The importance of fun

William Richmond lost 100 pounds in 6 months with a healthy diet and fencing at the Southern Oregon Fencing Center in Ashland.Photo by Jamie Lusch

Wouldn’t it be nice if fitness were fun? It can be. In fact, it should be.
No matter what form of exercise you choose, you are more likely to stick with it if it’s fun.

There may be some workouts where you have to grind it out with repetitive (and boring) routines, but if you look around, you’ll find the fitness world abounds with activities that feel like kickball on the first day of summer vacation.

Cell phones and PDAs can do more than ensure we stay in touch and keep appointments. A new study conducted at Stanford University School of Medicine shows that middle-aged and older people who received daily reminders from PDAs to exercise put in more than twice as much moderate to vigorous exercise than those without the devices. The study was published in February in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Take Ecstatic Dance. Maybe you think of dance as something ordered, something that can make you breathe hard if you’re rockin’ out, but ecstatic dance is more than just aerobic — it is fun. They don’t call it ecstatic for nothing.

Happening in Ashland every Sunday morning, this two-hour free-for-all does not fall under the heading of workout, drill, exercise or any label that makes you think of discipline.

Diane Horbacewicz, who has been leading ecstatic dance classes for almost five years, calls it “a safe and sacred space to do what you need to do.”

Some people, she says, call it their church.

Ecstatic dance classes start and end with airy, devotional music playing in the background of a dimly lit space. In between, dancers move to an infectious riot of reggae, rock and rhythm in free-form dance, alone or with others, that few can (or want to) resist.

“It’s more about movement than dancing and it covers all three approaches to fitness — muscles, stretching and especially aerobic,” says Horbacewicz, a former personal trainer and professional ballet dancer.

How do you ecstatic dance? Your body knows how and just does it. There is no “wrong” way to dance because “the body naturally wants to move. It’s built to move,” she says.

When you’ve had enough of the dance floor, you can dance up the walls — safely roped, helmeted and harnessed — at the Southern Oregon University climbing wall. You’ll get a terrific upper body, core and leg workout — and have a blast.

“It’s challenging and rewarding, physically and mentally — and fun socially,” says Outdoor Program coordinator Erik Sol. And it’s open to students and the public, with staff on hand to show you the ropes, literally. It’s $5 a day or $35 a term (Call 552-6470 for details).

An avid snowboarder, biker and river rafter (all of these, by the way, are great, fun workouts), Sol says fun is the great motivator, but you do have to bear up under some repetitious exercise drills if you want to develop the endurance and core strength you need for the funnest of the fun stuff.

“It’s harder to get those endorphins and adrenalin released with monotonous exercise,” says Sol, “but they give you the fitness for the fun, exhilarating stuff.”

What is “a boring workout?”

“Lifting weights, having to do reps,” says personal trainer Carol Lee Rogers of Ashland.

“But it’s necessary if you want to achieve what you want to achieve and keep your knees from being hurt. I just put my head down and do it and then go play outside,” says Rogers. “The fun for me is riding my bike with friends, feeling the air against my face, feeling very alive. It’s freedom. I go walking in the hills and get my blood moving. I get a chance to think and to see the animals, birds, sky. That’s fun.”

Those who’ve taken up the noble sport of fencing love it for its intense aerobic and stretching workout, its challenge to the mental faculties, and also for its riotous fun, because after all, you’re unleashing your hostilities and some part of your subconscious mind actually believes it’s for real.

“The essence of fencing is many brief periods, 10 to 30 seconds, of fast activity. Then you get ready for the next attack, then a couple minutes between bouts,” says Ron Kilby, a teacher at Southern Oregon Fencing Center in Ashland. “It’s ideal for people without a lot of training in endurance. And it’s ideal for the older person.”

As for the fun of fencing, Kilby wryly observes, “Everyone is fascinated by swordplay. People watching it say they always wanted to try it. They feel safe handling a weapon and the sport allows people of any age or gender to mix freely. And you’re learning all the time, so it engages the mind.”

Perhaps most accessible and familiar to the fun-seeking athlete are court games — racquetball, tennis, volleyball, basketball.
“They’re always fun and you don’t realize you’re working out,” says SOU Assistant Athletic Director Matt Sayre.

Adds tennis pro Ari Zaslow of Ashland Tennis and Fitness Club, “Tennis absolutely is the great cardio workout, with short sprints, game-playing and mental strategy. The fun is huge. It’s almost chess-like — and you’re getting an exciting workout without realizing it.”

Another fun workout, one any little kid can tell you about, is bicycling.
“It doesn’t get any more fun than being a kid riding a bike,” says Dan Wooton, vice president of Siskiyou Velo bicycle club. “The freedom of it, the wind in your face, rolling along the countryside, having fun ... the camaraderie on a group ride, it’s great. Everyone is doing something they enjoy at the same time. I always feel so much better when I get back.”

And fitness? “Fitness is the biggest reason I started biking,” says Wooton, “but the enjoyment is a big plus, and you’re getting fit at the same time.”

At the Y, fun is found in tag-team races, yoga, Pilates, volleyball and soccer, says Ashland YMCA fitness director Freeborn Mondello, who notes, “fitness should be fun.”

The connection between fun and fitness is huge, agrees SOU health teacher Laura Jones.

“If you’re not having fun, you won’t do it. We don’t do stuff we don’t have to do unless it’s fun. Not for long, anyway. As a physical education teacher, one of my biggest challenges is to help kids have fun — and to develop skills so they have fun.

“If they can learn that, they’ll have it all their lives and into old age.” 