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  • Writer's pictureJared

5 Life Lessons from Disney World

Cinderella's Castle at night during the 50th anniversary celebration at Magic Kingdom
Cinderella's Castle lit up to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Disney World

A few weeks ago, I went on a trip to Disney World and Universal Studios in Orlando with my family. I've always loved going to amusement parks. I love riding roller coasters the most, but I enjoy it all; rides that spin you around, rides with vertical drops, rides that suspend you upside down, rides that get you wet, rides that make you scream, rides that make you laugh...I'm here. For. It. All. Although I've always had a good time, this trip felt a little different. It had been a few years since my last visit to an amusement park, we were all over 30 this time, and with the realities of COVID...I just wasn't sure what to expect or if I'd still enjoy it like I used to. In the end, we had a great time, and I'm glad we went. I found myself a little more reflective and introspective on this trip than I had been in the past, and the amusement parks reminded me of some of life's great lessons. I know it sounds silly, but I thought I'd share the 5 lessons I was reminded of while on this trip.

Lesson #1: Life is full of opportunities and experiences. Be willing to try different things and seek out those that bring you joy.

A look at the different landscapes and experiences at Disney World: Toy Story Land, Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, 50th anniversary character statues, and Expedition Everest
A taste of the wide variety of experiences at Disney World. Toy Story Land (top left) Storm Troopers on Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance (top right) Mickey and Minnie 50th anniversary statues at Magic Kingdom (bottom left) and Expedition Everest at Animal Kingdom (bottom right)

Amusement parks, (and life) provide lots of different experiences for you to try. Like I said earlier...I'm all about the thrilling rides that make your stomach drop. But if that's not your thing...that's OK!! They also have calmer rides, they have arcades, they have shows filled with musical numbers and pyrotechnics, a lot of them have zoos, and then there's the food, drink, and shopping that you can take in. Most amusement parks have something for everyone, but especially the big ones like Disney World and Universal Studios. As in life, you just have to seek out the experiences that bring you joy.

The best physical activity is the one you're actually going to do. I talk about this idea with my clients all the time. There are sooo many opportunities to get active and move your body in different ways that can be both fun and healthy. When people tell me that they hate to exercise, or that they aren't good at it, I like to encourage them that they just haven't found their thing yet. Our bodies are meant to move, and being physically active is crucial to our long term health. So if you haven't found any physical activity that speaks to you yet...keep searching! Eventually you will find something that you're capable of doing and makes you happy, and finding that physical activity that you always look forward to priceless.

Lesson # 2: Learn your limitations through experience and practice, then work on them.

Disney World 50th anniversary golden statues
As part of the 50th anniversary celebration, there are 50 Disney characters memorialized in gold throughout the parks. Some of my favorites (from left to right): Rocket & Groot, Goofy, Pooh & Piglet, Timon & Pumbaa

Just like with physical activity, we all have our limitations when it comes to the amusement park. Some are mandated as safety restrictions based on your size, your age, or known medical conditions. Other limitations (such as your tolerance for roller coasters, theme park food, and long lines) have to be discovered the hard way; by trial and error. Physical activities are similar, in that you don't really know what you can and can't do until you give it a go. As you gain experience through practice, you'll gain a better understanding of your limitations, as well as your preferences (going back to lesson #1). You'll have a better time at the park if you stick to the things that you can handle, and limit the activities that you don’t.

This is also the case with physical activity; the more experience you gain, the better you'll know yourself, your preferences, and your limitations. Explore and practice different movements and activities so that you can learn more about yourself. This is another great reason to make physical activity a regular part of your routine; when you practice moving on a regular basis, you can be quick to notice changes that occur over time. You'll be able to recognize when you are losing strength, mobility, or endurance, you can start to notice patterns, and you can implement a plan to address the issue. Likewise, if you’re more limited than you would like to be when encountering a specific movement or activity, use that as motivation to implement a structured training program to improve your health and fitness. Your physical health can be a barrier to experiencing some of life’s great joys, and that’s a bummer.

