There's a big difference between "I have to go to the gym" and "I want to go to the gym." First of all, we hear the former much more than the latter. It's a testament to the fact that, for many Americans, exercise feels like a necessary evil. With sprinting drills called suicides and a cardio machine nicknamed the "dreadmill," it's clear we aren't enjoying our sweat time.
But viewing exercise through this negative lens is keeping us from being as active as we should -- and maybe even want to -- be. Forty percent of women say they would exercise more if it felt more like play than a chore, according to a recent survey from the American Cancer Society (ACS).
The ACS surveyed more than 1,000 American adults online in March and found that women are also 10 percent less likely than men to make time for physical activities they actually enjoy. To encourage women to find the fun in fitness, the ACS's Choose You movement has launched the 100,000 Acts of Play Challenge for the month of May.
Choose You is sending street teams to New York, L.A. and Washington D.C. equipped with some classic toys, like Skip-It and hula hoops, to invite people to spontaneously play. Women are encouraged to log their acts of play online, with the goal of reaching 100,000 before the month ends.
"Most women don't do physical activity because it’s necessarily fun for them,” Alpa V. Patel, Ph.D., strategic director of an ongoing cancer prevention study at the ACS tells The Huffington Post. “They want to improve how they look or because it might make them feel better after, but we’re hoping this initiative will actually help find a way to make it fun.”
Perhaps a little fun will be just the right nudge. "We all need a little inspiration sometimes to incorporate physical activity into our lives, and one of the easiest ways is by doing something that feels less like working out and more like fun,” Colleen Doyle, R.D., director of nutrition and physical activity at the American Cancer Society said in a press release.
The ACS doesn’t expect to convince women that running on a treadmill is thrilling. Instead, “it’s really about finding that thing that makes you feel good, that in many ways is cathartic to you,” says Patel. “We know a lot about the physical benefits of exercising, but I think there’s something to doing something you enjoy.”
Women also aren't finding as much time for exercise as men, whether they find it fun or not, according to a recent study in the journal Preventive Medicine. Men are nearly twice as active as women, the study found, putting women at higher risk for health problems associated with a sedentary lifestyle like high cholesterol, excess belly fat and high blood pressure.
Patel can relate. “Being a woman who is trying to balance profession and personal life, it ends up being one more thing I have to add to the plate rather than being something that I do because it is truly enjoyable.” For her, it’s running. “I started out not ever thinking I would like to run,” she says. But, after slowly building up from a quarter of a mile, she now completes half-marathons and other races, she says. “That’s what clears my head.”
But you don't have to love half-marathons to reap the benefits of a little extra movement. “Intentional activity” should be at least 10 minutes, she says, but that can mean 10 minutes in the morning, 10 minutes during a lunch break in the afternoon and 10 minutes in the evening. "[It’s about] going out there, trying different things, finding out what you like, then doing what you like,” Patel says.
Not sure what you like? We've compiled a list of some of our favorite ways to get active that feel more like recess than hitting the gym. (The ACS suggests some other fun ways to play here.) Click through the slideshow below, then tell us what you think is the most fun way to work out in the comments.
Constantly on the go? "Stick it in your bag," says Patel. "It's something you can do anywhere you are." A solo jump-rope workout, like this <a href="http://www.fitnessmagazine.com/workout/arms/express/jump-rope-workouts/" target="_hplink">10-minute sculpting routine</a> from <em>Fitness</em> magazine, can burn over 100 calories, and tone the shoulders, chest arms and legs. Some gyms even offer <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jordan-turgeon/jump-rope-workout_b_1235545.html" target="_hplink">jump-rope fitness classes</a>. Or, if a less structured jump sounds more like your thing, grab some friends for some Double Dutch. <br><br> <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/adwriter/5826718940/" target="_hplink">adwriter</a></em>
While she's recently taken to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/12/michelle-obama-jumping-jacks-world-record_n_1143016.html" target="_hplink">jumping jacks</a>, First Lady Michelle Obama is a big proponent of hula hooping as a fun way to get active. In 2009, she <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/10/22/best-michelle-obama-photo_n_328933.html" target="_hplink">performed 142 "swivels"</a> before dropping her hoop at a healthy kids fair at the White House, the AP reported. But it's not just for kids! And now, with weighted hoops, hula hooping can produce even more dramatic results. It <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/19/weight-loss-success-jen-moore_n_1341791.html" target="_hplink">helped Jen Moore lose 140 pounds</a>. "It's something you can do in front of the TV," says Patel, "rain or shine!" <br><br> <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/stringberd/929274139/" target="_hplink">stringberd</a></em>
Play On The Playground
"You may be surprised how much you actually <a href="http://www.seventeen.com/health/tips/outdoor-workout-ideas" target="_hplink">work your arms and abs while on the swings</a>," National Academy of Sports Medicine instructor Rick Richey told Seventeen.com. You'll work leg muscles climbing the stairs up to the slide and arms and abs from swinging from the monkey bars, he added. <br><br> <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/colorblindpicaso/2540688582/" target="_hplink">colorblindPICASO</a></em>
