personal records for the bench press. I don’t keep a log book of my workouts or measure progress from one week to the next. It’s not that these things are bad, I’ve just found that I don’t need them anymore. I’ve found a way that works better for me… a simpler, more enjoyable approach to staying fit.
The Problem with Exercise
For many people, the word “exercise” carries bad connotations. Words like boredom, drudgery, painful and exhausting come to mind. And because exercise feels like such a chore, we stop doing it and bad habits are formed that lead to years and years of sedentary living.
And it’s a darn shame that we feel this way, because staying fit can actually be a ton of fun. So what’s the problem?
The problem is that we don’t play anymore.
Instead of having fun with our bodies, we’re doing the same old exercises day in and day out: pushups, situps, bench press, squats, etc. But if you’d watch kids playing in a backyard for any length of time, you’ll realize that we don’t need to do all of these things to stay healthy and strong. What we really need is a playful spirit.
A Fun Solution
Now I’m not convinced that everything in life should be a breeze or that we should always run away from hard work. But when you’re trying to create a lifelong habit that literally means the difference between life and death – the first priority should be making a habit that sticks.
I read about too many people dying of heart disease and weight related disease to believe that will-power alone is enough to get people moving. At its core, exercise has to be something fun and creative — something that is enjoyable and doesn’t feel like a chore. It has to be more like play and less like a continuation of our jobs.
Here are just a few ways I like to stay active these days:
- Digging massive holes at the beach
- Walking to the library to get books
- Playing touch-football and ultimate frisbee w/ friends
- Trail running with my wife
- Climbing just about anything that looks fun to climb
- Biking to explore new places
- Pull-up and push-up competitons against friends
Of course, almost any of these activities can feel like “real” exercise if you let them. Running can become a chore and so can biking – the thing is, I rarely set goals or expectations when I do these things. My mindset is more about being playful and quenching my curiorsity for life. It’s a mindset I’ve cultivated over time by slowly letting go of my need to control every single thing.
I fully realize that your list will look different than mine. What is fun for me may not be fun for you… but that’s exactly the point. We are all unique individuals with different definitions of fun. And one-size-fits-all exercise routines that miss that point often fail.
How to Make The Fitness Habit Stick
Instead of worrying about my body weight or appearance, I focus on being child-like and staying active. And that means not setting time limits or distance quotas to meet – that takes the fun out of it. I just run when I want to run, climb when I want to climb, and play when I feel like playing.
It’s the simplest approach to fitness I’ve ever tried, but it works. It works because it makes being active and having fun an end in itself. Insteading of doing exercise as a means to lose weight or build muscle, I’m doing it because I love it.
And that’s a habit that’s hard to break.