Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
25 Jul

Why You Absolutely Must Play, Every Day! (plus 10 Pointers for Successful Playtime)

I’m grateful to have our friend Darryl Edwards, fitness explorer and creator of the PRIMALity movement system, pen today’s guest post. Meet Darryl in-person and get expert instruction on how to make activity truly fun at PrimalCon Vacation Tulum Mexico 2014.

Darryl Edwards“We do not stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing

– George Bernard Shaw

When was the last time you played? I mean really played. You might regard organised sport as playtime or going to a party and getting drunk as play, but what I am actually talking about is play that is activity based on unadulterated and joyful movement. When children are asked what they think is important in life, play is often at the top of the list. Of course, most of us reading this article are no longer children, so how is this relevant to us as adults?

Play is not difficult to justify. Playful movement promotes practical strength, balance, agility, coordination, speed, skill and mental focus. Play unlocks the mind, it samples endless possibilities, it seeks and finds new levels of creative opportunities. Play is key to physical, mental, and social well-being, but it is often underrated and viewed as superfluous. Play is endemic to human development – a biological necessity based on our survival. As Stuart Brown the founder of the American National Institute for Play states “When we stop playing, we start dying…” Play is life!

Punishment, Not Enjoyment!

Yet when it comes to exercise and activity adults still tend to opt for a workout rather than a play-out. I often get posed the question by my clients. “Why should we play, Darryl? I have better things to do with my time!” As is the case in most instances, the question is easily asked, but the answer is somewhat elusive. I usually respond by introducing them to a playful activity that challenges their perception of fitness. For example, doing an arm wrestle against a partner whilst standing on one leg (get a play partner and try it to see what I mean!)

One observation is that the fitness industry has a preference for sweat, pain, and suffering. With exercise we mistakenly believe we need to undergo significant sacrifice in order to get fit. We should be punished for even thinking about being sedentary. Despite lip service to the contrary, “No pain, no gain!” remains the industry mantra.

The path on this painful journey may be endurance based such as long-distance running or multi-discipline endurance (swim, bike, run) or ultra endurance races – because 26 miles isn’t enough? There is also the let’s-get-cross-and-fit-and-work-as-hard-and-as-fast-as-possible-camp, whose workouts of choice produce an inevitable collapse into a heap, and puking is the ultimate evidence of their commitment to hard work.

There is the pursuit and sacrifice of sculpting a body as if hewn out of clay by pumping iron and isolating certain body parts to build muscle, working to failure rather than success – without a hint of irony! There are also the movement disciplines, which focus on technique, skill and form above all else, reserved for the elite few who have the effort, money and patience to achieve the movement of genius. Another category becoming increasingly popular are long distance challenge-type runs with mud or military style obstacles. Are you man or woman enough to attempt – and suffer through – these challenges?

Of course don’t get me wrong there is a time and a place for hard work, and I’ve done my fair share of it. What I am suggesting is that we should find time for serious play too.

But Darryl, Isn’t Play Just For Kids?

Triple Jump

Well play can be confusing for us adults; it is either seen as frivolous, deemed as foolish, or blanketed as childish activity related to relieving boredom with no well-defined goals. Adults often judge play as an unnecessary task even for their children. Instead, they encourage their children to pursue more organized activities based on education or those leaning towards “sporting” talent. Due to our warped attitudes on the subject, time for spontaneous play is more and more difficult to come by. It’s ironic that we now pay other people to teach our kids how to play!

Consider these comments by David Elkind in the American Journal of Play:

School administrators and teachers – often backed by goal-orientated politicians and parents – broadcast the not-so-suitable message that these days play seems superfluous, that at bottom play is for slackers, that if kids must play, they should at least learn something while they are doing it.

Elkind (2008) “The Power of Play: Learning what comes naturally”, American Journal of Play1

There are two aspects of play that are particularly relevant to us as adults: progressive play and imaginative play.

Progressive play serves the purpose of advancement – advancing from young to old through the function of play: Imagine a kitten practicing how to pounce, which is a precursor to catching prey. Or, a child learning how to climb a tree, developing tactics to manage risk as well as the ability to climb.

