A Conversation with a Movement Coach: Play is Healthy

I had the incredible opportunity to sit down with Ryan Steenrod last week to get his insights on how play impacts our physical health and wellbeing.  This is a recap of our really fun conversation (and to catch the whole thing, check it out on Facebook at Live Pretty Well’s page).

Ok, who is this Ryan guy?

Ryan is a super knowledgeable, and incredibly fun human who works with folks to move optimally, and thrive at being the best version of them.  He is a Movement Coach, whom I met through fitness classes at True Motion.  Additionally, Ryan runs two companies: 1) Death of the Desk, where he and his fiancé, Missy, help people move in a sedentary work environment and 2) Drive2Thrive, which is a holistic program designed to align goals with values (and includes everything from mindset, nutrition, exercise and more).


Why it was so important for me to talk to Ryan about Play

With January being focused on how Play impacts our physical health, I knew I Ryan would have amazing and valuable things to say.  I have been to many many gyms, fitness classes and more – but never have had so much fun while having so much success.  Ryan has made moving my so so fun.  And I can tell that Play is a core value for him, as he inevitably weaves it into everything he does…and I wanted to know why – especially since he is someone who knows a lot about the physical body, as well as how to train the brain.

OK – onto the good stuff


Ryan on Why Play Matters

Ryan and I spoke about a question he recently posed to his social media audience, he asked: “How important is play to you?”  He said he asked that because “I frequently encounter folks who put up a façade that they don’t like to play.” And he continued, “I’m not buying it.”

Ryan: “Play and fun is in my top 5 values, I have to have it virtually every day…otherwise, I’m not me.  People notice it and ask, ‘What’s wrong with you’ if I’m not laughing, smiling and joking.  I gotta have play – gotta have an infusion of play.”

Ryan said “I’m not me when I don’t play” and I know he’s not an anomaly – he just has an acute awareness of how different his life is when play is present.  Most people aren’t themselves (or at least their best selves) without play.  He went on to say, “Of course there are times to be serious, but most of the things in our lives aren’t as serious as we deem them to be.”

And if there was one, recurring theme that came up for me, listening to Ryan it’s this:

“It’s not that serious.  Lighten up a little.  Laugh. Smile. Tell a joke.”

When talking about why play matters, Ryan referred to the book “Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul” by Dr. Stuart Brown (which is, of course one of my favorite books).  Ryan, “There’s so much research on how important the act of play is to learning, growing, sustaining and really thriving in life.  We use play in virtually every instance from the time we were born to learn. Understanding boundaries with people and problem solving.”  Play is how you learn social skills, cues and boundaries.  Ryan, “When you’re a kid, you learn what’s right and wrong and how to interact with others by playing.  You learn boundaries (and when you’ve gone too far) through play and teasing.”


Ryan on what gets in the way of play

“We all put up walls.  And, some people have solidified those walls more-so than other people.  They need to find the right type of play.” Ryan talked about how important it is to find the right fit for each individual.  When play is a mismatch fit, we can push back against it, feeling vulnerable and/or ashamed.  In his realm (the fitness world) Ryan says, “In fitness it’s common for people to feel like it’s not fun, so I have to ask – why is that?  Many people feel stupid, or not good at it, or ashamed of their body.  Exercise is extremely personal for people.  And the biggest thing for me is [to ask] ‘How can I get you to enjoy it – and to learn something – maybe change the way you’re thinking?’”

So, Ryan decided to infuse games into fitness classes.  For this reason, I gravitate towards his classes; my body is working, moving and getting stronger, and my psyche is happy, entertained, and light….so the physical benefits are amplified because my brain is on board.


Smiling and the Snowball Effect

“Life doesn’t have to be that serious.  What matters most is that you have connections with people.  Play is just an infusion of that – allowing you to smile more” Ryan said when we started chatting about the benefits of smiling and being optimistic (and the staggering health consequences of anger, stress and general grouchiness).

Screen Shot 2018-01-18 at 10.24.10 AM.png

"Life doesn't have to be so serious. What matters most is that you have connections with people.  Play is just an infusion of that -- allowing you to smile more"

Ryan Steenrod

Ryan demonstrated how when we smile, our natural tendency is to open up our posture. “There are lots of cranial nerves in your face, when you stimulate those cranial nerves, your postures improves.  On the contrary, when your posture suffers, you are less approachable, and your relationships can suffer.  Additionally, you will probably experience more pain. (Pain is not just physical, but also chemical, environmental, stress-related…etc).”  What I know to be true is the happier you are, or the more positive emotions you feel on a daily basis, the more likely you are are to make healthy choices (regarding the foods you eat, how you move your body…etc).


Living a Better Life

Ryan encourages everyone to remember “It’s going to be OK.”  Taking breaks is so important.  “We think we need to stick with a problem and not leave it until it’s totally resolved, but the truth is – it’s more efficient (and more enjoyable) to take a break.  Give your brain a break and come back refreshed.”  Ryan referenced a Stanford study that concluded that taking a walking break outside increases creativity by up to 60%. “Something about the colors of nature activate different parts of your brain.”

In addition to taking breaks, Ryan suggests laughing a little.  “Joke with someone.  Respond to an undesired situation with humor.”  Ryan gave an example of spilling a cup of coffee all down your shirt on a day with a big client. Instead of being distraught about it, make a joke “Hey Susan!  Did you see this?  I just spilled all this coffee on me and I have a huge client today… can you believe that? That’s crazy!” When you’re able to laugh at yourself and not take life too seriously – you share that levity with others and give them permission to lighten up too

“It’s going to be ok.”


How Ryan Plays & How Cailin Plays

Ryan digs brain games, board and card games, and things involving strategy.  This play helps him connect with people and “I know people need connection” he says. He also talked about enjoying ball sports and competing.  “Look at the power of games – look at the Olympics, where a game can literally change the relationship between countries.”

Cailin likes to create things, and spread beauty.  “I want people to make things because it’s fun, regardless of how it turns out in the end.”

As we wrapped up, Ryan talked about having a growth mindset.

“Be the person who wants to get better at things.  Take a growth mindset, and always be learning, growing, getting better.”


Now, Go! Play!...and be awesome.







Cailin Robinson