At some point around adolescence, those of us who aren't athletically inclined go through this weird rite of passage in which things like running, biking and swimming transition from "play" -- the stuff we most want to do with our spare time -- to "exercise," that no-pain-no-gain crap we're supposed to do because it's good for us. Throw in a few years of getting bullied by gym teachers, some major anxiety about how your thighs look in spandex and eventually a schedule that makes you jealously guard your scant leisure time, and the very activities you used to enjoy more than anything start to seem like pure drudgery. "Play" becomes catching half an hour of mind-numbing reality TV before you fall asleep, and "exercise" becomes something you keep meaning to get around to.
It's time to bring back the old definition of "play." Stephanie Studenski, a noted expert on balance and mobility in older adults, is such a huge fan of the video game Dance Dance Revolution that she decided to try a pilot study with 30 sedentary, postmenopausal women. They were instructed to play DDR for 30 minutes, twice a week -- and two-thirds of them ended up doing more than that because it was just so darn fun they couldn't stop. (DDR has been used in high school gyms for a while now. No word on classes for the Wii Fit.)
Prior to the experiment, the women -- like so many others -- had trouble maintaining exercise routines because they couldn't find any they enjoyed. It makes me wonder just how many people are sedentary not because of any inherent laziness but because they so strongly associate exercise with pain and tedium. That used to be true of me, until I discovered yoga -- which got me over my fear of the gym, which led me to my newest loves: Pilates and that other favorite of postmenopausal women, water aerobics. I have friends who are into belly-dancing, hula-hooping and roller derby for the same reason: They're so fun, they don't seem like work. And yet, the fitness benefits are just as real.
So I hereby suggest we change that hoary old exercise mantra to "No fun, no gain." OK, it doesn't rhyme, but it sure makes exercise an easier sell. And now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go look into buying a DDR system.