With popular pop song "Call Me Maybe" blasting in the background, Megan Chaney and Radhika Patil jump up and down at the National Harbor in Alexandria, Va.--partly to stay warm and partly out of pure excitement. The college students could hardly wait to get completely covered in dyed corn starch, what participants in The Color Run refer to simply as "color."
A voice over the speakers assures participants they have only one way to win the race--be the most colorful. The racers aren't there to set a new personal record or to get back in shape. In fact, many of the participants in the self-proclaimed "happiest 5K on the planet" don't consider themselves runners at all. The race is about pure fun, say Chaney and Patil, seniors at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, NC.
Efforts to make exercise more fun have taken root since the aerobics trend of the 1980s. And though doubts about the real benefits of some of the wackier activities remain, experts and participants alike insist that exercise can, in fact, be both fun and effective.
Leah LaPalombara, a senior at Gordon College in Wenham, Mass., had never run an organized race before participating in The Color Run in Philadelphia, Penn.
"I love the idea of the Color Run because it gets people to be active but doesn't create this intense atmosphere," LaPalombara said. "I think many people view exercise as something they have to do."
But The Color Run encourages exercise through play, she said-the same incentive to participate that SJ Holcombe, a senior at Furman University in Greenville, SC. finds in the Colombian dance fitness program, Zumba.
"Sometimes I see weights and gym machines and get overwhelmed because they look overly complex or I'm afraid I'm not doing the free-weights correctly," Holcombe said. But exercise can be fun, especially when it is group-oriented, she said. It's a great way to spend time with friends and meet others in the community.
Allie Pedigo, a fellow senior at Furman University, agrees: "It's easier to actually follow through with working out when you have other people to work out with you."
Pedigo and Holcombe admit that running remains their primary form of exercise, but both enjoy Zumba as a way to add variety to their workout routines. And variety may help maintain an overall positive attitude towards exercise.
"I am no longer just doing mundane workouts or just running," Holcombe said. "I can mix things up and keep things interesting."
Although many people are skeptical about the physical benefits of a fitness program rooted in hip-hungry dancing, Tricia Patterson, an instructor at Reformation Pilates Studio in Atlanta, Ga. believes that workouts don't have to sacrifice the fun factor.
A physiologist may tell you that you're sacrificing specific physical elements like bone density, Patterson said. But it's better to do Zumba than nothing.
Whether it's laughing with friends while trying to execute hip rolls or getting sprayed in the face with cornstarch, the "fun" element may be a crucial kick-start for people who don't naturally enjoy exercise.
"It's good to get people out there and get people moving," Patterson said.
For Chaney, The Color Run inspired an interest in running as a part of her daily life: "It was life-changing to have so much fun doing something that's actually healthy. It didn't matter how fast or slow you ran. Everyone was there just to have fun and enjoy life."
And fun is exactly what Patterson prescribes to exercisers at any level.
"If you find something that you like, stick with it," she said. "There's nothing wrong with making exercise more fun."