Growing up, Kyle Luigs was a shy kid who loved sports. He finished his sophomore year pitching for the University of North Georgia in 2018 and needed somewhere to play during the summer, so he decided to try out for a team called the Savannah Bananas.
The Bananas are a professional dancing baseball team that has become a TikTok darling. The team is known for its silly antics: a player doing full splits in the batters box then somersaulting to first base, flaming bats, midgame choreographed dances in the outfield and batters on stilts.
But Mr. Luigs didn’t dance — not at weddings, not at parties and certainly not in front of a packed baseball stadium. It took a while for him to get the hang of wearing a yellow cowboy hat and frolicking on the pitcher’s mound, but after two summers, he realized he was playing better with the Bananas; the average number of runs scored on him was less than half that with his college team. Letting loose and getting silly on the diamond relaxed him, he said, and he stopped focusing as much on his pitching.
Mr. Luigs remembered his university coach saying, “‘Why can’t you pitch the way that you pitch there?’”
When adults exercise — whether they’re jogging, doing push-ups or playing soccer — they tend to have the same resolute look on their faces. Yet many experts say adopting a playful attitude toward working out benefits mental health, mixes up the workout and encourages people to keep moving.
Drop your inhibitions about movement.
For most people, movement stops being fun at the beginning of adolescence, when many stop playing games and competitive sports enter the picture, said Matthew Ladwig, an assistant a professor of integrative human health at Purdue University Northwest.
Darryl Edwards, founder of an exercise program called the Primal Play Method, said the key to rediscovering the fun of exercise is to tap into memories from before exercise became a chore. In 2011, he left a high-stress job in investment banking to become a personal trainer. But he soon noticed that many clients seemed bored, watching the clock or canceling last minute. He also realized he was often bored, too.
So he looked back to his childhood for inspiration. “The most important part of my day was, When was I going to get to play? Who am I going to play with?” he said.
Mr. Edwards began incorporating play into his workouts and his clients’: climbing trees, balancing on railings and crawling on all fours instead of going to the gym. Eventually he developed a workout aimed at building strength and endurance through childlike play. His clients give piggyback rides and play tag instead of lifting weights.
Not only do clients get a solid workout, he said, it changes how they see movement. One mother who struggled to find time to exercise started working out with her children on their way to school, jumping over sidewalk cracks and playing hopscotch, and now arrives to work invigorated.
“Play is not the activity,” Mr. Edwards said. “It’s the attitude you have.”
Find small ways to be more childlike.
Start by simply observing children while they play. Dr. Ladwig said children don’t move steadily for long periods of time; they stop and start: chasing a ball, then playing a game. Ask a friend to kick a ball or throw a Frisbee with you in the park. Or incorporate bursts of running or skipping into your daily walks.
Children are easily distracted by fun, so for runners with an adventurous spirit, Mr. Edwards suggests using your route as a playground, balancing on railings or climbing trees.
If this sounds too risky, bounce a ball while you walk the dog, or gamify it by giving yourself two points if you pass someone, and deducting five if someone passes you. Or pick things to count, like lamp posts, red cars or something that makes you laugh, and keep going until you reach a certain number.
Children also aren’t worried about making mistakes or looking silly while exercising. Try blasting your favorite song and dancing around the living room, said Erica Nix, a trainer based in Austin, Texas. For her online aerobics classes, Ms. Nix dons vintage workout gear and acts out song lyrics.
“I want to make it fun and silly, take out the perfectionism of it,” she said. Having fun with exercise is about trying new things and not being afraid to mess up. “This is the place that you are supposed to make mistakes,” she added.
Fun doesn’t mean you have a smile on your face the entire time, Mr. Edwards said. However, if you finish and think about how you can’t wait to do it again, that’s something you’ll probably keep doing.
Hilary Achauer is a freelance writer focused on fitness, health, wellness and parenting.
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