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Remember when exercise was called “playing”?

Hello again everyone!

Today’s topic comes from an afternoon I spent with my pseudo-nephew and niece and their friends.  It was Mateo’s sixth birthday this past weekend and I can think of no better birthday to spend at a park where there were fountains, a water park, a small rock climbing wall, ladders, monkey bars, slides, tunnels and lots of room to roam and play.

Play is an interesting thing.  I had the chance to step back and think about it as I’m not a parent (and therefore not keeping an eagle eye on my kin) but unfortunately, also not a child, so bursting into an all out sprint while gleefully screaming and smiling isn’t exactly appropriate, at my age.  While observing, I couldn’t help but notice how nice it is to be around the calm joy of children at play.  When I turned to focus on the parents of the children attending the party, and even some of THEIR parents and friends I noticed a shared appreciation that you would probably recognize as the “ahh, I remember when I used to play and have fun like that”, and “isn’t it great, how much fun they’re having?”

What happened?  Why do WE stop playing and having fun?  When did that all out sprint to see who can get to the third tall tree (not the second one though, because I just changed the rules, seeing how you beat me to the second tree) turn into trudging for 30 minutes on the side of the road while listening to Meatloaf tell you about all the things he’d do for love?

There’s no way to tell the exact moment it happens.  I think it might be somewhere between when you wear tighty whitey underwear with the looney tunes on them versus the new “cool” Joe boxers with the ubiquitous yellow happy faces on them.  I think that might be when the transition starts at least.  I think it also starts when you find out you aren’t great at something too.  Being picked last because you didn’t know that you’re supposed to stand off to the side of the home plate in baseball as opposed to directly on top of it, isn’t a good feeling.  But it’s only after that barrier has been passed that it becomes a bad feeling.  This transition, where the fun of playing slowly melted away should not be welcomed as something that accompanies aging.  Remember when teams were made up on the fly?

“ok…. you guys are the cops and me, you and her are the robbers…. you have to give us 10 seconds to run away first and then we’re gonna go get…. the treasure…. this will be the treasure (grabbing random, previously meaningless item off the ground)… ok?… ok, this is the treasure… and we get to have it first and then we’ll hide it.. but first you have to give us 10 seconds… but don’t start counting until you can’t see us ok?… and then you have to catch us, errrr.. the treasure too… you have to find the treasure AND us… and then we’ll switch… ok-GO!”

Please tell me you remember that, or some variation thereof.  Right after that “GO!” the three of you took off like a bolt of lightning to hide something and then hide yourselves.  Then of course, the “cops” would count to seven or eight and take off the same way, while counting out the remaining seconds.

But it all changed.  Now, it’s “ok……..go” and you ‘take off’ by walking back to your desk, or work station and instead of firing up the sympathetic nervous system with a sprint, you fire it up with stress about how you need to get this work done.  And then the play DOES occur, the long, very confusing, on the fly play session, that seemed to be fabricated in no time out of thin air is now a list of phone calls, and rallying the troops to head over to the local community centre to play floor hockey, or to the gym for basketball, or the baseball diamond for some slo-pitch.

Few of us actually work as hard as we did back then when we play these days, but there ARE those moments of clarity where we realize how much we’re enjoying ourselves.  It could be a great run, a perfect lay-up, hitting a triple down the right field line, or threading the needle for the game winning goal.  Sometimes it’s while you’re sucking wind on the sidelines, cursing the double baconator you had earlier (more on this in a future post) but chomping at the bit to get back out there.  This “play” isn’t dead.  It will always be there.  I’ve heard about it time and again… “Hey doc…. yup… so I was at a family get together and all the kids were playing soccer…. they NEEDED another person to make the teams even… I’m pretty banged up and sore today.”  Of course you’re banged up and sore, but you had a blast, and maybe you’ll “even” out the teams next week, too.

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