According to some estimates, only 5% of people in the West get the recommended amount of daily physical activity. Is the solution getting a fitness tracker, developing more discipline, or buying a piece of cardio equipment for your basement?
My guest would say none of the above, and would have you think about kids playing at recess instead.
Darryl Edwards is the founder of the Primal Play Method. Today on the show, we discuss the epidemic of sedentariness which besets both adults and children and why technology and willpower isn’t the cure for it. Darryl then explains why a better solution to getting more movement and physical activity in our lives is rediscovering the intrinsically motivating pleasure of play. He offers suggestions on how to do that, including compiling a play history for your life, embracing “primal movements” that will get you moving like an animal and a child, and getting over the fear of looking goofy while doing so. We discuss the joys and health benefits of exploring your capabilities and environment and how to incorporate more movement into your busy adult life by making even regular activities more playful.
Resources Related to the Podcast
- Darryl’s books:
- AoM Article: Get Fit Like a Wild Man — A Primer on MovNat
- AoM Article: The 10 Physical Skills Every Man Should Master
- AoM Article: The Importance of Having a Physical Identity
- AoM Article: 30 Days to a Better Man Day 24 — Play!
- AoM Podcast #508: Break Out of Your Cage and Stop Being a Human Zoo Animal
- AoM Podcast #245: The Workout the World Forgot
- AoM Podcast #749: Let the Children Play!
Connect With Darryl Edwards
Listen to the Podcast! (And don’t forget to leave us a review!)
Read the Transcript
Brett McKay: Brett McKay here and welcome to another edition of The Art of Manliness Podcast. According to some estimates, only 5% of people in the West get the recommended amount of daily physical activity.
Is the solution getting a fitness tracker, developing more discipline, or buying a piece of cardio equipment for your basement? My guest would say, none of the above. Would have you think about kids playing at recess instead.
Darryl Edwards is the founder of the Primal Play Method. Today in the show, we discuss the epidemic of sedentariness, which besets both adults and children, and why technology and willpower isn’t the cure.
Darryl then explains why a better solution to getting more movement and physical activity in our lives is rediscovering the intrinsically motivating pleasure of play. He offers suggestions on how to do that, including compiling a play history for your life, embracing primal movements that will get you moving like an animal and a child, and getting over the fear of looking goofy while doing so.
We discuss the joys and health benefits of exploring your capabilities and environment, and how to incorporate more movement into your busy adult life by making even regular activities more playful.
After the show is over, check out our show notes today at aom.is/primalplay.
Alright. Darryl Edwards, welcome to the show.
Darryl Edwards: Thanks very much, Brett.
Brett McKay: So you were are a former investment banker technologist turned movement coach. That’s quite the change there. What led you to making that transition?
Darryl Edwards: Yeah, it was really a switch that was fueled by a personal health scare. You can’t really put a price on wellbeing, and even though I was working in a very lucrative environment, a meritocracy for sure, it became evident that a sedentary lifestyle led to a direct negative impact on my health.
So I was subject to a annual health check and this health check told me I was pre-diabetic, very close to full-blown Type 2 diabetes. I had significant hypertension, so high blood pressure, elevated blood pressure, and I was also dealing with a poor lipid profile.
So basically elevated triglycerides, really bad cholesterol profile, which meant I had an elevated risk of a heart attack or a stroke. That led me to asking my doctor if I could avoid the meds. [chuckle] At least temporarily whilst I investigate a lifestyle change.
And that lifestyle change was basically starting an exercise program. I was aware that exercise could help with blood pressure, I was like, let me at least try and sort out my blood pressure and before I’m given this cocktail of medication.
And so fortunately my doctor was on board with that. He gave me one to two months to start a lifestyle transition. And within that time, fortunately my blood pressure normalized, my lipid profile improved, my blood sugars normalized. So I was no longer in that danger zone and I was no longer needing to take medication.
So that was the, sort of the first pivotal point of me questioning what I was doing with my life and the type of work that I was doing, which was very sedentary.
Brett McKay: Okay. So you started a regular exercise program. What got you into this idea of primal movement? How’d you make that shift?
Darryl Edwards: Yeah, I became very evangelical about movement and physical activity. I joined a gym, hefty membership. [chuckle] Had the fluffy towels, had the sauna and spa. And I was inspired by watching the making of the movie, 300.
This was in the early 2000s and I was inspired by the director speaking about the actors and the stunt men and women training for life. He wanted you as the viewer to believe that these people on screen could move in this way, could fight in this way, not just choreographed, but they actually had the functional capability.
Once I realized that movement was beneficial for my health, I had a second thought around how can I make myself improve functionally? How can I maintain independence as I age? How can I work on a wide repertoire of movement?
