The Fit Student – Fun Games out of Fitness

When you dream of exercise, do you imagine jumping jacks? Dull. Or do you dream of racing BMX bikes, playing underwater hockey, or dancing Bollywood? Ah, now you’re thinking like an athlete. In other words, make fitness fun.

With the support of a super fit friend, after years of flab, I got toned. I carried to the gym Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Complete Encyclopedia to Bodybuilding. I strained myself more lifting the book than I did lifting the weights. After a month, Arnold’s book cover disappeared?as so did his first few hundred pages.

Thereafter, I’d often come to the gym with a puffy pizza belly. So, I asked the staff how to keep my pepperoni at bay. They whispered, “Do fun cardio”?not the life-sucking treadmill. So, I danced, cycled, and boxed. Soon, my belly gave way to a set of six pack abs.

I then saw repeated jokes in the school gossip column about a “gym mom.” Surely, that wasn’t me, was it?

During the same timeframe, as a TA, I ranted about the benefits of exercise: First, university gym memberships cost zilch. Second, exercise speeds up learning, lowers stress. Third, exercise makes you look and feel great. One student piped up, “I actually learned something today.” Another student who dropped my class, also dropped the weight?in the gym.

Yet another student said she tried, but didn’t like exercise. I got her to dabble with dancing, cycling?all the fun stuff. She didn’t like any. She finally opted for musical theater—a workout for geeks.

So, do exercise you find fun. The greatest time of my life? Sparring martial arts in Banff while burping up Phil’s pancakes. The second greatest? Getting kicked in the head by Brutus after overpowering him with punches.

In recent times, I restarted weight training after a multiyear lull. Now, food tastes tantalizing. Safeway meatloaf tastes like blackened rib-eye. McDonald’s eggs taste like Safeway meatloaf. Best of all, the bumble bees that splat against your teeth as you cycle taste like Montreal Gumbo. You know, the kind Jean Chretien used to make.

And afternoon naps feel like fifteen-minute flicks. My dash across the street no longer looks like a post-op tap dance. Best of all, I stopped getting senior discounts at the drug store and cinema. In short, life is fun again.

Eric Barker in his book Barking Up the Wrong Tree gives advice to not just make the dull stuff fun, but to make it a game:

– People washed their hands more when a disinfectant dispenser gave off a fun noise each time it was pressed. Make dull tasks fun.
– Add challenges to make your tasks fun. We love challenges more than ease. Honestly.
– Make a game of your goal. Failing at the game can ignite fun, too. Honestly.
– As long as your challenge doesn’t overwhelm you, you’ll crave the game.
– Even small wins can keep you motivated: “Celebrating those ’small wins’ is something that gritty survivors all have in common” (p. 92).
– Make a game out of whatever you want to become better at doing. Make a game out of creating better presentations, exceeding past exam performances, finishing work tasks, etcetera.
– To make dull (school)work a game, just change your mindset. Make small chunks of challenges that you aim to master. Reward yourself at each milestone.
– “When school classes and grading are structured like a game, student perform better … studied harder, were more engaged, and even cheated less” (p. 85).

I saw more of my students in the gym than I ever did in my class. Did it make me feel bad? No. Nothing makes me feel bad now. I’m adrift in weights, Safeway meatloaf, and afternoon kips.