Better Life

Recess: The New Workout

Recess: The New Workout
How I learned to channel my inner-child and recapture the joy of exercising.

About two years ago my job kicked into a gear I didn’t know existed, leaving me with little time and even less energy. It’s something millions of people grapple with every day, and as the levee began to break on my work-life balance, the first thing to go was my daily workout.

I mean, after working all day, the last thing I wanted to do with my evening was working out. With myriad options vying for the 120 minutes of unscheduled time between leaving work, and leaving for work—writing, playing music, cooking, seeking out new experiences in my adopted city—getting my reps in on the bench press or running 50 miles a week unfortunately didn’t seem to make the cut.

But the perfect compromise was hiding in plain sight: good old-fashioned recreation. I love to sweat just as much as I love playing music and learning to cook, but actually going to the gym started to feel like too much of an obligation. And while I’ve always enjoyed cycling, climbing, playing tennis, and shooting hoops, they never struck me as “exercise” because they’re, well, fun. 

The sheer joy of playing clouded the fact that the occasional pick-up game was in fact really good for me. How did we get like that? Our culture seems to have lost the whimsy and gamification once associated with fitness; today it’s all about efficiency. Putting in the time on the bench, treadmill, spin bike, or circuit, getting the maximum ROI for your sweat, in the least amount of time.

Maybe that’s why it was so easy to drop from my routine. I’d never felt completely comfortable with the notion that workouts should be judged based on their efficiency, and I constantly felt flooded with the idea I was doing it wrong. The crossfit girl. The guy doing a juice cleanse who put in nine unhappy miles before work. The jacked dude with a shake of TurboGainer peeking out of his briefcase. Zac Efron. They all seemed to exist wholly to remind me that my fitness ROI wasn’t up to snuff.

Then one day I was zoning out somewhere—tired and stressed—when I overheard an offhand musing from a guy claiming he never went to the gym, he recreated instead. While I’d already (unknowingly) adopted that model myself, I hadn’t put such a fine point on it. Despite growing up equating exercise with games and fun activities, it had become a results-oriented chore enjoined by a culture rooted in body image complexes and dinosaur masculinity. When really, recreation, and that punch-drunk charge we used to get heading into recess, wasn’t at all divorced from exercise.

It’s been about a year since my fitness renaissance, and I haven’t looked back. For me, recreation has removed all the negative emotions surrounding exercise and replaced them with the childlike joy of actually enjoying what you do, and feeling good while you’re doing it. Because there’s no reason exercise has to feel like exercise. If you make fun your number one priority, your body will follow. That’s what you did when you were a kid and believe me—you still can.