MASTER CLASS: Play like you did when you were a kid

Angela Duran and her boys Noah, 7, and Matthew, 9, play the Water Balloon Race. The boys race to a basket of water balloons and carry them one by one to another basket near Duran, who counts how many each child delivers. When Matthew wins with six, he takes one free shot at Noah. He misses. And then it's a free-for-all, all over the yard. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Celia Storey)

If you look at a graph showing population physical activity chronologically (in the U.S.), you'll see very high levels in childhood followed by a slow decline in high school that continues throughout life. Americans become less and less active with age.

There are many logical reasons for this (work, family, illness, etc.), but I still scratch my head wondering why we, as a society, haven't yet figured out how to change this trend. I do believe we can turn this around.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is the foremost authority on U.S. physical activity statistics. The CDC provides a mountain of data that fitness/wellness professionals use to guide our strategies, to understand our clients. The statistics on the age-related decline in physical activity might not be as jarring as some of the other statistics (the "years of life lost due to obesity" data come to mind), but they feel more correctable to me.

The thing is — physical activity during childhood is fun. Kids like to be active. They enjoy using their bodies to burn energy, be social and improve their overall mood. Physical activity is used, to some degree, as a medication that can be self-administered. When children are bored or sad, getting them active almost always cheers them up.

For the life of me, I can't figure out when and why the innocence and fun are stripped out of physical activity.

By the time people graduate from high school, physical activity has transformed from a delightful playtime to something deadly serious, almost an obligation. For many, it feels like a burden that must be done to maintain a certain weight or to reduce the risk of disease.

Lord knows we have enough obligations in our life, why can't we focus on the enjoyable aspects of physical activity versus the "if you don't, you'll regret it" campaign?

To me, it's about re-framing what physical activity means to you.

During March and April, I was as inactive as I have been at any point in my adult life. I became stiff, I lost energy, and I just felt sort of "blah." Even though I engaged in some home-based exercise, I didn't get anywhere near the expenditure that I am accustomed to.

About two weeks ago, the gyms opened up (with restrictions) and I started to become active again. After the very first workout, I realized why I love exercise. My entire body felt energized, strong, and my mind was clear. It was awesome!

And that's when I realized that, for me, exercise is not an obligation. It is a gift of energy, happiness and enthusiasm.

This week's activity not only provides the gift of exercise, but it is also a great way to interact with the family.

1. Fill up 12 water balloons and ask a family member to participate in this fun race.

2. Place the 12 balloons in one bucket, and grab one extra bucket.

3. Place the bucket with the balloons about 25 feet away, either in the yard or on the driveway. Place the other bucket beside you at the "starting line."

4. On the word "go," the two participants race to the balloon bucket and grab a balloon, then they race back and place it gently in the empty bucket without breaking it. This continues until one person completes six successful balloon transfers without breaking them. If you break one, you must go back to the balloon bucket and get another one.

5. The person who transfers six balloons is the winner. As a prize, the winner can toss one balloon at the other participant while that person has to stand still. After that, it is a free-for-all balloon fight!

The Water Balloon Race is about transforming exercise from an obligation into fun. It's about rediscovering what one loves about being active, spending time with family and enjoying the outdoors with a few laughs. Try this one with your family. I guarantee it will make you smile!

Matt Parrott has a doctorate in education (sport studies) and a master's in kinesiology and is certified by the American College of Sports Medicine.

Style on 06/08/2020