That’s when I came across primal instinctive movement, natural movement. So I pivoted away from a sedentary job and wanting to get more physical activity into my day. I recognized there was a crisis of movement.
We clearly are in a crisis of movement. We’re becoming more sedentary during our days, our working days when we’re back at home, on our commutes to work. And so I wanted to find the minimal dose of movement that was gonna give me maximal health benefits.
Brett McKay: And when we’re gonna talk about what primal movement looks like, natural movement looks like. Before we do, let’s just talk about that, pick up where you’re talking about how we’re more sedentary in the West today.
What is the state of physical activity in Western countries, like how many adults are getting the daily recommended amount of physical activity each day?
Darryl Edwards: I mean, it’s pretty dismal. If we look at statistics from the American Heart Association, they show that sedentary jobs have increased 83% since the ’50s.
We know when we look at the world around us, even within our own lifetimes, the difference between physical activity levels when I was a kid, in comparison to now, less reliant on technology, less reliant on labor saving devices, we can do a lot more in our chairs, because of screens. So we’ve engineered an environment, which means we are less likely to move. We’ve engineered movement out of our environments.
And so in terms of the number of adults meeting the physical activity guidelines for health, so that’s 150 minutes of cardiovascular, cardio aerobic activity per week, plus two sessions of resistance training per week. Those are the physical activity guidelines for adults.
So when you look at the headline stats, we are looking at about 23%-33% in various countries in the Western world who are meeting the guidelines, which is poor.
But when you take out self-reporting, so in other words, when individuals are tracked to see if they meet the guidelines, then that number reduces to about 5%.
So only 5% of adults in the UK, in the US, in other Western countries are meeting the physical activity guidelines. And most of that 5% is actually just meeting the aerobic component. [chuckle] So not necessarily the resistance training, the strength training activities. So the numbers are likely to be even less.
And unfortunately this isn’t just an adult problem. For children, it’s even worse. Only 20% of children globally meet the physical activity guidelines.
And when we look at industrialized countries like in the West, you’re down to single digits. So anywhere between 5 and 8% of children meet the activity guidelines. So there you’re talking about 60 minutes per day of moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity and bone building activities such as climbing, doing piggyback rides and and the like.
So we really are in a epidemic of physical inactivity and the numbers are getting worse. So post-COVID, we are moving even less, in a post-COVID world. So to give an example of that, I read some research recently talking about the amount of free unsupervised play, outdoor play that kids are exposed to nowadays post-COVID.
And it’s about seven minutes per week. [chuckle] Seven minutes per week of you go outside and do whatever you want type of play. So supervised play, supervised sports has taken over trying to meet the requirements of physical activity for our kids. But unfortunately our kids are not doing enough.
Brett McKay: And what have been the consequences of this increasing sedentary lifestyle?
Darryl Edwards: So we have a significant impact to our health. So it increases the risk of premature death. So all cause mortality, basically any cause of death you can think of, you increase the onset, you increase the likelihood, you increase the severity being physically inactive or sedentary, versus those who meet the physio activity guidelines.
And there’s an increase in obesity, there’s an increase in heart disease, there’s increase in Type 2 diabetes, there’s increasing in various cancers and there’s a significant health cost globally to our healthcare systems.
So it’s the kind of poor relation when it comes to lifestyle discussions. There’s lots of discussions about diet. People are talking about improving sleep quality, improving your gut microbiome, improving your breathing. There are all these kind of interventions which are openly discussed and people maintain that there’s a benefit in trying to achieve goals in relation to those areas.
But when it comes to physical activity, it’s often overlooked. It’s certainly very difficult for us to integrate into our very busy lives. And so there’s a health consequence which can only be reversed by moving more, moving the right type of activities that will reduce the risk of chronic lifestyle disease.
Brett McKay: Well, in your work you’ve talked about some of our responses to this increase in being sedentary. So help people get moving more. And one thing humans typically do when they have a problem, they first… We typically turn to technology, they’re, “Oh, maybe there’s some app or device that can help.”
How have we looked to technology to get us moving more? And has that worked out for us?
Darryl Edwards: Yeah, so technology, humans are driven by convenience. So, we are constantly thinking of ways to make our lives easier. Everything from fire, to the wheel, to [chuckle] the horse and cart. I mean, you think of all the advances where it comes to making it easier for locomotion. So making it easier for us to move, making it easier for labor-intensive work. So let’s reduce the burden of work that we need to do by making it easier for ourselves.
And now in the kind of technological revolution we now have recognizing the issues around physical inactivity and more screen time, sedentary screen time. We have technology options available to us.
So as well as being more sedentary than ever before in human history, we also have more technology available to us than ever before to attempt to solve this problem of physical inactivity. Which sounds fantastic until you look at the evidence.
