As someone who walks through Central Park on a regular basis, I can confirm that millennials get just as flustered as previous generations when their kids start climbing rocks. Get off there! he is alive and well.
But today’s and yesterday’s little Tarzans have the right idea. Exercise by way of exploration is about the healthiest thing they could do for their developing bodies and brains.
Different actions come more naturally to different kids, of course (some were born to play shortstop, others are content to pick dandelions in right field). But those who do come should be encouraged and learned from. That’s right: instead of chastising kindergarteners, adults should be emulating them, discovering ways to incorporate their whims, inspirations and movements into our fitness routines.
Of course, there are some perks available to young children: Their spinal flexibility is off the charts, they sleep well, and they don’t know their plasticine from the debt ceiling. But it is possible to bottle their instinctive approach and channel it into your relationship with well-being.
From playing to fidgeting to belonging, we break down why you should exercise like you’re five again. Stick to these creeds and one day you’ll be the grandfather calling on top of the rocks: I’ll be right there!
Play, play, play
We recently wrote about the simple power of setting aside a couple hours a week to shoot hoops. Here in adulthood, he’s been surprisingly revealing. But tackling basketball in such an academic way would clearly be foreign to most kids, who make time for balls, toys, blocks, or even video games (not always a bad thing, look at Mario Kart) without really thinking about it.
The game is as second nature to children as adults who check their emails in the morning. This is a sobering simile, but that’s the point. The same developmental benefits that children reap in their bodies and brains by running around, inventing, making rules, and breaking them can greatly complement overall well being in adults. And in the same way that children can be picky about which game suits them best, you can decide which type of game best fits your skills, interests, or lifestyle.
Belong to something
Kids these days probably belong to too many things. It’s not their fault. In the absurd and growing list of parenting-type monikers (helicopter, dolphin, snowplow) we have outsourced parents the kind of guardians who sign their kids up on such busy schedules that it brings a tear to Mark Wahlberg’s eye. He thinks: soccer, tee-ball, taekwondo, dance, chess, piano, etc., on repeat.
On one level, it’s impressive how much kids do. But that’s not the point here, focus on how much they are belong A. For those of you who find yourself in and out of year after year fitness crises, join a community. I have adult friends who train at Jiu Jitsu academies, adult friends who run with athletic clubs, adult friends who have a fixture with a golf simulator in Brooklyn that lets you play 18 at iconic courses like Pebble Beach.
It All count. And good news: As an adult akin to choosing exactly how you want to play, you’re the master of your own Google Calendar. You can insert games, lessons, or sessions with a restraint most 21st-century parents evidently lack. You don’t have to be on the go all the time, but you do have to move. Engaging in a community is a great way to get started.
Curious George mentality
Fitness probably shouldn’t always feel adventurous or weird, but it’s quite a shock to the system to take a jaunt now and then. That might mean finding a hill in your neighborhood to run up and down, five times. Or doing a barefoot workout at the beach. Or rock climbing in Central Park. Look at the gravel cycling community, or the people going wild, or the people knocking out the pole dips. There’s a childish fervor at play there, a curiosity to see what’s on the other side of the hill, that can lead trainees to (a) stop stressing about the work ahead and (b) start living for This.
Freedom to fidget
In their bookBuilt to move, mobility gurus Juliet Starrett and Kelly Starrett extol the virtues of sitting on the floor for at least 30 cumulative minutes a day. When practiced regularly, seated poses can actually restore hip and lower back function, stretch hamstring and calf muscle tissue, and increase one’s range of motion, a term to describe the degree of movement available to a person at any given time. Remember: Americans’ average range of motion has taken a major hit in recent years, which is pretty much why everyone gets bad backs.
Well, kids are really good at getting off the ground. This is because the practice is learned in kindergarten and elementary school, you spend hours sitting cross-legged on a nylon carpet or linoleum floor during the assembly, listening to the talks of the elders. Children are taught that standing still during all of this is a sign of respect, but it’s actually impossible, and nearly all of them fidget, shift their weight, scratch, or shift their position.
This is a Well thing, and it’s something adults should try to replicate in their lives, whether they’re watching TV, drinking tea, or talking on the phone. We want you to fidget and shift positions while on the floor because it gives you the opportunity to rotate your hips into different final ranges, take pressure off your tissues, and avoid stiffness and pain, write the Starretts in their book. Your brain will tell you to move while on the floor, and that’s exactly what we think you should do.
It’s a word that absolutely no kindergarten knows, but the same could be said for a good portion of practicing adults. Self-regulation refers to the practice of regulating the intensity and duration of your workout based on real-time feedback from your body and energy levels. A crude example: I might have every intention of running six miles on an empty Sunday, then winding up at a Taco Bell Cantina at 2 a.m. the night before after hours of karaoke. Chances are the first mile of my run the next day won’t be me at my best. So I self adjust I shorten it, or run it slow, or undo it to stretch, breathe, and detox instead.
Kindergartens regulate themselves on autopilot. Anyone who has spent a day with a child has probably seen them run around when they’re feeling energetic and rest when they’re tired (with a few grievances joining in between the two). At the end of the day, they literally respect their tiredness.
This is a vital lesson for trainees on another branch of the fitness tree. Those that don’t need help getting started, but have a great time stopping and risk running into exhaustion or injury along the way. (Let’s talk about the overtraining phenomenon.) Kids, meanwhile, know when they deserve a break. And most importantly: they will Never worrying about how one ice cream cone could destabilize their entire fitness routine. They’ll cover it, no stress, and go to bed, a game calendar to follow the next day. This is true well-being.
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