15 Concrete Ways to Play


Picture yourself around 2:30 on a work day. The mid-afternoon lull settles in – the time when you reach for a cup of coffee, a distracting snack, Facebook updates, or the time you tend to get up and simply wander the halls as long as you think you can get away with it. Maybe you’re bored with what you’re doing. Maybe you’re feeling tired, frustrated, crabby, or just confined. You look out the window (if you’re fortunate enough to have one) and mentally wander into the land of 10,000 things you could be doing right now instead of work. Myriads of enjoyable and inspiring ideas lead you down tempting mental paths of play all in wondrous childhood proportion. Eventually, you come back to reality but vow to make your weeknight/weekend/coming vacation all about the visions you’ve just had. Problem is, when the time comes, it’s hard to recall the ideas let alone the enthusiasm.

Enter simple strategy… When the kids were little, we kept an idea jar – just some old container where we put slips of paper with good ideas – the ideas we knew we wanted to do with the kids but knew we would never remember in the usual haze of regular parenting days. How about we call this the beginnings of a Primal play receptacle? Be kind and add to it! (Hat tip to W.J. Purifoy for the inspiration for this post. Not knowing how to play is, unfortunately, a very common problem among us adult types!)

1. Create – and enjoy – a human agility course in your backyard.

Why should dogs have all the fun? “Collect” natural materials (e.g. boulders, logs) from gracious friends or neighbors (no late night yard robbing, please) as well as ropes, pulleys, tires, and whatever else suits your fancy.

2. Find mud.

There is no limit to what you can do with and in mud. The only rule is you must be dirty enough to make Mr. Clean cry.

3. Create music – your own – preferably with others.

Your guitar is sick of sitting in the case. The piano is dying a slow death of abandonment. Even your kids’ old recorders, harmonicas, and bongos are begging to be of use again. Round up the kids – even if they’re sullen teenagers at this point. Call the neighbors or your brother. March down the street with the little ones, or sign up for an open mic night. If you can’t play anything, sing or dance. Doesn’t matter. The idea is participation in something live and living.

4. Do a moonlight hike.

Why do we feel the need to flee indoors the minute the sun sets? Some of the best times I’ve spent outdoors have been at night. There’s something about night hikes (and night trail runs) that just leaves me energized. Call it the right blend of quiet and vigilance. A lot of local parks and outdoor clubs organize full moon hikes – especially in the summer. (Look for full moon snowshoeing come winter.)

5. Spend an entire afternoon in water.

Not an hour – an afternoon. Give your mind time to relax. Give your imagination time to reclaim its wild, Primal, kid depth and dimension. Swim, splash, float, explore, fish, chase, wade, paddle, revel. Be amphibious. I promise it’s fun.

6. Scout every park and preserve in your area for good tree climbing.

What are you favorite trees to climb? Can you answer this question? If not, consider it an invitation to get out more. Pick up an area map of nearby parks and preserves. Establish a weekly outing for just this purpose (with a Primal picnic afterward if you need extra incentive), and make the rounds.

7. Sign up for an art or craft class.

This could mean everything from pottery to carpentry. There’s just something therapeutic about absorbing yourself in an art or craft. One dear friend got through the first year after her husband’s death by learning to wood carve and chair weave.

8. Buy a bag of army men at the dollar store and place them in strategic spots throughout your work place (or roommate’s room).

Because why not.

9. Spend a day working with rocks and sand.

Make a labyrinth, a human-sized Zen garden or just funky rock configurations in your yard. Get a special delivery of from your favorite landscaping supply company, and go to town. Can you imagine a better Primal workout?

10. Go rock hunting.

I’m not suggesting pillaging fragile ecosystems. Follow laws and logic. Beyond that, consider it more cool stuff for your Zen garden!

11. Create your own Amazing Race style competition.

Do you have an adventurous group of friends and acquaintances? (If not, make a Meetup!) Whether you make it an urban challenge or a foray into the wilds of a larger park or preserve, you gotta love the head rush of a good competition.

12. Spend the day with a shelter pet.

Some shelters allow people to volunteer as dog walkers. See if they’ll let you relax the rules and take the dog for a whole afternoon. Go to the beach, the local trails, your cousin’s farm – wherever fun and adventure can be had. You’ll benefit from the good you’re doing, and at the end of the day it will be a toss up who showed whom the better time.