So we have wearables that can track the amount of physical activity we’re doing. They can prompt us to move more. So they can tell us, “Hey Darryl, you’re sitting down for far too long. Why don’t you get up and move a bit? Why don’t you get up and go for a walk? Why don’t you exercise as much as you did last week? Why don’t you do your 30 minutes of outdoor run today?”
So we have these monitors, these trackables, these wearables that nudge us to hopefully inspire us to more activity. Unfortunately, [chuckle] even though they track movement, they don’t inspire movement, they don’t encourage us to do more. They attempt to do so, but there are two issues with wearable technology.
So one is, technology tends to stop us in our tracks. So technology we find useful when we are having these devices that are prompting us to move more, we tend to be more interested in the notifications than we are in taking action. So that’s the first issue.
Secondly, we have a honeymoon period with technology. So interestingly, 50% of all wearable tech purchased is never worn. We buy it, we’re enthusiastic about it, we pop it in a drawer somewhere, we never look at it again. Then it becomes outdated.
For those who do decide to use those devices immediately, there tends to be about a three-month honeymoon period where we might be getting excited about what this device can do for us in terms of encouraging more movement.
So activity monitors sound like a great idea, but then 50% of those who decide to use those devices for three months don’t tend to continue using those devices. So there’s a pull to buy newer devices, better technology, less likelihood to actually make better use of those technologies.
I’m sure you remember the Nintendo Wii, you know, sort of 15 years ago or so?
Brett McKay: Yeah.
Darryl Edwards: This games console, it had the Wii fit, you had this board that you could, you know, you could track your body composition and track your weight and you could play all these incredible virtual games, virtual tennis and virtual football.
And I remember having fun with my children on this device, but there came a time when we just stopped playing it. We didn’t maintain enthusiasm for this device, and then it’s locked away, it’s popped into the loft and it just gathers dust.
Brett McKay: Okay. So technology, it could be a tool, maybe a, you know, helps slightly, but it’s not gonna help you completely to get moving again. So what we typically turn to next is willpower and we start talking to ourselves like a bootcamp instructor or a bootcamp sergeant.
You know, “We got to, you got to grit it out, man. It’s, pain is weakness leaving the body,” all that sort of stuff. And you argue it might work for a little bit, but eventually that doesn’t work either. What’s going on there?
Darryl Edwards: Yeah, willpower. So if we go back to our biology, if we go back what makes our cells thrive, what does our DNA respond to? So we know our cells thrive with regular movements. We know our DNA responds well to movement. We know our mental health responds to physical activity, our mental health benefits from from physical activity. We know this. But what does our body, what do our minds tell us?
So our mind is constantly telling us it feels good to be sedentary. It feels great in this couch. It feels great resting, relaxing, doing leisurely activities at our desk, at our phone. You know, [chuckle], that’s what feels good. Because there’s something about conserving energy which had an evolutionary role.
So back when we were, our ancestors were hunter gatherers, we had to be really careful about our energy expenditure. It was vital for survival. So we had to make decisions, you know, “Right. We need to go and hunt. We need to go and gather food. We need to go and build shelter.”
We need to make sure we have enough energy reserves to perform those tasks, to be able to recover from those tasks, to be able to sustain ourselves until we can next perform those activities. And so movement was part and parcel of day-to-day life.
In the 21st century, movement is optional. I don’t have to go out and hunt or gather my food. I don’t have to build my shelter. I don’t have to live in a nomadic way where I’ve got to walk 15, 20 miles to go from one habitat to the next to maintain my survivorship.
So this is the difference between our ancestors and the environment that they were in, and the 21st century human who is in a sedentary environment with lots of comfort, with lots of convenience, but our bodies are still telling us, “Doesn’t it feel good not to do anything? Doesn’t it feel good to be pampered?” [chuckle] Right? “Doesn’t it feel good not to have to do this hard physical labor?”
So this is what our biology and our minds are constantly having to deal with. So when we rely on willpower, imagine again, going back to our ancestors, our stone age ancestors.
Imagine if they had to wake up every day and go, “Do you know what? I have to try really hard to think about the fact that I need to go hunting today. You know, I need willpower to do this.”
It wasn’t about willpower, it was about necessity. [chuckle] Right? It was a necessity. It was essential to maintain survival. It wasn’t optional.
And so if you rely on willpower, it very easy becomes won’t power, because there are so many obstacles and barriers in the way of you achieving more movement minutes.
It could be the time. I don’t have enough time. It could be I don’t have the resources, I don’t have the money, I don’t know what I should be doing. I feel overwhelmed. There’s thousands of apps on my phone, you know, give me examples of what I should be doing, but I still don’t know what I’m doing. You know, we have more magazines, more literature available than ever before. [chuckle] But it doesn’t help.
