I’m working on the Enrichment section for my book Zookeeper’s Guide to Fitness. Enrichment was one of my favorite aspects of being a zookeeper. Keeping the animals mentally and physically active, increasing naturalistic behaviors, and engaging them in more dynamic ways was the epitome of zookeeping, personally.
I also had a slight anthropomorphic view of enrichment. I felt enrichment kept the animals from getting bored. And well, I hate being bored. No, no. Let me describe the loathing hatred I have for boredom. Sitting still? Not my strong suit. Ask anyone that is forced to sit next to me on a four hour flight. I could never ever have an office job. I mean, never ever. I would blow my brains out I’d be so bored. I can’t even have the same meal twice in a row. Same workout? Shut up, and go away. I repeat workouts about once a month. I have nearly 28 different workouts I do on a cycle of 3 months. After that, I completely change my workouts for another 3 months. Because I will quit if I get bored.
My fear and loathing of boredom carried over to the animals. If I hated doing the same thing day in and day out, surely the animals did too. I do have a justification for my assumption. Do animals do the same thing day in and day out in the wild? They do the same behaviors, yes- hunting, foraging, sleeping, walking, swimming, etc. But are they traveling in the same area they did the day before? Are they hunting the same prey? Are they looking eating in the same exact spot? Now, I get that these behaviors are completely out of necessity on the animals’ parts. I’m not discounting that at all. But you have to admit a wild animal on the look-out for predators, food, mates, and shelter are not bored. So, shouldn’t a zoo animal’s life replicate the variety they would experience in the wild as much as possible? Sure, animals born in zoological facilities have no clue what they are missing, but the natural history of animals and instincts are very predominant in many species. An animal such as a polar bear will roam their territory whenever they are awake, looking for their next meal. And even in a zoo setting, polar bears have a strong drive to roam their territory. If that territory is the same blase environment day in and day out, wouldn’t that get boring?
Yes, I’m being anthropomorphic. It’s the equivalent to a zookeeper’s deadly sin. But this thought process helped me become quite proficient in the art of enrichment. If I hated being bored, and I assume animals despise being bored, I had a direct responsibility to ensure the animals were never bored around me. So, I constantly developed new toys, new activities, new behaviors, and new devices to keep the animals engaged at all times.
I can’t stand being bored in any facet of my life- not my schedule, not my eating habits, not my exercise “routine”. Gah, I even hate that word, “routine”. I think that might be more repulsive than “moist”. So, when I developed my workout program, I incorporated a lot of principles I learned from doing enrichment. Enrichment is the core of my program. I am in it to have fun! FUN! FUN! FUN! I add variety, but I also incorporate exercises I thoroughly enjoy. Because honestly, if you don’t enjoy it, why would you continue?
The funny thing about all this is I’m writing about boredom and enrichment and spicing up your fitness program, and I’ve just finished another round of my least favorite activity- yoga. Please don’t try to convince me how wonderful yoga is for the body. I know. It’s why I try it out about once a year. Once a year, I get in a stress-induced funk, and I feel yoga might help relieve some of that tension and stress. Only, yoga tends to have the exact reverse effect on me because I spend the entire class bored out of my skull, and worrying that I’m not doing it right. And then holding uncomfortable positions for an ungodly amount of time? I feel like I’m sitting in an office cubicle. Shoot me now!!!
Now, don’t get me wrong. Again, I know the very real and positive benefits of doing yoga. I use many yoga stretches in my warm-up and cool-downs. I even tolerate uncomfortable poses that help stretch out sore muscles. I foam roll. But I do not like doing yoga as my workout. I just can’t. I need to MOVE! I need to do burpees! Or even my second least favorite activity- running. I prefer running to yoga. Because at least most of the time, I can choose my scenery, and it changes. Yoga is way too boring for me.
If yoga is your cup of tea, then I say with full enthusiasm and not a hint of sarcasm “good for you”. I’m truly happy you have found something healthy that you enjoy and can use in your fitness. But if you are like me, and need something different every day, provide yourself with an enrichment program and watch your fitness take off!