NEWS May 31st, 2010

By Kelly Gadzala

Get fit by having more fun

Who needs to go to the gym when you can play your way to health like a kid?

Quick: do you think working out is fun?

If you’re groaning at the thought of your next appointment with the treadmill, you may want to rejig your attitude towards getting in shape.

Having fun with your exercise regime can be good for the head and the bod, says YuMee Chung, a Toronto yoga instructor who says her fitness routine these days is less and less about going to the gym and more about play.

Aside from the sheer fun factor, play and laughter tend to go hand in hand, Chung says.

“I think of laughter as a way to release stress while massaging the organs and strengthening the core from the inside out.”

Though Chung says she isn’t anti-gym, she calls exercise as play an antidote to modern living. Most of us are required to be hyper-efficient, detail-oriented perfectionists who are highly structured at work, she says, and when we get home we need to drop that away.

Formerly a lawyer, Chung says she was accustomed to being hyper-critical all day long, and she was the same way when she came home at night. It wasn’t fun for her or anyone around her, she says.

She’d work out at the gym all the time, but started incorporating play into her workout after visiting a downtown park with her young nephew.

Soon she was hanging from the monkey bars and climbing the jungle gym.

Since moving north to Lake Simcoe, Chung says she regularly hangs out at the playground by the water. And speaking of hanging out, climbing trees is one of her favourite workout pastimes in the country.

Hoisting oneself up branch by branch is fun, but Chung says tree climbing also gives her a different kind of workout that exercises muscles the upper body. It’s an area women don’t always target enough.

“As women we don’t do pull-ups.”

The physical benefits of play can be the same, she says — it just depends on the intensity of what you are doing.

“Adults have to get away from the notion of fitness,” Chung says. “It just draws the joy out of it.”

So why aren’t we seeing more grown-ups turning cartwheels across the greens in the local park?

Most people don’t discover parks as a place they can exercise until they have kids, she says. But play, she says, isn’t the birthright of the under-10 generation.

Even in more formal fitness settings, like the yoga classes she teaches, Chung encourages her students to try handstands on the grass instead of in the studio against the wall.

Kids do it all the time in parks, she says, and the worst thing that could happen is you fall.

“No one ever died from trying to do a handstand.”

Sure people stare, she says, but you have to get over the embarrassment factor.

“We have to shift our definition of what’s normal,” she says, and learn to move and exercise in more unconventional ways
The only way exercise as play is going to work is if you don’t treat it like work, she says.

“Don’t be competitive,” says Chung. “That’s not the point.”

No need to watch the clock to see if you’re getting your 20 minutes of cardio, either. If you’re out doing a fun activity with family and friends, such as helping with a Habitat for Humanity project or playing with pooch in the park, you’ll be having too much fun to watch the time, she says.