So there’s too much information. We feel overwhelmed. But most importantly, we are hardwired for convenience. And so we have to break ourselves out of this cycle.
And willpower is not the way to break out, unless you’re one of the very few where you can click your fingers and you’re like, “Yeah, I’m going to do this,” and you get it done. But that doesn’t work for the majority of individuals.
Brett McKay: Okay. So instead of using willpower or technology to help us move more, you recommend injecting more play into our lives. So how can play help us move more?
Yeah. So just as we are hardwired for convenience, we’re also hardwired to play. So instinctively we have these ludic, playful genes that now we are very much deprived of. So most of us can reminisce to our childhoods.
Darryl Edwards: So for mine for example, was very much about active play. So the majority of my day as a kid was being outside playing, especially during the summer. It was get outside of your home [chuckle] commune with your friends, have fun, until you had to eat something. [chuckle] You know what I mean? Or your parents said it’s time to be indoors.
So you are constantly driven to be as playful as possible. And society tells us at a certain age you’ve gotta stop playing. You’ve gotta spend your time focusing on conforming to what society says you should be doing. And you’re now at an age where play is no longer acceptable. And if you do play as an adult either it’s professionally you become a comic or a creative of some description, but apart from that life is serious.
But if you do focus on this playful spirit, what we realize is that there’s an intrinsic motivation through play that inspires us to move more. So there were lots of studies on this.
For example there’s a study with two cohorts who are performing an afternoon walk. Older adults. And the first group are told, “We are going to exercise for 30 minutes. We’re gonna go for a walk. A brisk walk for 30 minutes.”
And then group 2 are told, “We are just gonna go and have some fun this afternoon. We’re gonna have a walk around and we’re gonna explore the environment.” 30 minutes. Same duration.
And what the researchers found was that the second group, the ones who were inspired by and motivated by fun, where fun was part and parcel of the activity, even though it was the same activity, they walked at a higher intensity and they burnt more calories.
There was a brisker walk. There was more conversation, a greater community spirit. But most importantly their feel-good markers, so endorphins and serotonin and dopamine, oxytocin all of those were elevated above the control group who were just doing exercise for 30 minutes.
So just having a playful state enhances creativity, inspires you to want to do more. It reduces stress, it improves social interactions. And it also through this creativity inspires you to want to find ways to move more.
So again just to conceptualize this, think about people when they’re at a wedding. [chuckle] They’re at a wedding, the music comes on, they’ve had a drink. And a song they hear that they may have heard in their youth. Or they may have heard when they had a crush or something like that.
They’re on a dance floor and they’re moving like they probably haven’t moved for years. They’re not thinking about, “Oh my goodness, I’m just doing 5 minutes of cardio.” [chuckle] They want to continue. “What’s the next song? Who else can I get to join me?” It’s a completely different state of our physiology.
So that’s one of the reasons why play is really beneficial and why I believe playing out is a better substitute than working out.
Brett McKay: We’re gonna take a quick break for a word from our sponsors.
And now back to the show.
Yeah. So play can help you move more, but also there’s these added benefits. You’re just gonna feel good and boost your creativity and that can carry over to other parts of your life.
So how can we incorporate more playful movement in our daily lives as adults?
Darryl Edwards: Yes. So this is a really difficult question because we almost have to reverse engineer our mindsets as adults. There are a few strategies that I use with my clients and one of them is to compile a play history, to get my client to roll back along their kind of life timeline back to when they were a kid, and moments in between where were you the most playful? What brought you the most joy when it came to physical activity?
And once you kind of look back with nostalgia at those activities what were the most fun? What did you want to continue to play? What did you least complain about when it came to muscle soreness? [chuckle] Or how awful that felt. What were those activities?
And so most individuals have an idea of what that is. And even though we start with childhood, we can still find some of those activities even when we get into adulthood. And it’s enhancing those and making sure they’ve become more prominent in our lives.
So for me when I went back in time thinking about why do I hate exercise? Like why am I struggling to go back to gym on Monday even though I’ve had a really good week of exercise? Why am I really struggling? Why am I procrastinating? I had to ask myself, when did you last really enjoy movement?
So as an adult it was a decade before where I used to go out clubbing and I could dance for hours. [chuckle] Pretty much energy just came from somewhere, I could just keep dancing as long as the music was good. I had a great time with my friends. I could dance all night. I was like, okay that was fun. I wanted to keep doing it.
What else has been fun in my adult life in terms of movement? Playing sports, but not in a competitive way. Having a kick about with my friends That’s lots of fun. But when I, as soon as I joined a league or it became competitive or running like endurance events at work, it wasn’t fun.