**If you've noticed pain or limitations with your favorite physical activities recently, submit the form here and I will get in touch with you about setting up a structured rehab program**

Lesson #3: It may be faster to go alone...but possibly not as memorable.

Sometimes flying solo is great...but memories are made with your tribe

My family pretty much stuck together on this trip to Disney, except for a few times when my parents were tired or didn’t want to ride the more aggressive roller coasters. With one exception; for the Test Track ride at Epcot, we went through the single rider line. There was a long line for this ride, it wasn’t on our list of must-do's, plus we really wanted to make sure that we made it all the away around the Food & Wine Festival that evening. The single rider line worked out perfectly; we waited less than 2 minutes to get on a ride that otherwise had a 50 minute wait! I will say, however, that it wasn't as fun as riding with my family. That’s the big takeaway for me from the single rider line. Yes it was faster, but it wasn’t as memorable as sticking with my loved ones. Looking back at all of my (many) trips to amusement parks, I remember going to Busch Gardens WITH my cousins, I remember going to Schlitterbahn (AKA the hottest coolest time in Texas) WITH my best friends, and I remember going to AstroWorld WITH my middle school class.

Being in a bigger group at a park is definitely more chaotic, and it's challenging to be organized and get around efficiently, but you have the opportunity to bond and form memories with your people. Just as with amusement parks, when doing any physical activity, there are pros and cons to being alone compared to being with a group. When exercising, for instance, being alone allows you to be efficient; you can do exactly what you want/need to do, on your schedule, and get on with your day. Group exercise classes may be a little more chaotic, you have to work around the group schedule, but they can provide you with more fun, support, and motivation. It’s OK to like being alone, it’s also OK to be in a group, and there are situations where both can be beneficial. If you always workout alone, or you also spend time in groups, I encourage you to try mixing it up and trying the other way from time-to-time.

Lesson #4: More isn’t always better--Avoid over-consumption by being mindful and intentional with your choices

Harmonious fireworks and light show at Epcot during the 50th anniversary celebration
Sometimes less is more...but not during the Harmonious show at Epcot

Don’t get me wrong...sometimes more IS better, just check out the Harmonious show at Epcot! Consuming more is not always better, and exercising more can be too much. For instance, I may love to ride a certain roller coaster. And if there isn’t a line for my favorite roller coaster, I may be tempted to ride it again and again. This might be fun a few times, but the 3rd or 4th time may leave me feeling sick, or sore, and struggling for the rest of the day. This principle comes into play in many situations in life. Exercise is a big one. Lots of people have this idea, that if exercising for 1 hour is good, then exercising for 2 is even better! Lifting weights 3 days/week is good, so if I bump that to 6 I’ll be even stronger and healthier. Unfortunately, this is not always the case, and people end up over-training, or not giving themselves the rest they need to recover and continue to grow and improve.

The urge to over-consume is constant at Disney World. I haven’t been on that ride yet, or I haven’t gotten to taste THAT food or drink yet, or I haven’t shopped in this particular store. A great example from this trip was when I bought some peanut butter and chocolate fudge at the Animal Kingdom. I had already eaten a cinnamon roll, a crepe, and a Mickey Mouse ice cream bar that day, but I NEEDED this fudge. Sure I enjoyed the first taste of the fudge, but I was full, my stomach was upset, and I didn’t end up finishing that fudge anyways.

Half pound cookie and double frosted cake at Gideon's Bakehouse in Disney Springs
It's easy to over-consume with half pound cookies and double frosted cakes at Gideon's Bakehouse in Disney Springs

Over-consumption is rampant at amusement parks, and a big issue in America in general. Being aware of your role as a consumer, and being intentional with what, and how much you consume can be extremely helpful to your health, your wallet, and also in helping cut down on our global impact. My best out quality over quantity experiences, services, and products. This is actually the approach I take in my physical therapy and coaching practice. I try to provide higher quality sessions, so that clients get what they need, and don't have to come in as often. I try to prescribe higher quality exercises (often at a higher intensity than what your average PT might) so that clients can do them less frequently and still get optimal results. At the amusement park, stick to the rides that you ACTUALLY want to ride, and try not to get FOMO because you didn’t get to experience everything.

