Fitness Articles

Embrace Your Inner Child to Get in Shape

8 Recess-Inspired Activities that are More than Kid's Play

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Ever notice how you can’t spell "workout" without the word "work?" Most of us view work as something we have to do, not necessarily something that we want to do. It's the opposite of leisure and the killer of fun. We all know that we should exercise, but wouldn't being active be more fun if it was less like work and more like the recess you remember as a kid where you were dying to get outside to run around and play? When kids exercise, it’s called play! When adults exercise, it’s called working out. But what if you could recapture the fun and fitness benefits of play as an adult?

Workouts that mimic the games and activities of your childhood are a hot new trend in fitness. The nostalgic exercises are becoming popular because they feel more like fun than traditional fitness and take participants back to a carefree time when they didn't have to worry about bills, what to make for dinner, or acing that presentation at work. It's like being a kid again! Except this go around, you know that while you're having fun, you're also burning a bunch of calories, building muscles and strengthening your heart. Everyone wins!

If you’d like to add a little more fun to your fitness pursuits, these eight exercise ideas will turn your boring workout into a fun-filled recess activity. If you're looking for a full workout, you can put them all together for an extra good time! Or, if in a pinch, you can always do one or two of the exercises on their own for a quick -me-up any time, day or night. And as you can imagine, these are also perfect exercises to do with the entire family or a few friends in a team-like setting. So go ahead and blow that whistle—it's recess time!

1. Hula Hoop. More than child’s play, hula hooping is also an effective core workout that’s making a big comeback among adults. All that hip swiveling and rotating works all the muscles in your abs, including your transverse abdominals, which really help to tighten that tummy. And if you are good enough at hula hooping to do it for minutes at a time, you can burn about 200 calories for every 30 minutes spent hooping.

Try-It Tip: Try hooping during the commercials of your favorite TV show to increase your core strength. Adult sized and specially designed hula hoops (and fitness DVDs) are becoming more readily available these days, too.

2. Obstacle Course. Remember the obstacle courses that you used to do in elementary school? You'd break into a few teams and see who could run around the playground, dive under the big tires, skip around the big tree and go across the monkey bars the fastest? Well, why not fire up your competitive playful instincts again? Obstacle courses that feature a variety of activities can be great cross training and a fantastic functional workout because you're moving your body in so many natural ways. If you go all out through the course numerous times with small breaks between turns, you can even count it as interval training, which burns almost 10 calories a minute!

Try-It Tip: Hit your local elementary school's playground during off hours and challenge a friend to a circuit of monkey bars, climbing over the big tires and jogging or speed walking a lap or two around the blacktop.

3. Swing. Who didn't love swinging as a kid? Turns out flying high into the sky was great lower-intensity cardio that strengthened our cores and legs. The pumping motion of the legs strengthens both your quads and hamstrings and the balancing aspect of the swinging targets the core. It takes about an hour to burn 200 calories swinging, so it's not a fantastic calorie burner, but it's definitely good for the body and childlike spirit.

Try-It Tip: Hit the swings the next time you're at the park. Parks near middle schools and junior highs are likely to have swings designed for taller kids with longer legs. And if you can't find a swing to fit you, remember that pushing a child on the swing is good cardio that strengthens your upper body, too!

4. Jump Rope. There's no doubt that you can get a good workout with just a simple jump rope. Heck, unless you’re a professional boxer, just a few minutes of jumping rope is enough to get you sweating. In fact, this childhood "toy" equates to an almost 350-calorie burn per 30-minute jumping session. You can even throw in old school tricks to jazz it up, like jumping backwards, "double unders" (turning the rope twice for each jump) or crossing your rope while you jump.

Try-It Tip: Try SparkPeople’s 10-minute jump rope routine to test your jumping endurance! If jumping rope for just a minute or two is all you can muster, grab some pals and try double-dutch again. You won't burn as many calories as you take turns, but you probably will make up for that somewhat with all the laughing!

5. Dodgeball. Dodgeball is back—in a big way. Adult dodgeball leagues are popping up in workplaces and health clubs across the country, because this childhood game is a dynamic, interval-type activity that requires running, ducking, jumping, throwing and catching. Talk about functional and competitive! If you loved dodgeball in school, you're guaranteed to love it just as much now, especially because you can burn about 340 calories an hour by going after your friends (all in good fun, of course).

Try-It Tip: Find a local National Amateur Dodgeball Association member in your area and start playing! Or start up your own league with co-workers, friends and family members.