And I literally just ticked off the things that were fun going right back to my childhood. And one of the things I found as a child was chasing games were great. So playing tag, climbing trees.
And I was like, I need to try and do those things as an adult. It’s as simple as that. I need to climb trees. I need to find people who are happy to play and willing to play tag with me. [chuckle] Which I did. And then my movement diet, my repertoire of playful movement increased. You know?
So that’s what I would suggest as a starting point. Find out what within your play history is something that you would like to repeat now, something which isn’t gonna give you too much anxiety, right? Too much concern about what are people gonna think if I do this?
Kids are a great proxy so if you’ve got children, they’re a great way for you to access your inner child. And kind of they can get the blame, right? “Oh, I’m only doing this as an adult because my kids want me to do this.” [chuckle] So you can ask your kids what they would like to do and hopefully they provide suggestions that you want to take part in.
So yeah, those are are probably a couple of starting points of how you can start looking back retrospectively right back to your inner child and think about how you can model some of those behaviors. Not in a childish way, but in a childlike way.
So, I dunno if you’ve ever seen, there’s an episode of Friends with Phoebe and Rachel who are running in Central Park. And Rachel is really serious. She’s running like an athlete. She’s got a grimace on her face. She looks very robotic in her movement patterns.
And then Phoebe is running like a 5-year-old [chuckle] and Rachel’s looking down her nose, going, “What the heck are you doing? People are looking at you. You don’t, you look, you look silly.” And Phoebe’s like, “Actually, you are the one who looks silly. You are not enjoying yourself. You’re not having any fun.”
And many of us are never going to access our inner Phoebe, right? But we can certainly think about activities in the physical activity space that’s gonna bring us joy.
Brett McKay: Yeah. I love thinking about what gave you joy as a child because it’ll probably still give you joy as an adult. And I also like the idea of bringing kids in. So if you’re a dad, start playing with your kids, because this is not only gonna help you start moving more, but it’s gonna help your kids move more. ‘Cause as we talked about earlier, kids aren’t moving.
Darryl Edwards: Yeah, kids aren’t moving. And as guardians, as parents, as teachers, we model for them. They look to us, they decide what adult life is like based on what we do. So if we are very sedentary, that’s what they’re going to be trying to emulate. They mimic the world around them.
So the more we model physical activity as part of our day, the less we complain about movement like, “Oh my goodness, I had such a hard workout, I now can’t take the stairs, I can’t move, I’m in pain.” [chuckle] The less we model movement in that way and focus much more on the fun, “Wasn’t that fun? Wasn’t that great? I want to do this again.”
And I think as kids, they won’t do the same things again if it doesn’t bring any joy, right? So they’re constantly on this mission of, “Let’s explore the world around us. Let me try doing something I haven’t done before.”
So it’s as simple as that, being more playful. It doesn’t have to be obvious playful activities. It can be changing your mindset and your attitude to make the activities you perform more playful. If that makes sense.
So I have a quote, a mantra that I use all the time, which is that “Play is not the activity, it’s the attitude.” So I can go for a walk or go for a run and make those activities much more playful than my former adult, very serious self. I can pay more attention to my surroundings, I can pay more attention to looking at the world around me, like my playground, like my gym.
So initially I was thinking, oh, I need to find playful activities, right? I need to be playing tag all the time. That’s the only thing that’s gonna work for me. That’s the only thing that’s playful.
Whereas in actual fact, you can just modify those activities, even the ones that you’re like, “Oh, I don’t really wanna do this.” But if you can convert those, if you can gamify those in an analog way, not using tech, but you can find ways of gamifying your environment.
Another example is once my partner and I, we are walking down the high street and I suggest, “Hey, you know what? Let’s race the other people in the street. Walking.” And then it was like, “Let’s gamify this. Let’s give ourselves some points. Every time we overtake, we’ll give ourselves a couple of points.”
“Every time somebody overtakes us, we’ll take away five points. If somebody’s standing still, we’ll only get add ourselves a point. If we overtake them… ”
And we literally walked about three or four miles [chuckle] at quite a brisk pace, not realizing we’d walked that distance until the end. Because we were so in the moment and so concerned about stacking up the points [chuckle] and being really competitive.
And so this afternoon walk of like, “Oh, let’s just do this ’cause we need to go for a walk,” became, “Isn’t this a lot of fun?” And every now and again, we’ll play the same game. It’s not prescriptive.
But changing that activity from something that is not that exciting inherently, into one that’s more playful. And then you get all of these feel-good benefits. You get these dopamine hits, which are natural. You get that natural endorphin rush, which makes you feel good. It helps to relieve pain, which that’s one of the benefits of endorphins. They’re a pain reliever, not just physically, but also mentally.