Imaginative play utilises techniques such as visualisation and focus to make you “work” harder. This is one reason athletes often use visualisation when training to improve their athletic performance. Research demonstrates that visualisation brings about quantifiable improvements as well as psychological changes.2 Studies also suggest that using mental imagery for movement can create similar electrical activity in the muscle as that seen during actual movement.3

Setting an Example for Our Kids

One thing we understand as parents is that our kids are influenced by what we do or do not do as adults. If we demonstrate movement as being punitive, then our children will see movement and activity as punishing and something to fear. If we are playful and excited about activity, it gives our children an opportunity to enjoy movement too. Play is an essential activity regardless of age. As adults, it is absolutely critical to learn how to play again!

So What Can We Do?

Group Bunny Hop

Playful movement does not need to be complicated. Lay it out in terms of basic movement patterns. Moves that are functional and possible to adapt for all – with challenges that can be scaled to each individual. You can piggy-back carry, focus on animal crawls and movements, or play games such as tag. In fact – even better – create your own games! What is the main beauty of this? The process of creating your own ad hoc set of play is more rewarding then following a set prescription of moves.

10 Pointers for Play

  1. We should seek to reclaim the enjoyment of movement that we experienced as children
  2. Make it BIG (broad, inclusive and general)
  3. Make sure play includes the active participation of others
  4. Make it fun with a small element of risk (imaginary or otherwise)
  5. Make play unpredictable and prepare for the unexpected
  6. Abide by the rules, change the rules, break the rules, have no rules
  7. Use the natural environment as your playground
  8. Use each other as “exercise” equipment
  9. Get children (and adults) to create the scenarios
  10. Minimise structure, time intervals and penalties – encourage real-world movement, imagination and rewards

1“The Power of Play: Learning what comes naturally”, Elkind, American Journal of Play, 2008
2“Advances in Sport Psychology”, Champaign IL, Human Kinetics, 2002
3“Motor Control and Learning”, Champaign IL, Human Kinetics, 1999

Darryl EdwardsDarryl Edwards

Darryl Edwards is the author of “Paleo Fitness”, and founder of Fitness Explorer Training & Nutrition based in London, England. He is the creator of the PRIMALity movement system, and world-renowned as an expert teacher, lecturer and practitioner of the Paleo lifestyle. He will be hosting “Primal Playout” playshops during August in the US and is a resident coach at PrimalCon events. You can learn more about Darryl’s work at The Fitness Explorer.

Catch Darryl at PrimalCon Vacation Tulum Mexico next March. And check out this testimonial video from PrimalCon Austin 2013 attendees.

Join Mark Sisson and Friends at PrimalCon Vacation Tulum Mexico in 2014!

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. Awesome! Fantastic article highlighting a simple truth. Every parent in the world should read this blog.

    We don’t get much of a summer in Northern Ireland but this year we’ve been enjoying a heatwave and I’ve been making the most of it. Having recently discovered Primal and more importantly Marks Daily Apple, I’ve been running in the grass barefoot with my daughters, enjoying picnics, playing catch, and basically having an absolute blast. It’s been the best few months of my life and I’ve never felt in better shape and I look younger and fitter than ever.

    I started this year with the resolution that I was going to “turn back the clock” and get fitter and healthier. With the big 40 looming in a year or two I wanted to experiment with my physique/attitude/health, and disprove the theory that you get weaker and more frail as each day passes. It’s been a great journey so far and has involved kettlebell training, Primal Moves (introduced to me by my trainer), discovering a dvd called “Food Matters” which has opened my eyes to the myths that control most of our lives in the western world, and much more. But it has to be said that Marks Daily Apple has sent this journey into overdrive and blogs like this make every day an absolute joy to be alive.

    Keep up the great work guys. You are providing a priceless service to people all over the world! :-)

    Ross Alexander wrote on July 26th, 2013
  2. Play is essential for cognitive development. I suggest reading the work of Lev Vygotsky, Peter Gray and Jay Feldman.

    Brian wrote on July 26th, 2013
  3. Thank you for this great article. You nailed it. So often we are told we need to be miserable to get the benefits of exercise. Having a 10 year old is the best reminder to play. Love to grab her hola hoops or jump rope and try to keep up with her. We bought a tetherball this year and found the adults have just as much fun as the kids. A competitive game works the core more than I realized by using jumping and reaching motions. Bike rides, swimming, ice skating and sledding are all more fun when you experience with kids. Movement through play seems to put a smile on my face and brings back those child like feelings.

