The answer is absolutely!
Zumba Fitness has capitalized on play as a workout by marketing their classes as "Exercise in Disguise." Recreational sports and games are workouts masquerading as play. And personally, I find activities like dance, walking my dog, and beach combing to be playful workouts.
In my fitness classes I like to incorporate play using games and imagination. Recently, I had my aqua class play a game of tag in the pool to the theme music from JAWS. One class member volunteers to be the shark who then chases everyone else around the pool. Once tagged, fifteen wall push-ups and wall climbs have to be completed to get back into the game. I was tickled pink at how much fun my class had with this simple, but playful game. The shark volunteers really got into their part, sinking down to their shoulders and undulating through the water like a great white. Class members would shriek with glee as the shark honed in on them and everyone wound up laughing by the end of the JAWS theme. The shark got the biggest workout of all.
Dr. Stuart Brown, M.D. states that play is a biological necessity for humans in his book Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination and Invigorates the Soul. Workouts can incorporate play and/or be playful and still be effective. Oftentimes play can make the exercise time seem to pass quickly while increasing engagement and satisfaction. Play in exercise can also be used for social interaction and building community within your class. Studies have shown that play improves learning in children, adults and even animals. Many people love to play but have to make themselves exercise.
And yet, surprisingly, a few folks resist play during exercise because it doesn't seem serious enough. I wonder if they grew up hearing that play isn't productive and that success can only be accomplished through hard work. It's a belief that harkens to a Puritan work ethic of putting one's nose to the grindstone and working fingers to the bone. Perhaps they should be reminded of the old saying, "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy."
One last thing to remember is that not all workouts must be intense. Integrating a variety of workouts and play-ins keeps motivation high, allows your mind and body a break while remaining active, and keeps life interesting. And as Dr. Brown writes, "Play invigorates the soul and opens the imagination." Both important for overall wellness and quality of life.
Now go out there and play!
Lover of dance, dance-fitness and aquatic fitness.