So once you realize you can achieve the benefits of movement immediately, do you know what I mean? Like a instant gratification. It isn’t just a reward that you get after weeks, months, years of physical activity. You can actually get some of this joy now, right?
So again, think about kids. You say to your kids, “Oh yeah, do this and you’ll get the benefits at some point in the future,” isn’t always that compelling to them, right? They’re kind of like, “now, now, now.” [chuckle] You know what I mean? “Now, now, now. I wanna feel good now. I want it now.”
And we need to feel the same way I feel about physical activity. Let me do something now that’s gonna make me feel great now, but I’m still gonna be building these benefits and stacking these benefits for the future. So it’s a complete win-win.
Brett McKay: Yeah. I love the idea that play can start helping you and your kids move more. But I like the idea too of helping your kids see that the environment can be interacted with in ways that aren’t typical, right? Because I think we see the environment and say, “Well, here’s a wall. We have to walk around the wall or walk through the door of a wall.”
But maybe you can go over the wall. Why not go over the wall?
Darryl Edwards: Yeah. Exactly.
Brett McKay: Or like, yeah, if there’s stairs, you can say, “Well, you’re supposed to just take one stair at a time.” We can be, “Well, let’s see who can do two stairs at a time.”
Darryl Edwards: Yeah. Exactly.
Brett McKay: And I think we’ve all done that. I know I’ve done that as a kid, and I still do it every now and then as an adult. When you’re walking in a big building like an airport and there’s tile on the floor, and then sometimes you turn that tile into a game where you’re like, “Well, can I step without stepping on a crack?”
Or then it turns into, “Well, can I not step on a crack but get three big tiles in one big bound? Can I do that?” You can do that with your kids. You’re gonna look silly maybe, but you’re gonna get your kids moving and get yourself moving and it’s fun.
Darryl Edwards: Yeah. And do you know what? I think this looking silly is mostly envy, actually, from others. Of others thinking, “I wish I could be as free-spirited as that. I wish I could have just as much fun with my kids as he’s doing.”
So I noticed this when I started going outside. I left my gym, I started going to my local park and playing in my park. I was balancing on railings, I was climbing trees, I was bear crawling, I was performing all these kind of primal movements in my park.
And what was interesting was the amount of people who would stop and stare, but not in the, “Oh, maybe we need to call mental health services,” or, “We’re really concerned about him.” It was an interest.
And the amount of children who would stop when they’re with their parents and say… Kinda like look at their parents and go, “Hey parents, why aren’t you doing what he’s doing? He’s like a big kid. Why are you not behaving in this way? Why you inspiring me in the same way?” And interesting, that’s where I started getting more and more clients. [chuckle]
I was struggling initially to get clients doing regular personal training, and as soon as people started seeing me playing in the park, people would say, “Well, why are you doing this?” I’d say, “Hey, because it’s fun.” “Okay. Do you teach others this?” “Yes.” “Okay. Oh my gosh, I want to… I wanna do this. I need permission.”
And so I gave people permission in my local park to join me and have fun, and then you realize there’s kind of wisdom. There’s wisdom in the crowd. There’s wisdom socially when there’s more than one of you doing this together.
And so it’s really interesting observing other people, and I think they realize they’re missing out. So I now kind of push the thoughts of others to one side, not any kind of egotistical way. I just feel as if I’m so in the moment of enjoying myself, I don’t really have time to be wondering whatever people think.
And a kind of metaphor, analogy that I use is, imagine you take… Your dog could speak to you, right? You take your dog for a walk, you go to your local park, and your dog goes, “Hey, can I just sit here for a moment?” “Why is that, dog?” “Because I can see some dogs over there playing. They’re chasing off each other, they’re chasing balls, running after sticks, and I just wanna spectate. I just wanna sit here and watch.”
Of course, that wouldn’t happen. If the dog could speak to you, the dog would be saying, “Can you let me off my leash? Can you let me go and join in and play with those other dogs?” There may be a bit of play fighting, hopefully nothing worse than that. But they want to participate, they want to join in.
And children have that spirit for a while until we dampen that down and then they become less enthusiastic. They feel as if they’re not talented enough. If they’re not sporty. “Oh, I don’t wanna do that anymore ’cause I’m not sporty enough. I’m not gonna be picked for the team, I’m not naturally talented or gifted.” And we kind of engineer that desire out of many of our children, I feel.
But it’s easy for us to stoke and encourage that back, that enthusiasm, natural enthusiasm and instinct back. And that’s what I do now, that’s why I try to impart now with my work.
