Rediscovering the Art of Play

By Cheryl Costa

Too many of us enter adulthood and give up the art of play. We are told “play is kid stuff, be a grownup!” We are taught to focus heavily on work, careers and family commitments. It seems like society has been totally geared for against us having time for pure fun.

Alas, many of us put the art of playing away with other childhood pursuits; and we do so at our own peril.

Modern scientific research suggests that healthy indulgence in playtime leads to healthy adulthood. Experts tell us that childhood play is critical for proper brain development. What I found most interesting about play research is that that playground time is actually more important than time in classroom!

The other important thing that the play researchers have discovered is that adults need playtime too. Stuart Brown, the head of a nonprofit National Institute for Play, says: “Play is something done for its own sake.” He goes on to say that, “It’s voluntary, it’s pleasurable, it offers a sense of engagement, and it takes you out of time.”

Other researchers suggest that as adults engaged in our American “let’s make a deal,” competitive culture they tend to think if we play we must win. Brown tells us that the act of playing “itself is more important than the outcome.” In essence, he’s telling us that we should play for playing sake. Watching sports on television is not considered play.

What are we talking about with regard to playing?

Why not color in a coloring book — there are many coloring books for grownups. Perhaps purchase a few cans of Play-Doh and let your creativity just explore what you can do with it. Possibly make up your own games with friends. Speaking of games, there are a lot of elders who played the Dungeons and Dragons fantasy game back in the day. Why not get a D&D club going with some of your elder cronies? All it requires is some time, imagination and a table top.

So what are the personal benefits to elder playtime? Play is acknowledged to release endorphins; which can act as a temporarily pain reliever, in addition to promoting an overall sense of well-being.

Active adult play is known to improve brain function. Working on completing puzzles and other fun activities that challenge the brain keeps the mind active and aids in the prevention of memory problems.

The other thing that playing can do is improve social interaction with family, old friends and open up avenues to new friends. Play in this regard is recognized to help ward off depression. Even board or card games are good for doing this.

There’s an old saying: “That laugher is the best medicine.” Fun playful activity frequently makes us laugh and that it a good thing.

Famed Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw once said: “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”

Take it from me, a good healthy dose of daily play, keeps the mind sharp and gives you a great outlook on life.