13. Revisit Primal WOW workouts.

Primal Skirmish” or “Brave the Weather” anyone? Think fractal, intense, messy, taxing, exhilarating, and sometimes a wee bit competitive.

14. Perform stupid human tricks, deranged relay races, or mad feats of strength.

I’m sure everyone here could come up with enough ideas to stock a book in and of itself. Hmm…maybe something to that. Think farcical sprints like pushing a wheeled office chair down the street back and forth as fast as you can. If you can get friends who are up for a race (with riders in said seats – helmets, please), it would be so much better. See how high in trees or over roofs you can throw old shoes. Hurl tires in the yard (be sure to grunt). You get the idea. Nothing like keeping the neighbors guessing…

15. Take your kids – or friend’s/family member’s kids – on a nature day or (if you’re brave) a camping trip.

See a trail or open field through young eyes again. Sticks will quickly become swords. Mossy logs will turn into fairy houses. Streams and ponds will be inevitable afternoon detours. Many things will be “gross,” but just about everything will be endlessly fascinating. Trust me – you’ll all sleep well when the day is done.

Favorites – and additions to the list? How are you getting out and playing in new ways since going Primal (or going deeper)? Thanks for reading, everyone. Have a great end to the week.

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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86 thoughts on “15 Concrete Ways to Play”

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  1. -Commit to keeping up with a 5 year old boy, doing everything he does/wants to do…for an hour.

    1. Best workout idea yet, literally mimick every movement. Spin, laugh, fall, and jump. Keep up and you will be destroyed! Maybe il start a new bootcamp business led by 5 year olds! Possible future Olympic event even?

    2. Hecks yes! I tried this a couple months back…good night. What exhausting fun. It makes me kind of sad now to see parents lounging while kids play. (Famous last words, I know…)

    3. Just before I learned about PB, I watched a family in the park. The kids would try a handstand, then mom and dad would try a handstand. Dad was pretty good! Then they’d collapse in a big laughing ball before starting all over again. I thought it was beautiful…and now I know why!

  2. I love MDA but I’m just not feeling the topics lately. Perhaps Mark could sit down at the keyboard and bang out some less professional but more shoot-from-the-hip Markisms 🙂

    1. I know what you mean about a few recent posts. Although after a while, it seems not repeating yourself would become difficult.

    2. I, for one, have become a boring adult and am struggling with play, so I am glad Mark has been consistently reminding me to make it a priority.

  3. I love this one “Sign up for an art or craft class.” over the winter i needed some art for my new apt- which was becoming stressful to look for- so my boyfriend and i just bought some canvasses and a bunch of paints and got to work 🙂 it took all the stress out of finding artwork, we had a blast, and the stuff we made is now some of my favorite.

  4. So true, our culture has forgotten how to play in a healthy and joyful way. To paraphrase Mike Dooley the motivational speaker, we are engineered to be the otters of the universe and we need to embrace that role.

  5. I think joining a co-ed sport of aome kind is a good way to play

    1. +1! I play both coed volleyball and softball, and on all women’s teams as well. Nothing like some organized sports to get you moving and to get you in a fun social circle as well. Plus, for my more competitive leagues, it’s extra motivation to stay healthy and strong so we don’t lose!

      1. Coed bball is pretty fun. It changes the strategy of the game. Plus it’s a great way to socialize… not everything is primarily about winning

  6. These are all great suggestions. My wife may hate me but making an agility course out of the back yard sounds grand. Ninja warrior here I come…well not that intense i guess.

    1. The other day I climbed a tree to access the underside of a bridge (which is graffiti-designated a ” /\/ / /\/ G /-\ chill spot” and tied up a 2 1/2 foot or so stuffed ninja turtle, to the backdrop of a silver marijuana leaf painting I did before.

  7. A moonlight hike…sign me up. I do sit in my back yard a lot and watch the Milky Way and dream.

    1. Moonlight bike rides are amazing! There are all sorts of animal noises all around, and your imagination goes wild. The bike also feels insanely fast.