Brett McKay: Okay, so play is primal. Animals play. We don’t think that animals play, but they do. They roughhouse and whatever. It serves a purpose. It bonds the animals together and also, it’s a way for the small animals to learn important skills like how to protect themselves and whatnot.
So besides play, your big advocate of what you call “primal movements”, and you mentioned some of them like a bear crawl. What are some other examples of primal movements and what are the benefits of moving primally?
Darryl Edwards: So may primal movements are really any universal movement pattern that we evolve to do. So when you think about our basic moving patterns, pushing, pulling, crawling, climbing, walking, running, sprinting, jumping, all of these movement patterns, humans evolved to do.
And so because of that, if we refrain from taking part in those activities, we start to atrophy, we lose the ability to perform those activities. And in doing so, we are physically less capable, less functional, less healthy as a result.
So for me, primal movement is human movement, is moving like the animals we are, is moving in all types of directions. So not just forward, but forwards and back, left to right, with rotation in three dimensions, is navigating obstacles. So I like to climb, I like to jump, I like to lift, I like to carry. So all of these very functional movements.
And it’s really modeling what we would have to have done in terms of our evolution, of our ancestry, what our ancestors had to do just to survive. How can I model that today in the 21st Century? What can I do that can mimic me lifting something and carrying it?
So fortunately, there’s a sub-section of the exercise community who are gravitating to these primal movements, who are gravitating to these functional movements.
We have exercises like the farmers carry. We’re mimicking somebody carrying a couple of bales of hay, but we were carrying kettlebells or heavy sandbags. And we’re repeating these movement patterns because we want to build this functional strength.
These compound movements, much research tells us it’s more effective than doing isolated movements for overall strength, for overall conditioning. And changing intensities, so being very slow up to the most powerful and explosive movements, gives us this movement repertoire, improves our mobility and our flexibility, and just gives us the ability to be more functionally capable.
So we can age independently, we can maintain our balance, we can maintain our bone health and strength, we can minimize bone mineral density loss, we can minimize the amount of muscle loss as we age by continuing to perform these movement patterns.
Brett McKay: Okay, so things like crawling could be one, to do a bear crawl. Crab crawl is another one. You probably did that when you were a kid, but you can still do that when you’re 40 years old. Nothing’s stopping you from doing that.
Darryl Edwards: Yeah, exactly. Nothing’s stopping you from doing those. And the other fantastic thing about exercise science or exercise physiology is we now have… Like 20 years ago, if you spoke about doing bear crawls, people would just say, it’s just quite a difficult exercise, difficult coordination, it can take quite a bit out of your heart and lungs, it’s all muscle group exercise, that would be it.
Now the science tells us it’s a quadrupedal movement, which means we’re walking using all four limbs. There’s a significant coordination challenge, which means our brains are cognitively challenged. So this coordination improves our brain health significantly, it reduces the risk of cognitive decline, which means it reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia.
So we have these brain factors, these growth factors like BDNF, brain derived neurotrophic factor, which means we’re growing new brain cells when we take part in these activities that we haven’t done for either ever or for a good while, so since childhood.
The first time I tried a bear crawl, it was like the most awkward thing ever, [chuckle] not having done it for like probably 30 years or so. But as soon as you start beginning kind of fluent in that movement ability and your brain adapts and this kinda plasticity of the brain changes the brain to be able to adapt the body and the mind to this movement pattern, you try other things.
So you don’t just stay doing the one thing and get better and better and better, you expand your repertoire to maintain this challenge, which isn’t just a physical challenge, but also a cognitive one. And most importantly, it means by increasing the amount of activities you can participate in, that also adds to the sustainability of moving more, because there’s always something else to do.
And if you can bear crawl on the ground, then you’re gonna start thinking, “Okay, can I do this up the stairs?” Which again, kids would do. “Can I do this up the stairs? Can I do this backwards?” Can I do this carrying my kids? [chuckle] So there’s ways to kinda stack layers upon layers of more playful activity onto these primal movement patterns.
Brett McKay: Right. So like another primal movement is balance. You can find things you could walk across like a balancing beam. But then as you said, you can layer that. It’s like, well, can I bear crawl across this balance beam-like thing in my environment? Or can I bear crawl backwards? And again, what you’re doing is you’re adding that play element. It’s gonna make it fun.
And you can turn just movement into a fun activity. And people might be listening to this and thinking, “Well, is bear crawling a little bit every day, is that gonna do anything for your physical health?” And the research says, yeah, it is gonna do.
I think there’s this idea that exercise or movement has to be hard and super strenuous all the time. You gotta get really hot and sweaty all the time. There’s a benefit to getting into that level of intensity. But on a day-to-day basis, just this little simple movement, you’re gonna get some benefits.
