Are You Up, Up, Down, Down To Have A Blast?
In “Cheat Codes” we take an aspect of physical health and figure out a way to gamify it. This month we unlock the ultimate cheat code: making exercise awesome through active fun.
Remember how amazing it was to be a kid? Squirt-gun battles in July. Snowball fights with your friends. An underground fight club for giant rocks you found in the river and you’d place bets on which rock would crack when you’d chuck them together? That last one might have just been me, but I did make quite a bit of cash off a large tan rock I called “Big Bertha”. I’m sure you have similar shadowy gambling organizations in your childhood. The one thing you didn’t do? Sit around bored, snacking on finger foods and nodding in agreement to people you barely knew. What have we become?!
We had an amazing time as children partly because we weren’t responsible for keeping ourselves alive but also because kids are allowed to be active. Well, fellow Cheat Coders, what if I told you that you’re actually allowed to have fun as an adult? What if I told you that sitting on your couch, eating nachos and making small talk with people from work wasn’t the only way to party? Let’s do this. Push the start button with your mind.
RESTARTING THE GAME
I wasn’t really a sports kid. The giveaway might have been all my Warhammer miniatures and debate trophies. I played football in middle school solely because I thought the pads looked “just like knights’ armor”, something my coach told me I should probably keep to myself. I distinctly remember a time in 6th grade where, already mourning the loss of recess, a friend pulled me aside and told me he could see me and my brother pretending to be knights in our backyard after school. Technically, I was pretending to be Simon Belmont from Castlevania 2, but whatever. He said I was too old for that and there was a stack of video games sitting on my shelf, unbeaten. I reluctantly agreed, hung up my fake weapons in the garage and picked up fake weapons on a computer screen.
Years later, in college, our dorm spent its leftover money from the first semester on several bags of laser tag guns. It was the most fun any of us had in years. Yelling, jumping, sprinting, climbing, it was amazing. While we were battling through the University commons and diving under benches I saw something I hadn’t seen since I was six: people throwing up from pure fun, not booze. My buddy, Dave, actually screamed, “Cover me!” as he barfed into a trashcan, then kept shooting. Now, that’s a workout. You normally only see something like that at a Crossfit competition.
Why were we able to push ourselves to the point of exhaustion without noticing it? Because it was fun. That’s something missing from our daily lives as adults. When adults sigh at their kids running all over the place at a birthday party, thinking to themselves, “Where do they get the energy?” the answer is right in front of us. Kids have the energy because running around is fun to them. The fun gives them the energy. That and the naps. For most people, we treat gyms like we treat offices, it’s for work. When we have an adult birthday party that’s usually just code for getting drunk at a bar or all going out to eat. When was the last time you shot someone in the face with a water gun?
HACKING YOUR FUN
We can do this stuff again. One of the most effective cheat codes for sneaking exercise into you and your friends’ lives is by reintroducing active fun. You might have to take a leadership role in this endeavor as we’ve grown so accustomed to passively sitting or watching things that the idea of running around with water balloons or going to an obstacle course could seem “strange.” The advantage is, there’s a lot of options for active fun. Trampoline Dodgeball, muddy obstacle courses, paintball, rafting, body boarding, roller skating (the list goes on, think “what did I enjoy as a kid?” and do that thing) all readily available for adults to partake in. For the nerdier amongst us, there is Live Action Role Playing (costumed Dungeons and Dragons with foam weapons) and the Society For Creative Anachronism (dress up in actual armor and hit each other with wooden swords). Even competitive broadsword fighting is making a comeback. You could hit your friend in the face with a broadsword for your next birthday party! How much better does that sound than trying to divvy up a bill after two hours of mediocre tapas? In fact, in a weird twist of events, a study showed that when exercise was perceived as “fun” as opposed to work, people actually consumed fewer calories later.
Chances are, you already have the resources available for you to do something like this on the regular. This is where the cheat code really comes into play. Do you and your friends regularly hit the same bar once a week for drinks? Could you take the money you spent at the bar or at a regular restaurant meet up and put that toward a Dodgeball League? There’s a high likelihood that you and your friends could rent out an entire gym or indoor pool for the amount you blow on weekly sushi or chicken wings. Why not mix it up every now and then?
A couple years ago I shot a web series with some comedian friends of mine at a trampoline dodgeball court. Within five minutes we were totally out of breath because we got so amped up to jump on trampolines and chuck balls at each other that we forgot to get tired until our lungs gave out. I’ve been back more than once and even brought my extended family just because it was such an amazing amount of fun. Also, I am invariably sore for a week afterward. My buddy, Jerry, regularly drags a bunch of us out to the mountains to go frisbee golfing/hiking and my buddy Tony joined a “ninja training gym” in Southern California that specializes in pit traps and climbing obstacle courses. This stuff often costs way less than a night out or even a meal and you’re moving your body and competing against your friends and having a blast. Making these activities into a regular part of your life just means committing to having an awesome time. It’s only a change of mindset. We look at these kinds of activities as something to do every once in a while as a lark. Let’s change that. They can be as much a part of our lives as any fitness endeavor.
Look, I enjoy lifting weights, but I stick with it because I actually like it. I hate cardio, but I can jump on a trampoline or swim in a pool or shoot laser tag all day. It’s important for me to maximize the enjoyment I get out of things in order to help me stick with them. I think that’s probably true for a lot of people.
The point of all this is that you had a lot of fun running around with your friends when you were a kid. That didn’t have to stop. If you don’t love working out traditionally, get experimental. Join a class, start a club or just stick your toes in it with a one-off party. This is your life. You can choose to have an active, amazing one and as a side benefit, stay healthy and energetic. This is your ultimate cheat code: have fun.