When it comes to physical activity, it’s OK to limit how much you do, and you may find that you’re actually able to up the intensity, focus, and effectiveness of your workouts by cutting down the overall volume a bit. With physical activity, and life experiences in general, it may be beneficial to cut back on the overall amount of stimulation that you take in, while allowing yourself to really be mindful and present in what you’re doing. Try no to go through the motions, doing things just to do them. Do them in smaller, more manageable increments that allow you to fully experience the situation. If you are really focused, and intentional with what you are doing, whether that’s at work, or exercising, or spending time relaxing, you will find that you can consume (or produce) everything that you need in a shorter amount of time, and then you have more time to spend on other areas of your life.

Lesson #5: Have a plan, but be flexible and adaptable to unexpected situations.

Going to the amusement park with a plan of what rides, shows, and food you want to get to, and generally mapping it out can really help you get through the day. At the same time, situations can arise that are out of your control. Being able to modify your plan to still maximize your experience is a really valuable skill. Maybe you planned to ride all of the roller coasters in the morning before the lines got too long, but when you got to the park, it was raining and most of the roller coasters were closed. Go check out some of the indoor rides and shows, and when the roller coasters open up, get through as many as you still have time for. Being flexible rather than rigid with sticking to your plan can help alleviate frustration, and allow you to still have a positive experience.

Spaceship Earth lighting during the 50th Anniversary Celebration at Epcot
Staring at Spaceship Earth (AKA the big ball) at Epcot wasn't in my plan for the day, but I had to stop and take it in once it lit up for the evening

I see this a lot when I talk to people about their exercise routine. “I was going to run today, but it was raining, so I didn’t” or “I was going to train upper body today, but my shoulder was sore, so I didn’t go.” Certainly, having a plan for your workouts and sticking to it is great, and probably more successful than if you just showed up at the gym and spontaneously made up your routine as you went. However, the people that I see having the most sustainable success with their fitness, are the ones that are able to be flexible and modify their workouts based on the situation that they find themselves in. The ones that recognize when they’re not feeling well, so they back down the intensity of their workout, but still get in some activity. The same person might push themselves a little harder on the days that they feel great and have tons of energy. Maybe you planned to go for a swim today, but the weather wasn’t cooperating, and so you switched to doing a body-weight workout in the garage instead. Showing up, and being able to maneuver and squeeze in some physical activity, even in sub-optimal conditions, is key to sustainable success in your fitness journey.

Family photo outside Cinderella's Castle in Magic Kingdom
My parents, sister, and I taking in the Magic Kingdom (before beginning our hunt for golden statues)

So there you have it, the 5 lessons I was reminded of on our family trip to Disney World, and how they relate to our health and fitness journey:

-Try new things in search of experiences that bring you joy.

-Test your limits regularly to gain awareness, and make a plan to work on them.

-Make a point of sharing experiences and activities with your loved ones and community in order to make lasting memories.

-Be mindful and intentional with your choices to save time and energy for what really matters.

-Have a plan of action, but be willing to practice flexibility and adaptability when unexpected situations come up.

Thanks for reading,


Dr. Jared Hutchens, PT, DPT, ATC, LAT is a licensed physical therapist, athletic trainer, and owner of Hutch Health Services. He provides strength-based rehab and coaching services to help clients to move more freely, comfortably, and capably, and provides education and support to empower clients in becoming their own greatest health advocate.

Interested in learning more about how Dr. Hutchens can help you? Submit this contact form and we'll reach out to schedule a free consultation.

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