It’s gonna help increase insulin sensitivity, which can help with prediabetes or diabetes. It’s gonna help with strength and coordination. So don’t discount this stuff, even though it doesn’t seem very hard.
Darryl Edwards: Yeah. One of the most interesting things about an activity like a bear crawl, the amount of people who will say, they will look, they will spectate, and they’ll go, “Oh that’s really easy.”
It’s easy until you try it. And I would say for anyone listening, if you think bear crawls are easy, you just go for a bear crawl for 50 meters. You do a 100 yard bear crawl. And then you tell me how easy that activity is. You tell me if every nerve fiber of your being is telling you, “Oh my goodness, what a challenge this is.”
We have this rate of perceived exertion. So you have the ability to decide what is difficult at any point in time. So you can do a nice, slow, one, two meter bear crawl. I wanna focus on my mobility. I wanna feel as if all of my body’s moving and I’m nice and relaxed. I can focus on my breath.
But you can also speed it up. You can do a really fast bear crawl for 10 seconds, for 15 seconds. You can go up the stairs, you can go down the stairs. So you have the dial that you control.
And even that in itself is quite playful because kids, when they play, they’re not always playing tag at full speed. There’s gonna be some kids who are taking a breath. There are gonna be some kids who are happy that they’re not the person chasing. [chuckle]
There are gonna be some people who are gonna stay out of the action ’cause they have this inbuilt interval kind of training mentality. They know they can operate at nine, 10 out of 10 for a little while, then they’ll dial it down. Then they’ll say, “Hey, let’s have a little rest.” Then they go back at it again.
And this is the rhythm and cycle of life when it comes to movement. And as you mentioned, people get very preoccupied with, I’ve just got to do all max intensity, or I’ve got to do everything chilled and meditative and flow based.
But actually, we wanna do everything. We wanna do a bit of everything and adapt it to your capability at that time. So even when I age, I’m not thinking, “Oh, when I was 20, when I was 30, I could do it better.” What I’m thinking is, “I can do this now.”
And I can push to 100% effort, whatever stage I am in my health and fitness journey. So my 100% is my 100%, and my 100% today may be different in 10 years time, but it will still be 100% [chuckle] You know what I mean?
So I think that there is a lesson to be learned from finding this more playful, creative way, because you’ll realize then that everything is going to be good about your movement practice.
If you explore, if you’re creative, if you involve others, if you’re constantly chasing what’s going to make me want to maintain this and sustain this, there you go. That’s the answer. That’s the secret, right?
If you notice that you just want to prefer to stay in your armchair, “I don’t really wanna do this, I feel as if I have to do this,” then you know that’s not the solution. That’s not the answer.
So if you feel good doing it. And feeling good doesn’t mean it’s always easy, right? Again, even with kids child’s play, they’re doing activities sometimes that are outside of their comfort zone. They’re not always picking the easiest option. They wanna climb a bit higher, they wanna balance on that railing for a little bit longer.
They wanna run a bit faster, they wanna be chased. They wanna play hide and seek, and they wanna risk assess. They wanna conquer their fears. There were all these different aspects of their emotional maturity and development that is embraced through play. And we have a lot to learn from our childhood experiences and ensuring that our kids today have some of that.
‘Cause many of our kids today, unfortunately, are suffering because of play deprivation.
Brett McKay: Well, Darryl, this has been a great conversation. Where can people go to learn more about your work?
Darryl Edwards: Yeah. Best place is primalplay.com. That’s my website. You can find out more about what I do. You can find about all the research in relation to play psychology. You can find out about the Primal Play Method, which is my program for primal, playful, and practical movement. I also host workshops, and you can follow me on social media for the latest evidence-based insights on movement and health.
I suppose finally, if you like to read, I have two of my latest books. One is called, Animal Moves, which is for adults. It’s a 28-day movement program which takes you through this kind of repertoire of movement, this kind of movement diet, taking you through all of the things that we should do by modeling the animal kingdom and like the animals we are.
And I also have a children’s picture book, which encourages young children to focus less on screen time and being sedentary and focusing more on exploring the joys of movement.
Brett McKay: Fantastic. Well, Darryl Edwards, thanks for time. It’s been a pleasure.
Darryl Edwards: Thanks very much, Brett. It’s been wonderful. Thank you.
Brett McKay: My guest name is Darryl Edwards. He’s the founder of Primal Play. You can find more information about his work at his website, primalplay.com. Also, check out our show notes at aom.is/primalplay, where you can find links to resources and we delve deeper into this topic.
Well, that wraps up another edition of the AOM Podcast. Make sure check out our website at artofmanliness.com, where you can find our podcast archives, as well as thousands of articles that we’ve written over the years about pretty much anything you can think of.
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