It’s hard to argue that adults and kids are different when it comes to fitness. There is, I believe, a strong argument to be made that the health and fitness needs of adults and kids are the same, and differ by degree, not kind. While most adults lose the connection to their bodies around or just after their college years once life starts to happen, kids seemingly have it all going for them, with no end in sight. For adults, it always seems to be the case that people deprioritize fitness and health and instead prioritize jobs, getting married, buying a house, having kids and then settling down, all the while their health is on a linear decline until you hit your “rock bottom”. That moment where you say, “Oh, no. I have to do something”. This is, in my experience, what happens with most adults.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
KIDS, FITNESS, AND FUN
Let’s talk about kids. Oh, being a kid was such a joy. Not a clue in the world about what taxes, politics, or responsibility was. The good old days. When you’re a kid, you do what sports you want. You play where you want. And when you don’t want to, you don’t. Want to swim? Sweet! Go join the swim team. Want to hit things? Go out for football! Start doing either of those and don’t enjoy it? Not fun anymore? No problem, you don’t have to do it anymore. Find something new!
Being a kid is great. Fitness and health are about fun, learning, and socializing. Fitness doesn’t have to be anything more than that…unless it needs to. If you’re a teenager on the wrestling team and you break your leg, you have to rehab your leg back to 100% working function. That probably won’t be fun. But it needs to happen. Similarly, if you’re an adult in your mid to late 40’s and are prediabetic, and you love pasta and pizza, and you don’t want to change your diet because it doesn’t sound fun…we might need to shift our priorities a bit.
Often times I see parents pushing their kids to compete in a sport because they’re good at it. They’ll also push the kid to get competitive, get out of their own head, and go out on the field and perform! This is probably the worst thing you can do to a kid and their health. Here’s why: Imagine that you’re drawing. Drawing is great. Drawing is fun. It activates many areas of your brain, triggers your creative side and gets you hands talking with your brain. Wonderful stuff. If you’re self-conscious about your drawing skills, try drawing more. Anything that you want. The paper is your playground. Anyways, you’re drawing a picture of a tree. You’re having a relaxing and enjoyable drawing this tree. Your draw the trunk, the bushy leaves, which are for some reason teal, and there’s a hole about half way up the tree with an owl sticking its head out, and there’s a sun above it with sunglasses on…totally fine. Your drawing. Doesn’t look like anything that you’ve ever seen in real life, but who cares! Someone walks up behind you and says “Hey, what’s that? A tree with blue leaves? The sun doesn’t have sun glasses! You need to do it like this…” and all of a sudden, drawing is no longer fun. You resent it, and you don’t want to do it anymore. Anytime you try to draw, all you can think about is this person controlling your fun. Then you, you start to believe that drawing isn’t about fun. It has to look just like what things look like in the real world. Booooooo.
The above example is what happens to many kids naturally as life starts to happen, and it’s also what happens when parents push the kid to excel at something that they don’t need to excel at. Fitness should be fun, forever. Lose sight of that, and you don’t want to do it anymore, you think that you’re bad at it, and you don’t want to try again.
Let’s imagine a different scenario…
ADULTS, FITNESS, AND FUN (HUH?)
You wake up, send the kids off to school, make your morning coffee, and head into the office. You work for several hours going between meetings until the usual “fire of the day” occurs and you have to stay a little late at work to fix the issue. You rush home from work, just barely in time for dinner (your food was sitting on the table prepared for you, and is lukewarm now) as you try to settle down for the day and enjoy time with your family. The rest of the night involves you trying to not answer emails on your phone, trying to get the kids to do their homework, and also trying to give attention to everyone around you because, now you’re home. Once the kids get to bed you stay awake for a few hours because it’s the only quiet time that you’ve had all day. You go to bed at 11 PM or Midnight, and repeat this cycle Monday thru Friday.
Damn. That sucks. But it’s unfortunately normal.
Stress comes in many different ways, and can be fun, or it can be taxing and draining. You have several different branches of the nervous system:
- Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) – Regulates digestion and internal organs outside of our conscious control
- Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) – Controls the “fight or flight” responses in the body
- Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) – Controls the “rest, digest, and repair”responses in the body
The day that we just went through above is almost entirely living in the SNS/fight or flight mode. And, it’s artificial. Being in fight or flight mode all day and all night and feeling like you can’t catch a break is unhealthy, and, not to be overly dramatic, but slowly kills you. It leads to depression, lack of energy, a slower metabolism, weight gain, and eventually chronic disease.
When kids go run around with their friends at Cross Country practice, that also may be a fight or flight response since they are working their bodies hard, but it doesn’t make them depressed, lose energy, slow metabolism, gain weight, and eventually chronic disease. This is because the lens at which they are operating (fun) and the activity that they are participating in (sport) leads to this. Sitting at work all day and running between meetings (or participating in two meetings at once) and then continuing work into the night does lead to that fight or flight stress that is completely artificial.
When you participate in a natural fight or flight response through physical activity and fun, you elicit a neuroendocrine response (hormonal change throughout the body) and create positive change in your body. Without getting too deep, this “makes the wheels go ‘round” in your body and brain. This is what keeps us “healthy”, in a basic sense.
Imagine this day:
You wake up, and head to the gym to workout. If you’re not a morning person, you just roll out of bed and start making breakfast for the kids. You send them off to school, all packed with a meal packed with meats, veggies, and fruits. They love it. You head off to your work day and take your gym clothes with you. You go about your work day, racing around, doing your usual thing. But then, the “fire of the day” comes up. But you’ve set a 4:30 appointment in your calendar, so you can’t stay late. You leave work, knowing that problem will be there tomorrow waiting to be tackled, and you head off to your appointment… the gym! You participate in a group CrossFit class, where you learn how to do a handstand! I mean, you haven’t been upside down in 20 years, so you do a plank with your feet elevated on a box, but you’re getting there, and you’re enjoying the learning process along the way. You then lift some heavy weights (and fast) to elicit the neuroendocrine response your body wants and needs, socializing with your friends along the way, and having fun all the while. You casually head home, are through the front door at 5:45 PM, help make the last few parts of dinner, and sit down with the family to enjoy a lovely dinner by 6 PM. You have a nice family meal, the kids get sent off to do their homework, and you have a relaxing time winding down for the night. You feel accomplished from your day, and are ready to go to sleep with the rest of the family.
Sounds great, right? This “day” can look a bit different depending on what you want and what your preferences are, but it is all possible nonetheless.
As an adult, focus on making fitness fun, playful, and engaging. Focus on making your life that way. Most drama and stress is a choice, and you can also choose to have fun, and be connected with your fitness. The earlier in life, the better. But, it’s never too late to start! So join a gym, make it a priority, and care about how “good you are” at fitness just a little less. I’ll end this with one of my favorite quotes:
“The goal is to get fit, make it the best hour of your day, stay safe, turn up the music, high five someone, and blow off some steam. So remember that. Relax.” – Pat Sherwood