    Pamela wrote on July 26th, 2013
    • Thanks for the feedback and even better for talking about movement through play…

      Darryl Edwards wrote on July 29th, 2013
  4. Fly Fishing! Yesterday I was balancing on slippery rocks in a hot spring on the Salmon River while catching trout in the cold water just beyond! …and to think I almost took the Interstate.

    Danielle Thalman wrote on July 26th, 2013
  5. Love this post. Thanks Darryl, thanks Mark.

    I live in New York, so close to Central Park – and yet I need reminders now and then (like this one) to go there for play. Can’t wait for my daughter to get home from camp so she and I can do just that. There are huge rocks there, embedded everywhere into the landscape. Not so steep, but enough to challenge one’s balance a bit to get to the top. So many other things there too, like playgrounds galore, all with one sort of bars or another for climbing.

    I’ve read your book, Darryl. Really well done! Hope to see you in London at some point. It’s my favorite city. And who knows – maybe Mexico!

    Thanks for doing this great post!!


    Susan Alexander wrote on July 26th, 2013
    • Thanks Susan! I’ll be hosting a playshop in New York in September too. Hope to see you there and thanks for the feedback on the book!

      Darryl Edwards wrote on July 29th, 2013
  6. Woo Hoo

    I love following the advice on MDA. Where I live (UK) we have a Mirror Pool and fountains/water jets, on sunny days I often take my 4 year old son to play there. Today I rolled up my trouser legs and joined him!!

    Within seconds I was soaked to the skin – we didn’t stop splashing, running giggling or having fun for nearly two hours


    Dianne wrote on July 26th, 2013
    • You’re welcome Dianne. It’s fortunate we’ve had a lot of sunny days of late in the UK. A reminder of the summer’s I had as a child :-)

      Darryl Edwards wrote on July 29th, 2013
  7. Use each other as “exercise” equipment

    great point- that was missing from my exercise regime

    Asif wrote on July 28th, 2013
  8. I often watch my 2 year old play in the garden and he just runs from one thing to another, climbs up, squats down, rolls on the floor, gets back up again, laughs and carries on. It’s such a shame that we lose that sense of enjoyment that we had as children from just moving.

    Anyway, I decided to see if I could join in with his play and without really talking about it we ended up just doing a kind of funny circuit together, which involved running past the sprinkler and running our hand in the water without getting drenched, jumping in and out of the sand pit and pausing each time to eat one grape from a bowl that had been left out earlier. On my own, this would have felt ridiculous, but with a 2 year old it was hilarious. Simple pleasures.

    David wrote on July 28th, 2013
    • There is wisdom in the crowds, especially when it involves children. Simple pleasures, kids never think of having to “exercise”. They just enjoy moving…

      Darryl Edwards wrote on July 29th, 2013
  9. Thanks for the article. We try to convey the same message: forget the gerbil machines and punitive attitude and rediscover Play. Train Hard, Eat Smart and Play Often.

    James Engum wrote on July 30th, 2013
    • Thanks James, I’d reverse that order though 😉

      Darryl Edwards wrote on July 31st, 2013
  10. I believe play (not rest) is the perfect balance to work! Play almost always involves laughter! Play is fun, happy, interesting, free & uniquely satisfying! I find it interesting that millions love to watch others play football, guitar, soccer, tennis, etc., even poker. Hopefully, watching others play will inspire ourselves to play more, as well! I love to play “My Little Pony” scenarios with my daughter. Personally, my idea of play translates into socializing — and I’m now inspired to add more physcial elements to that. Play on!

    Cara Craig wrote on July 31st, 2013
  11. Thanks Darryl for a wonderful post. Play clears the mind , cheers it up and rejuvenates the body. Tree climbing and fishing are my favorite plays . I really like it on the weekends.

    Robert Hansen wrote on August 9th, 2013
  12. Love anything and everything about Play! great article Darryl.

    Simone Johnson wrote on July 31st, 2016
  13. Really great to revisit this article. Cool content and totally relevant to my life, thank you!

    Simone Johnson wrote on July 31st, 2016

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