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The Fun Way To Supercharge Your Health

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Previously, I discussed how to get excited about exercising by considering it as playtime. Now it’s time to consider your playtime choices: What kind of activity do you enjoy? How long do you want to exercise? How much effort can you put into it?

I can also give you some helpful tips make this important part of your day feel even more enjoyable than ever.

Picking An Activity

I hope remembering your childhood playtime brings a smile to your face. You can still enjoy a similar feeling of freedom during playtime activity, even though you’re now all grown up. To do so, choose the kind of activity that allows you to tune into good feelings.

A quick list of categories to consider:

  • Flexibility and movement: Yoga, Pilates, chi gong.
  • Aerobic playtime: Running, bicycling, swimming, Zumba, dance aerobics, etc.
  • Strength training: Weightlifting, pullups, pushups, situps, etc.
  • Sports: A wide selection; too many to list here.

When choosing an activity, choose something that takes place in a spot you can visit consistently.

Will weather permit you to do this activity frequently? Will you get tired quickly of driving to the gym? Will you go it alone or with a friend? Remember that with a little effort, you can meet new friends at the gym. One of the most important factors to making playtime fun is who you are playing with.

If you are going to be alone during playtime, then take advantage of the mood-transforming effect that music can produce. One study of students in aerobic dance classes reported that the music (even more than the instructor) contributed most to their sense of enjoyment [1]. For me, music sets the mood for my positive thoughts. My positive thoughts then generate even more good feelings. I use an iPod shuffle with ear buds for a pretty nice sound. I began by taking time to find my favorite songs from the iTunes store (iTunes is a free download, but the songs are $.99 to $1.29 each) and built my exercise song list, which downloads into my iPod. So, if there is nobody there with me, I have my music to ensure a good experience.

Flexibility And Movement

Flexibility and strengthening activities such as yoga, Pilates and chi gong leave you feeling good for various reasons. You can find these at your local YMCA, fitness club, community center or possibly at a senior center.

Yoga offers great benefits. The five basic principles of yoga include proper relaxation, proper strengthening, proper breathing, proper diet and positive mental focus. Think of how good this activity can help you feel when you release your muscle tension and put your mind and whole body at rest. This revitalizes your nervous system, as you also experience an inner peace that makes stretching and strengthening a really cool experience. Then, best of all, you can add to this great workout by eating consciously (nutrient-rich foods) and feeling good that every life experience serves you in some way.

What a great way to feel good with playtime!

Aerobic Playtime

I’m a runner, because it is something I can do alone and on my own time schedule. I can run outside or on a treadmill, as needed. I can take my music with me and feel good despite my physical fatigue (remember playtime as a child?).

One study of runners found improvements in composure, energy, elation and mental clarity to be highest after 40 minutes into a one-hour run [2]. Another study found that longer runs were reported as less effortful than shorter runs because runners could then better tune out mentally and tune in emotionally. This effect reduced their sense of fatigue [3]. I believe the same effect holds true for bicycling, swimming, Zumba, dance aerobics and other aerobic exercises in which you have a sustained moderate intensity level of activity.

More specifically, in one study, researchers found that when participants pushed themselves into high-intensity anaerobic metabolism (such as with sprints that cause you to feel light-headed, short of breath or nauseated), the pain and negative feeling of it counteracted the benefit [4]. In contrast to this, another study found that moderate training intensities gave participants immediately large and lasting good-mood effects [5].

Strength Training Playtime

Strength training is the one playtime that I do best when competing with a friend. I do pullups, pushups (not on the same day as pullups) and situps regularly to maintain muscle strength. To do pullups, I use a bar that hooks onto any doorframe without being attached to it. Made by Ultimate Body Press, it’s sold at stores or online here.

Even my 80-year-old mother regularly does strength training on machines at her local gym. Remember that women and older men can use less weight and do more repetitions (i.e., 20 to 30 repetitions) for toning muscles. Younger men like to use more weight and do fewer reps (i.e., 8 to 12 reps) so they can bulk muscles. There are many ways to do strength training, and you can learn a lot at your local gym with or without a trainer.

Your main muscle groups and the simplest ways to strengthen them:

  • Biceps: Arm curls with free weights or a machine; pullups; pulldowns using a machine.
  • Triceps: Dips on parallel bars; arm extensions using a machine; floor pushups (work your low back too).
  • Deltoids (shoulders): Press above your head using free weights or a machine; handstand pushups with assistance; pullups.
  • Pectorals (chest): Bench press free weights or using a machine; floor pushups (work your low back too).
  • Upper back muscles: Pullups; pulldowns using a machine; rowing machine; while facedown, use free weights to simulate a rowing motion.
  • Lower back muscles: While lying facedown, hold a backward arch; bend forward, supported by a machine, and extend back to erect posture; side situps.
  • Gluteus (buttocks): Lunges or squats while holding weights; hamstring curls using a machine.
  • Quadriceps (anterior thighs): Squats holding weights; seated leg press using a machine; stationary bicycle; running.
  • Hamstrings (posterior thighs): Leg curls using a machine; running.
  • Calves (lower leg): Standing toe raises while holding weights; walk a steep incline (outside or on a treadmill).
  • Abdominal muscles: Situps, crunches, straight leg raises while supine, etc.

May these ideas assist you to make your playtime routine less routine and keep you feeling good.

Michael Cutler, M.D.

Easy Health Options

[1] Wininger SR, Pargman D. Assessment of factors associated with exercise enjoyment. Journal of Music Therapy 2003;40 (1):57–73.

[2] O’Halloran PD, Murphy GC, Webster KE. Mood during a 60-minute treadmill run: Timing and type of mood change. International Journal of Sport Psychology 2004; 35(4): 309–27.

[3] Baden DA, Warwick-Evans L, Lakomy J. Am I nearly there? The effect of anticipated running distance on perceived exertion and attentional focus. Journal of Sport Exercise Psychology 2004;26 (2): 215–31.

[4] Hall EE, Ekkekakis P, Petruzzello SJ. The affective beneficence of vigorous exercise revisited. British Journal of Health Psychology 2002; 7 (1), 47–66.

[5] Arent SM, et al. Dose-response and mechanistic issues in the resistance training and affect relationship. Journal of Sport Exercise Psychology 2005; 27 (1): 92–110.

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