  8. I swear, I have all these play priorities. I thought I would age out the “see a jungle gym and go hang upside down or do back-hip-circles and penny-drops” urges. I do cartwheels and round-offs regularly and fool around whenever possible. Message to my peers: seriously, when it comes to play, grow-DOWN…

  9. To expand on #15… I went with my neighbor’s young children on a nature walk and we collected small leaves and other fascinating stuff. Then each made their own “nature window” – I took clear contact paper, about 2′ long piece, had them put some of the small things they had collected on the lower half, then folded the top half of the contact paper over it to seal it. Punched a hole in the top, added a string hanger and they hung it up in their room. Especially nice to hang from a suction cup hanger attached to a window and look through it to the great outdoors. Even if you’re in the city, you will still see a bit of nature looking through the window and recall the fun you had collecting things. Note, we found fallen leaves, flower petals, etc that did not destroy the environment!

  10. My favorites are “find mud,” “create music,” and “scout for climbing trees.” But the shelter pet and army man ideas are great too (: I find concrete suggestions like this really helpful.

  11. I am fortunate to live right by the beautiful mountains of Northern Utah. Unfortunately, I don’t take advantage enough of the hiking.

  12. A bottle of vodka and a Twister mat? Not for the kids, of course!

  13. Music is already a way of life and very cathartic. As a child, I spent many happy hours climbing trees with my sister. You’ve given me the idea to make a Zen garden. Maybe a tabletop size at first.

  14. I’ll definitely have to take advantage of the moonlight activities since winter is fast approaching…I’m thinking some evening snowshoe hikes and evening cross country skiing! Pretty soon we’ll be getting dark early (in Alaska!) so I’ll have ample opportunities. Plus, it’s SO important for me to get out in the winter so I don’t get depressed (from lack of sunlight).

    I like these “play” posts. I’ve made a habit of doing little acts of play wherever I can, like balancing on raised curbs, doing cartwheels when I run to outfield in softball (it’s a team thing), or keeping up with my 8 year old cousin. Play is good for the soul.

  15. “Because why not” is the perfect answer for all of these!

  16. 2 words (1 word, actually): Geocaching.

    All you need is a GPS, otherwise it costs nothing. (You can buy all kinds of toys/gadgets/doodads if you want.) It’s sure motivated me to go do something, especially when I find myself in a place I’ve never been before.

    I’ve been absolutely surprised at the places it’s taken me.

    And it’s totally family-friendly!

    1. No GPS needed if you have a smartphone! C:Geo is free, or the official geocaching.com app is $9.95 and well worth it! Been a ‘cacher for years. It has taken me on the most exciting outdoor, off-the-beaten-path adventures you can imagine!!! And kids LOVE it!!! It’s a treasure hunt, too!

      1. Thanks for the tips, Tom and Lora. This will certainly spice up my next hiking destination.

        I also found that there are some nice pre-made hiking trips you can download from websites to your smartphone or GPS device. What’s best about this for me is that I can go on alternate routes as opposed to the few standard ones available only from sign-postings.

        Let the hiking begin!

    2. It’s a cool idea. But I found myself so frustrated in finding the actual caches. (Yes, I know, it’s supposed to be the fun part.) I enjoy the navigation to places. We like easy orienteering as a family. But find those needles in haystack, not so much.

    3. Thanks for this! Someone mentioned it to me once but I forgot all about it. Soon as I fight this cold off I’m going to find some caches! Lol

  17. Go to Instructables.com for great craft ideas!
    You will be so boggled by the choices of cool things to make!
    I was!

  18. Here’s a suggestion for music that I have used throughout my life: look for open musical groups you can join, such as church handbell choirs or singing choirs or other ensembles, something called “shape notes”, open old-time, blue-grass or Irish jam sessions in parks or pubs, dulcimer or fiddle circles, adult education music classes or orchestras. And barring all that, you could busk or just play in the park or out somewhere in nature by yourself.

  19. Slackline! I love setting mine up in a neighborhood park where I can talk with lots of people and invite them to try something new. It’s equal parts social and playful.

    1. this. set it up somewhere public and you will have people flock to you. people love the slackline

  20. I love just doing random movements. Hiking is fantastic fun for me. Every time I get a chance to jump or climb up on a boulder or jump from rock to rock trying not to touch the ground I get a great feeling of…well I am not really sure how to describe the feeling, in tune, in touch, able, an understanding of a simpler time, something like that I guess. Always in my vibrams too!

