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It’s Good to Play at Any Age

Play at Any AgeFun with family and friends can generate happiness and resilience throughout life. How can you tap into your playful side?

Think play is just for kids?  Think again. Play seems natural for children but somewhere between childhood and adulthood it’s all too easy to stop playing. In our tendency to think of adulthood as being serious and productive, we may reject play as unproductive, even silly. Our days are hectic and busy and when we do we carve out some leisure time, we’re more likely to zone out in front of the TV or computer. Or maybe, as we grow older, we just forget how to have fun.

“We’re never too old to play,” says Rachel Sautter, Life Enrichment Director at Orchard Path in Apple Valley, MN. “Play is just as important for adults as it is for children,” she explains. Sautter works each day to find ways to play and to engage people because she sees how having fun benefits wellness in older adults. “I try for anything fun to do in their free time that makes them smile and forget about some of the tolls of aging,” Sautter observes.  

Play can be an important source of relaxation and stimulation for adults. Playing with family, friends, children and even pets are sure (and fun) ways to fuel your imagination, creativity, physical stamina, problem-solving abilities and emotional well-being. “Having fun promotes optimism, decreases depression, increases energy, improves appetite and healthy sleep and can mean an overall longer, happier life,” said Sautter.

Sautter has seen how play strengthens relationships, especially across generations. Playing with young children, teenagers or adult friends and family can spark energy and create new memories. She suggests some ways to get started.

To play with young children, she recommends reading books together or coloring pictures and talking about the stories and images to let you both express your imaginations. Play an age-appropriate brain game like the classic Milton Bradley “Memory®.” Kid’s love matching the pictures and the mental exercise is good for both of you.  Make up a story together by starting with opening sentence and ask the child to add the details as the story unfolds. Heading outside on a sunny day to a local park or playground can be a delightful destination for both child and adult.  

Teens will often shelve the “too cool” attitude when they spend fun time with older adults. Pull out and play your old vinyl records if you still have a few. This medium is very popular with teens and they may be fascinated with your collection. Teach or learn together how to play bridge, cribbage, backgammon or another strategic game that might last them a lifetime. Take a walk together on a public trail in your community.

Adults can play together with other adults, strengthening the bonds of family and friendships. “A lot of laughter comes out of the Orchard Path club room during Happy Hour,” said Sautter, noting that combining food, fun and a chance to get together is a recipe for social success. “Food brings them in, but the fun keeps them there; the more fun the better!” she said. Sautter also includes a fun factor in fitness classes. “I try to make work playful using energetic music and even jokes during exercise,” she said.

Playing together with family members, especially grown children, can help get past old roles and enjoy an activity together simply as two people on equal footing. If you have a box or two of old photos, looking at pictures together celebrates your shared history and let’s you relive and enjoy special moments. Head out on a trip to a place you’ll both enjoy, such as a concert, sports event or public garden. Who said you have to have young children with you to go to the Zoo together? Local museums offer great opportunities to bring generations together as well.

There are countless ways to be playful and have fun. What’s important is to make time for play, live in the moment and enjoy the fun you’re having. Put simply, play is finding amusement, humor, joy and rejuvenation in your daily life, things we need for our well-being at any age.

Originally published in Cobblestone Lake Lifestyle magazine. Reprinted with permission.

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