We have much to gain from being a little less serious and a little more playful in our approach to fitness and exercise. It's not quite the summer silly season yet, but here are some slightly daft inspirations for your fitness regime.
Fitness is a serious matter. Isn't it? Taking control of our physical fitness and weight by getting enough of the right kind of exercise can increase our life expectancy, improve our mood and boost our sex life. And that's just a tiny selection of the purported benefits of regular exercise. Whether you're doing the “right” kind of exercise for the “right” amount of time must be an important question. Just look at the amount of media coverage devoted to debates about the relative merits of gentle exercise versus intense bursts, daily half-hour sessions versus a single three-hour session at the weekend, and endless comparisons between different forms of cardiovascular exercise and strength training. We're working hard on getting it right.
But what if we're taking it all a bit too seriously? Isn't there a risk that exercise will feel like a chore, yet another thing on our to-do lists, a set of goals that we have to work towards achieving without any real sense of enjoying the process? Could a more light-hearted approach yield better results?
Three silly but effective workouts
The popularity and apparent effectiveness of daft “alternative” approaches to exercise certainly suggests that there's something to be said for not taking fitness too seriously. Here are three examples:
The official definition of prancercise is “A springy, rhythmic way of moving forward, similar to a horse's gait and ideally induced by elation.” It mainly involves, err, prancing. Yes, like a horse. In a very 1980's sort of way. It looks unbelievably silly but the underlying principles make sense: The idea is to develop a playful, joyful attitude to exercise so that it becomes a liberating experience and a creative expression of our true nature. We are encouraged to tap into our inner child and imagine ourselves as a beautiful animal. There's a spiritual dimension to it as well, so it's a trendily holistic approach to fitness. Did I mention that it looks unbelievably silly? But it also looks like a lot of fun. Certainly more fun than a treadmill.
Research into the health benefits of laughing has been accumulating since the 1970's. There is now solid evidence that genuine mirthful laughter has all sorts of positive influences on the body. It optimises hormone leves in the endocrine system, reducing levels of cortisol and epinephrine. These are both “stress” hormones, so laughing effectively reduces stress. It also boosts immune function by increasing the production of antibodies and activating protective cells such as T-cells and Natural Killer cells (the ones involved in killing tumourous cells). And it helps to reduce blood pressure. It's no surprise, then, that laughing has been developed into a formal workout - “laughercise.” These classes - for some reason often taught in yoga studios – aim to get real belly laughs going. How far they succeed at creating genuine mirthful laughter is a matter for further research. But doesn't it sound like a lo more fun to be going for your weekly laugh than to tums 'n' bums?!
The shopping workout
We have easyGym to thank for the creation of a retail routine. Okay, so it's clearly a PR gimmick: You're basically asked to imagine each component of a fairly traditional workout as part of a shopping trip. So the warm-up on the treadmill is your walk to the bus stop, stepping up the tempo is all about rushing up the escalator to beat the crowds in the sales, lunges with dumbbells are picking up t-shirts with a child on your shoulders, and so on. There's nothing innovative about the workout itself, but it's probably quite motivating for some people – those who enjoy shopping, obviously – to imagine their gym moves in terms of a bit of retail therapy.
Prancing, laughing, shopping... These seem like rather daft ways of getting exercise, but there's a serious message underneath the silliness: They're surprisingly effective in terms of achieving the traditional goals of exercise (weight loss, improved stamina, and so on). You're likely to reap greater benefits for your overall health and well-being if you're engaging in activities that you actually enjoy. And you're more likely to stick to an exercise regime if you're enjoying it for its own sake, rather than as a means to an end. All of which suggests that you need to be creative, and not too serious, in your definition of exercise.
So stop counting the minutes you exercise each week. Exercise as if your life depended on it. After all, it does. But that doesn't mean you have to take it too seriously. The most important things in life will always benefit from a light-hearted touch.