    Also, anytime I am hanging out around a park or beach, I can’t resist trying to do my best handstand ever, or my best cartwheel or one handed cartwheel. And I tell you what, once I start doing those things, everyone else joins in. Great fun!

    I have to climb more trees!!

  21. Answer to #6 In Texas – Oak, In Tropics – Ausubo! I looooove climbing trees!

  22. Hello fellow Grokers,
    Would somebody/anybody be willing to provide me with example Primal HIIT workouts? This is the only thing I don’t know how to do and incorporate into my weekly workouts. I want Primal HIIT workouts. Obviously, I can google HIIT workouts but I want to make sure they are “primal certified!” I have tried asking Mark and Vanessa to no avail. I will pay somebody if they can provide me with these type of workouts. Thank you! I hope to hear from someone. Keeping my fingers crossed.

    1. There is a great book out called Paleo Fitness by Jason Warner that shows you all kinds of primal exercises. He has a schedule of workouts you can go from that included Tabata (which is HIIT) workouts. I’ve been doing this for a couple weeks, always outdoors, and absolutely love it. Maybe this would fit into what you’re looking for.

  23. Mark
    Your blog is always an inspiration. I am a rice eater and it does pain me to not be able to eat rice and that too white rice ( southern part of india….our genes just crave rice ) but I suppose starting by decreasing quantities would not break my heart so much
    I was wondering if tabata sprints can be done with a jump rope session. And maybe some pushups could be thrown in in the 10 sec rest period.
    Thankyou for helping people in big and small ways

  24. Being a stay-at-home mom of two, I play everyday (whether I want to or not). My three year old likes to order me around. “Mommy slide!” “Mommy climb!” “Mommy swing!” It’s hard to tell her no when she cheers me on. “Good job, Mommy!” Ha, I think I play harder at the playground than she does some days!

  25. Climb a tree and hide army guys around the office!! Man, these made me smile! I forget how awesome climbing trees can be. You can put a whole workout together with simply a tree!! Great stuff Mark.

    P.S I saw a guy rockin one of your black and red primal man shirts in Yorktown, Virginia!! I wanted to run out and get a pic but I missed the opportunity.

  26. You forgot the best type of play…”FOREplay”! An afternoon of fun sexual activity between consenting adults is a very good way to release all sorts of feel good chemicals, burn calories, and relieve stress 🙂

    1. *grin* Unfortunately, this one requires an available partner and none of the natural results of all that activity. Hubby and I “play” *ahem* this way, but a whole afternoon was only possible Before Kids (BK).

  27. Nothing says “enthusiasm” like a terrier on a mouse-hunt. Even if your pampered pet has never hunted, find an old shed full of junk and start hunting. Lift, dig, chase, share the intensity and the triumph of a succesful catch. Return filthy and boasting of your prowess as a succesful hunting pack….

  28. When I take my 8 year old for a nature walk/ hike he is like a mountain goat hopping and climbing all over the place and doing what comes instinctively. I make a point of jumping every rock and climbing every branch or slope or following every meandering path he wants to follow. It’s a great work out, encourages him and strengthens our relationship by letting him know that his choices are important to me.

  29. Favorite trees to climb? Magnolias for sure. Nashville’s “Centennial park” has some great ones. I hear that security will run you off…if they catch you 😉

  30. Outdoor play has taken on new meaning! I recently ventured out for a playground workout that kicked my butt, literally!
    Had no idea it would be so fun and exhausting doing that and I was left wondering ‘how the heck do kids do this and not collapse in minutes!!’ 🙂
    keep the ideas coming! I’m a fan

  31. Another take on play: as someone with an interior decorating bent, I find it incredibly fun and relaxing to have a whole afternoon to rearrange all the furniture in a room. Not a bad workout, either.

  32. I’m combining two of my favorite things, knitting and hiking! Grab a goknits bag, favorite project, and get outside! Knitting does all kinds of interesting things to the brain and dexterity and the fresh air heightens the senses and creativity. Love this blog and the interesting comments!

