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Jennifer Heil
Jennifer Heil

Being active doesn’t have to be hard work: Try having fun instead Add to ...

Health Advisor is a regular column where contributors share their knowledge in fields ranging from fitness to psychology, pediatrics to aging. Follow us @Globe_Health.

Being healthy doesn’t always have to be hard work. Creating moments of play in our day can positively affect our health and increase our creativity.

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I learned this recently after someone I knew for no more than five minutes said, “You have a serious look, somewhere along the way you must have thought being serious was what you needed to succeed.” I was a bit stunned and disappointed because I knew he was right. It made me reflect.

The pressure of competitive mogul skiing, the fear of serious injury and having one opportunity to be perfect, less than 30 seconds to realize my Olympic dreams was mentally draining over the final years of my career. But looking back, when I pushed that aside, my best performances were always when I felt joy. When my mind was free I would perform beyond my ability. It was in those performances that I had a real smile on my face and feelings of childlike wonder.

As a new mom, I spend most of my days watching my son discover the world. I was at first puzzled to witness that his emotional baseline is simply happiness. It made me realize that happiness is a state of being. So why would I have to give pause to make it happen? It seems that somewhere along the way I let the tasks and pressures of life creep in.

So in an attempt to make it right again, I bought a skateboard.

I certainly questioned if I was going through a pre-midlife crisis. But just the thought of skateboarding made me giggle. Going to the grocery store has never been more fun than on my skateboard (although getting home with the grocery bags is a different story.)

Having fun in a day doesn’t need to be a planned activity.

Being playful can happen any moment of the day and if you need to appeal to your serious side to give yourself permission then read the science.

Daniel H. Pink in his book A Whole New Mind, gives a compelling argument as to why play matters for learning and creating. He writes, “when you are playful, you are activating the right side of your brain. The logical brain is a limited brain. The right side is unlimited. You can be anything you want.”

Other scientific studies show the benefits of play on health. Measuring health is complex but there does appear to be a relationship between health and happiness. Although, being playful and happy can’t cure illness, it is shown to improve long-term health and well-being.

Moving forward, I’m making time for play to ensure happiness is my baseline, again.

As for skateboarding I figure I have a few options: significantly improve before my son is old enough to realize his mom is skateboarding, give it up before that day, or just not care and laugh harder.

I’m choosing the third option.

Jennifer Heil is a humanitarian and an Olympic gold and silver medalist in the sport of freestyle mogul skiing. She is the co-founder of B2ten and has raised over a million dollars for the Because I am a Girl initiative. One of her passions is inspiring fellow Canadians to get active and live healthy and confident lives. You can follow her on Twitter @jennheil.

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