When Was The Last Time You Played?

Raise your hand if this has happened to you – the ever-shifting plan to exercise, join a gym or go for a good’ol morning run. The excuses keep changing from work-overload to personal commitments, or the standard all-weather ‘lack of time’. Well, if Barack Obama could find time to exercise, we should seriously reconsider that last excuse of ours.

We all know the obvious benefits of exercising – better health, fitter body blah blah blah. And yet most of us don’t do it, why? The answer to what we do with our time simply lies in whether we enjoy it or if it pays really well.

Unfortunately, gyming/exercising do not fall in either category for us mortals, except for the 1% strong-willed superhumans who find the mojo in hurting their body. That too at the first strike of sunshine. Quite the opposite, we find it exhausting, painful and downright boring. Imagine yourself running aimlessly on a treadmill for an hour. You get the picture, right?

Instead, how about we all pick a sport? Any sport – even Pokémon Go will do (think of all walking). And play it regularly. Isn’t playing a sport much more fun?

It also goes much beyond the simple health benefits, such as weight control, less hypertension, stronger immunity etc. It grooms your mind, strengthens the spirit and builds your character. There’s a strong scientific reason as to why we idolize sportsmen. Our minds perceive them as these superior species who’ve overcome the trap of mediocrity which we normal being suffer from.

That Razor Sharp Focus and Concentration

Have you observed how we invariably struggle to concentrate at work but cometh our game time and we won’t even blink? Man by nature is competitive. We all want to excel. And we do it best when pitted against others. Our senses get heightened.

Playing a sport gives you that opportunity. And if you play it regularly enough that focus and superior concentration becomes an innate part of you. What makes Michael Phelps what he is – is not only his gifted talent. but his extraordinary mental powers to isolate all the noise and focus on his sole aim. Don’t we all secretly dream about having such levels of concentration? Yes, we do!

A Calmer, Happier You

We seek reward for our efforts. Rewards make us happy. So much so that we put up with our horrible bosses for a small pat on our backs.

Rewards give us a shot of dopamine (the happiness chemical of our brain). When we play a sport (or exercise) and do well, or don’t do well, whichever way we wish to see it, our brain rewards us by releasing a rush of dopamine. Dopamine combined with serotonin (another brain chemical responsible for concentration) keeps our mood elevated for longer periods.

For the uninitiated, the lack of the same causes clinical depression. No wonder more people living a sedentary lifestyle suffer from depression with no apparent problems in their lives. Over a period of time, our minds simply shut shop if not fed with its candy bar – dopamine. Hence, playing a sport not just keeps your body moving, but also keeps your mind working at its optimum level.

Leadership, Teamwork, and Perseverance

These are not just horseshit terms which we casually throw in our resumes and job interviews. But these virtues actually exist, and some people do actually possess them.

When you play a team sport, you fight for a common goal, you strategize and synergize to overcome the opponent. Isn’t that what life in general and our daily jobs in specific all about? Learning to curb your ego, opening yourself up to divergent opinions and yet uniting for a common goal. It is something a simple exercise or gyming won’t provide you. Sports does!

More importantly, sports – unlike anything – gives you an opportunity to accept and endure failure and still keep moving forward. To become better with each failure until you win. That is also how you win life.

More Stamina = More Productivity

This one is fairly obvious. Like any physical activity, sports helps in building your stamina. And stamina is directly proportional to productivity. Like the good old Nokia battery, you keep going on and on. However, it is not just about gaining more number of hours, playing a sport keeps you more alert throughout the day, thus improving your quality of work. Research claims that physically active people tend to do better academically and professionally.

Higher productivity, better qualitative work = more pats on the back = win-win. Good enough reason to pick your favorite ball.

You Socialize More

It is not a mere coincidence that socializing is at an all-time low. In the not so distance past – when the world was not taken over by the internet and smartphones and Facebook and Snapchat and what not – people used sports as a means to socialize and make new friends. Real friends. Unlike ours. People took out time in the evenings or over the weekends and called friends over for a game of their chosen sport. The loser would foot the food bill later.

In comparison, we have more means but lesser friends. We. instead. spend our weekends surfing the net for the next flash sale, shopping for clothes that we sincerely hope would fit our bulging belly and flabby thighs. We chat up with friends online we are too lazy to meet in person while coming up with an excuse for not going to that expensive gym even this week.

Hence, coming back to where we started – why don’t we all pick a sport? And play it regularly. Think about it.

Life’s short. Play More.

Nishant holds an MS from the University of Michigan. When asked, he helps early-stage startups in reaching out to more people using the power of impactful storytelling and minimalism.