Developing a Play-Ethic: Senior Exercise and the Element of Play

We know the adage, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, but all work and no play may also be making Jack inactive and unhealthy.  When it comes to going to the gym or going for a run, many people describe themselves as not motivated. Perhaps the issue is not that we are un-motivated to stay in shape, but that we are not motivated or enchanted with the model of exercise that is just one more thing to check off the to-do list. Staying fit has become an obsession for millions of Americans. There are endless powders, pills, books, and DVDs that keep us circling around a youthful ideal without helping us meet our health goals.

A common casualty in our busy lives is not only a stable fitness routine, but our value of play. And the two may be related. Dr. Stuart Brown, a psychologist and researcher studying the important of play said, “If its purpose is more important than the act of doing it, then it’s probably not play.” This is where the difficulty can come for many adults in a productivity-driven culture. We can phase out the element of play in the everyday because we fail to appropriately appraise its value in our lives. However, when Albert Einstein once said, “Play is the highest form of research,” he certainly was including the adult population in that statement. Watch children or even other mammals at play and you immediately sense the physicality of the experience. Recovering this sense of play may help us establish a lifestyle that supports healthy living the older we get. It’s National Senior Health & Fitness Day and we’re sharing ideas to enact this year’s theme:” If you keep moving…you’ll keep improving!”

Here are 10 Ways to Get Out and Play More as Part of your Senior Exercise:

  1. Make a travel goal that includes regular walking as part of the preparation
  2. Take a class that is slightly out of your comfort zone. This might be a yoga or a ballroom dancing class
  3. Be a local sight-seer in your city. Visit the farmer’s markets, street fairs, festivals, historical sites, zoos, and landscapes to take in the sites via walking or by bike
  4. Enjoy nature with a meditative hike, lake kayaking, or bird-watching excursion
  5. Try a new sport such as swimming or golf
  6. Volunteer at a local charity, food bank, or Boys and Girls Club
  7. Visit a local farm that allows picking fruit and vegetables
  8. Visit a historical site or park and get creative by photographing favorite elements
  9. Engage in a game or playground excursion with grandkids
  10. Swap out the coffee date with a friend for a walking date at the mall or your favorite trail.  

Dr. Brown went on to point out that the opposite of play isn’t work, it is depression. Not only do our bodies need play, but our brains need the element of play in our lives to better create, learn, problem-solve, adapt, regulate emotions, relive stress, help prevent brain disease, and find energy and joy in our lives. Practicing self-care or self-kindness can be difficult in the abstract. We need to be able to take concrete actions when nurturing ourselves by doing what we enjoy. Make regular dates with yourself that are all about play, community, filling the inner well and getting the body moving. We would do well to establish this play-ethic and discipline of taking time to have fun, try new things, and support long life by getting out and enjoying it.  


Published on August 31, 2017.