6. Simon Says. You remember how Simon Says works, right? If "Simon Says" then you can do something. If not, you can't—or aren't supposed to. This game is a perfect way to focus your mind on something other than working out because you're so focused on what Simon is saying. Organize a game of Simon Says where you stand on one leg, do lunges, jumping jacks, high knees, push-ups and any other fun exercise. If Simon picks a lot of high-energy moves, a 30-minute session of Simon Says can easily burn 300 calories.

Try-It Tip: Get a few friends together and take turns being "Simon." The sillier that Simon can be with his/her instructions, the more fun you’ll all have! You can even have those who do something that Simon didn't say do extra laps or push-ups!

7. Red Light, Green Light. This commonly played game is a fun way to get you moving. Gather a workout buddy or two and designate one person as "the light." Then have that person tell you "green light" to fast walk and "red light" to slow your pace down. Voila! It's a fun interval workout that can burn up to 300 calories an hour!

Try-It Tip: If you're a runner, you can still play Red Light, Green Light! Just make the Red Light be slow jogging, and the Green Light fast running or sprinting. You'll up your calorie burn to about a 100 per mile you cover!

8. Tag. If you remember playing tag as a kid, you probably remember being exhausted after a good game, especially if you were "It." Tag is basically an interval workout with lots of sprinting, running and recovery. The only equipment you need is some friends (or kids!) and a big backyard. If you keep moving the whole game, 20 minutes can easily burn 150 calories or more.

Try-It Tip: Be sure that you all take turns being "It." As an adult, being "It" is a good thing as you get the most activity and the best workout!

Reliving some of the most fun and carefree parts of your childhood can be good for your body and your mind. Hopefully these ideas spark some creative ways for you to take the work out of your workouts and turn your fitness pursuits into fun-filled play sessions!

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Member Comments

  • Great article!!! How active we all were when kids!!!
    Ever play "Kick the can"? We kicked a can over roof of garage or small building.
  • Cart wheels, hop scotch, jump roping, the jungle gym, and walking on stilts were my favorites. Next was riding my bike. So much fun.
  • This does bring back memories. We were always on the move. Does anyone remember snipe hunts? LOL! Hopscotch definitely should be added. I love to swing, and when I was in college, I'd head to the local playground and swing for a good hour. It helped clear my mind after classes and I'd feel so much better. We have swings at the church where I work. Wonder if I could sneak away from my desk and try it again.
  • I agree with TWOOFTHREE. BUT it's a great article.
  • TABETHA16
    Another FUN way to release your inner child and get exercise is to participate in mud runs! My favorite is www.thebattlegrou
    nds.com
  • Wow, great article that really brought back the memories. I think I will go out a look for a hula hoop tomorrow.
  • Good article too bad some of us weren't always allowed to play when we were kids. I can recall playing Doctor, doctor on a few occaisions (as a break from the routine) in karate class.
  • Hadn't thought about all the games I played when I was a kid. It was a walk down memory lane for me. Thanks!
  • Hopscotch definitely needs to be added to this list.
  • Add to this list, FOLLOW THE LEADER. I used to do this for PE hour when I worked on a ranch for troubled teens. Doing this outdoors on uneven ground can work up a sweat!
  • Great memories! Man, I loooved jumprope! But...'Chinese jumprope' was the best, though... that elasticized band around your knees, and two people had to be "ends', unless you could loop one end around an object? All that jumping, walking, running, twirling...I wish I knew some people that were into this, LOL!
  • TRISHAJANELLE
    Hopscotch would be a fun one too.
  • Love this article! I'm a bit limited to the games I can play due to my blindness, but I can play tag in my pool without worrying about obstacles and I can find the people by their movement in the water. My nephew and I do play "Marco Polo" in the pool and not only am I getting my fitness in, he's learning what it is like for me not to be able to see! I've been wanting a hula hoop and will need to get one! I'm going to talk my husband into an obstacle course with me too! Thanks!
  • These are really fun ideas....and it brings back a lot of memories from games I remember as a kid!

About The Author

Jennipher Walters Jennipher Walters
Jenn is the CEO and co-founder of the healthy living websites FitBottomeGirls.com, FitBottomedMamas.com and FitBottomedEats.com. A certified personal trainer, health coach and group exercise instructor, she also holds an MA in health journalism and is the author of The Fit Bottomed Girls Anti-Diet book (Random House, 2014).

See all of Jenn's articles.

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