There's a reason so many celebs have <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/25/dancing-with-the-stars-gladys-knight_n_1452199.html" target="_hplink">slimmed down during stints on reality TV show "Dancing With The Stars."</a> Dancing is a serious cardio workout -- but can feel more like a party. "Dance, in my opinion, is one of the best ways to get in shape, as you're working multiple muscle groups all at the same time that in turn keeps your body constantly challenged," fitness expert <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/09/dancing-with-the-stars-health-weight-loss_n_1411588.html" target="_hplink">Tracey Mallett told HuffPost in April</a>. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/12/first-zumba-class_n_1418895.html" target="_hplink">Try a class like Zumba</a>, or burn calories more surreptitiously with salsa lessons or a night on the town! <br><br> <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/audihertz/6022929764/" target="_hplink">John Bollwitt</a></em>
Ice skating, one of our <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/03/winter-workouts_n_1125504.html" target="_hplink">favorite winter workouts</a>, can burn up to 500 calories an hour. Inline skating can burn over <a href="http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20420506_2,00.html" target="_hplink">400 calories in just 30 minutes</a>, according to Health.com, thanks to the side-to-side movement in your lower body, plus the way your core engages to keep you balanced. You'll also seriously work the smaller <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/28/winter-fitness-outside-seasonal-sports_n_1171917.html#s577032&title=6_Ice_Skating" target="_hplink">lower-body muscles</a> that play key roles in keeping you upright. <br><br> <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/kcolwell/2433110916/" target="_hplink">kcolwell</a></em>
Who can forget this classic '80s fitness fad? The ankle hoop counted rotations as the user swung the attached ball around and around and around. <em>TIME</em> named the Skip-It one of the <a href="http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,2049243_2048660_2049212,00.html" target="_hplink">100 greatest toys of all time</a>. Not only is it a cardio workout similar to jump-roping, you'll also engage the core and lower-body muscles used for balance. <br><br> <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/zingersb/161779921/" target="_hplink">zingersb</a></em>
Think outside the sidewalk-chalk box! You can mix up traditional hopscotch jumps by moving side to side as if hitting each corner of a square, as shown in <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nFJpIjYfydw" target="_hplink">this Exercise.com video</a> or by focusing on <a href="http://fitbie.msn.com/exercise/hopscotch-men" target="_hplink">balancing on one foot</a>, according to FitBie. Think of hopscotch as essentially a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/23/plyometrics-workout_n_1399766.html" target="_hplink">plyometrics workout</a>, which has been shown to <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12627298?ordinalpos=1&itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsPanel.Pubmed_RVDocSum" target="_hplink">improve running performance</a>. You can even hop <a href="http://mizfitonline.com/2010/12/15/five-reasons-you-need-to-hopscotch/" target="_hplink">indoors with masking tape</a>, suggests popular fitness blogger MizFit. <br><br> <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/bkoger/4791448741/" target="_hplink">Brandon Koger</a></em>
While it will undoubtedly take some practice to work up to 10 minutes of jumping on a pogo stick at a time, it can be a fun cardio workout, burning <a href="http://www.thatsfit.com/2009/12/02/pogosticking-for-weightloss/ " target="_hplink">20 to 40 calories in those 10 minutes</a>. Pogo stick company Vurtego claims celebrity fans such as <a href="http://thearcmagazine.com/play/0908/" target="_hplink">Matthew McConaughey and Allison Hannigan</a>. Just make sure to practice on a flat, open area and consider wearing some protective gear in case there are tumbles! <br><br> <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/seandreilinger/4819534221/" target="_hplink">sean dreilinger</a></em>
The <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OaMY8XakxQ8" target="_hplink">"anti-gravity" shoes</a> popular in the '80s just may be the precursor to today's <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/12/kangoo-jumps-mario-godiva-green_n_924580.html" target="_hplink">Kangoo Jumps</a>, running boots of a sort with springs on the soles, used in classes at various gyms and by solo adventurous fitness fans. But that bounce isn't only playful, it's also an easier workout on your joints than running or jumping. Kangoo Jumps <a href="http://abclocal.go.com/wpvi/story?section=news/health&id=7497802" target="_hplink">absorb up to 80 percent of the shock</a>, Beth Kruper, a Kangoo Jumps rep, told ABC. And they may up the calorie burn, too. "When you run in them you're using more muscles than you would in sneakers," Kruper said. "So if you usually burn 100 calories in a mile, you'll burn 130 to 140." <br><br> <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/mamarazzi/6865835105/" target="_hplink">magnificent momma</a></em>
Paintball Or Laser Tag
Take group fitness to a competitive level with an outing to a nearby paintball or laser tag arena. While it's tough to estimate <a href="http://www.sparkpeople.com/myspark/messageboard.asp?imboard=6&imparent=27177758" target="_hplink">the number of calories you'll burn</a>, it'll definitely have you running, jumping, squatting and crawling, all in the name of the game, with some <a href="http://www.cleveland.com/healthfit/index.ssf/2009/07/paintball_a_workout_and_it_als.html" target="_hplink">bursts of anaerobic sprinting</a> to boot. <br><br> <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/sombraala/2234093021/" target="_hplink">Greg Boege</a></em>
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