In conventional fitness circles, we're encouraged to do work-outs with lots of physical labor. We sweat and grind out the reps, trying to overload our bodies, build muscle and burn fat. We're serious, disciplined and determined to transform our tissue and our lives. In this equation, play is considered a frivolous waste of time, an irrelevant sideshow for kids and puppies. But this formula misses an enormous vista of potential and possibility. Play, as it turns out, can take us to a higher level of physical health, vitality and social functioning.

This potential becomes obvious in a excellent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education. Jessica Pierce and Marc Bekoff, a professor emeritus of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado at Boulder reveal how play develops a sense of fairness and social cohesion in non-human animals. Finely detailed studies of animal play, especially in dogs, coyotes and wolves, demonstrate that these animals actively negotiate roles and behaviors during play bouts.

So, far from being frivolous, play is beginning to look like an essential activity for social functioning. And conversely, play-deprivation is beginning to look like a serious threat to health at all levels.

As fitness enthusiasts, we could build upon this knowledge by bringing more intentional play into our movement education programs. Yes, sweat and effort are still essential, but these elements are far from sufficient. If we bring more play into fitness, we expand the potential enormously. We go beyond the body and make our practice more holistic. This builds a virtuous circle: by using play to develop social cohesion, we also promote individual health which feeds back into healthier tribes and communities.

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