Researcher Elizabeth Lyon, PhD, MPH is quoted on exercise as play in a recent article - Learning To Do Handstands at Age 30 Healed My Relationship to Exercise After a Lifetime of Resenting.
It turns out that being active can actually be fun. With the right approach, it can feel less like work, and more like play.
“There's an opportunity to make something playful because play isn't its own thing that exists,” explains Elizabeth Lyons, PhD, of the University of Texas Medical Branch.
“Play is basically an attitude towards everything or anything that happens.”
Lyons researches how
the characteristics of games can help motivate physical activity and change behavior. Features like unpredictability, discovery, and even challenges can all change the way that someone interacts with something, making that thing more interesting to
the person doing it. Those highly variable workout videos I was doing? That unpredictability was probably helping me view exercise more like play. Even though I was doing a similar style of activity every day, the exact moves, the intervals, and the
order were always changing.
“The idea of novelty, surprise, unpredictability—these are very common playful experiences that are targeted by games, but they’re also important beyond games just in everyday life for keeping people interested in all sorts of things,”
Lyons says. “I think unpredictability is huge.”
Another factor in viewing activities as games, Lyons says, is adding challenges, or rules. High-intensity workouts, for me, had the perfect combination of variability and rules to feel like a game.
“[Challenges are] basically the equivalent of when you're a kid making up a rule that you can't step on the cracks in the pavement,” Lyons said. “It doesn't even have to be particularly challenging. It's just some kind of arbitrary constraint
that makes things more interesting.”