  33. I love these ideas! But most of them would require being outdoors and ideal weather. I wish I had more ideas of indoor activities when the weather is not cooperating.

    1. Try hula hooping! (See link above for instructions on making an adult hoop.) It’s hard to do a lot of tricks in a small space without breaking stuff ( how do I know? don’t ask…) but you can definitely body hoop!

  34. I love #6 and #12. Great ideas! I am totally going to ask my local animal shelter if they would let me do this. I am thinking probably not though due to liability issue or something such as that :\

    1. Oh yeah, I really liked #8 the army man idea too! I envision an elaborate army man hunt with my 9 year old 😉

  35. Pick up a few hours of volunteer work. I work in a woodwork shop where kids can make what they want. I’m enjoying it a lot to see the kids being busy, helping them out. And after a while see them getting “it”.

  36. At recess, I try to play with the kids. Other teachers stand on the sidelines while I challenge the kids with lasting the longest on the balance beam, or a new way to get across the monkey bars. I play wall ball and soccer. I’m 59, but a kid at heart. Recess has a lot to offer, and although the other teachers think I’m strange, I’m fit. Swing! It’s really pretty exhausting. Hula hoop! Jump rope! Hang upside down from the bars! Chase on the castle and down the slide! Traverse the bars, your arms will thank you. (The first time I did this I thought my arms were going to pull right out of their sockets.) Be the trail leader at outdoor school! PLAY!

  37. Playing in mud??Someone might think you are out of your wits!But guess with these things you don’t need to worry about what people say.Thanks Mark,but that I’ll pass…Spending the afternoon in water sounds like a lot more fun

  38. I just got myself a unicycle. I tell you it’s a better workout than all that triathlon training I used to do! Half an hour of trying not to fall off (unsuccessfully) and I’m sweating buckets and can’t do any more.

    Even if I don’t end up mastering the skill, at £35 on eBay it’s the best money I’ve ever spent on workout equipment 🙂

  39. “Take an art or craft class” Is an MFA in applied craft and design sufficient? 😛 I actually really like this list. I should make myself do one of these (or something from my own list) every day.

  40. Reply to #1 (Create – and enjoy – a human agility course in your backyard.)

    I’ve been kicked out of some backyards for climbing trees. Others have been entertained by it, when I asked one guy if I could climb a tree in his back yard he said yes then gave me a beer after.

    Reply to #10 (Go rock hunting)

    I took a decorative rock from beside a building, carried it through a downtown core to a shelter I was staying at and left it in the backyard to workout with. I did olympic style lifts with it. On the way to the shelter a guy said, “Now that’s a rock! Don’t smoke it all at once!”

    Reply to #12
    While biking from a city to a town, about a marathon distance, I stopped to rest on the side of a ditch and have a drink of water. I looked up to see a dog crossing the road towards me. It snuzzled (muzzled/snuggled) up to me and then followed me when I continued on my way. I stopped shortly thereafter, fed it some sardines, tried to shoo it away, but it still wouldn’t leave, so I let it follow me. I stopped at someones house because they were outside with a dog and asked if he could give it some water. He did, and gave me some water bottles, and two beers. He was building a shed and his kids were climbing all over the base helping and he said the word “mark” repeatedly while directing them to place boards or something (I was already high and half drunk when I got there so I can’t remember exactly), I thought maybe he was subliminally telling me he’s primal and knew who I was through this site.
    I stopped again at some other people’s house. There was a dog loose in the yard but they weren’t home. Shortly after getting there they pulled in the driveway, asked me what I was doing, and I asked for a water dish for the dog, which they let us use. I was sitting beside the dog on their porch and a girl 13 years old or so asked to take our picture so I consented.
    Eventually his master spotted us while driving by and picked him up in a pickup truck. He asked me if there was any way he could help. I told him I’m homeless, asked for $5 so he gave me a $5.

  41. Buy a mountain bike on CraigsList for cheap. Get dirty fixing it up. Learn how to ride trails. Fall and bash around. Ride through mud and splash through creeks. Get dirty and wet. Pause in the forest, refreshed by the green. Take your own pace. You don’t have to be young.

  42. ” … one of the factors that affect … ” not “affects” as the subject of the verb, “factors”, is plural. Hope this is helpful.