power of play

Our family tries to get together each year for a reunion. With 18 of us it is no small undertaking. This summer our gathering was in Destin, Florida. We rented a lovely home about a block from the ocean. Our eight grandkids, ages 6-13, and their parents were totally psyched for the experience.

As for me, I was a bit uneasy about the whole ‘beach thing’. You see, I have horrible looking varicose veins, cottage cheese thighs and dry, sagging skin. Probably not a lot different from other women my age, but nonetheless this 70-year-old body of mine is not something I care to flaunt… Seriously, who wants to look at that!?

I Couldn’t Hide My Insecurities

So, before walking with my family down to the beach the next morning, I covered up my bathing suit and my unsightly body with a floor length cotton dress. Once we arrived at our spot, I quickly plopped down in a beach chair and hid under an umbrella.

I adjusted my sunglasses and straw hat, picked up my bottle of water and waved at the children and their parents as they marched down through the sand, boogey boards in hand.

After about 15 minutes Adie, my six-year-old granddaughter, started waving at me from the water; inviting me to get in and play. I smiled at her and shook my head ‘no’.

She was persistent and continued urging me to join her. I continued to decline.

Finally, my granddaughter strutted up on the sand, hands on her hips like a girl on a mission. “Come and play, Grandma. Don’t be afraid. I promise I will not let go of your hand until you feel brave.”

“Darn it,” I mumbled under my breath grabbing Adie’s hand, “the things I will do for these kids!”

I tossed the dress and beach towel aside, and Adie and I skipped down into the cold ocean water together. For the rest of the morning, I was boogey boarding, swimming, riding the waves and building sandcastles.

I had a wonderful time!

When Did I Decide to Stop Playing?

After returning home from our vacation, I found myself with a gnawing question that would not leave me alone. I kept asking myself, “When did I decide to stop doing that? When did I decide to stop playing in the ocean and frolicking in the sand? And what other fun things have I quit doing along the way?”

As synchronicity would have it, I found myself listening to an episode from ‘Huberman Lab’ about the topic of ‘play’. It was titled Using Play to Rewire & Improve Your Brain.

Andrew Huberman, a neuroscientist from Stanford University, was speaking about the myriad of research studies being done on the incredible power of ‘play’. As we age, he said, the amount of time we devote to play decreases. And yet play still holds amazing power for us all.

Do you remember when you began decreasing the amount of time you devoted to play?

Here Are Some Ways That ‘Play’ Can Contribute to Healthier Living

  • Play releases endorphins
  • Play improves brain functionality
  • Play stimulates our creativity
  • Play gives us more energy
  • Play improves our memory
  • Play stimulates the growth of the cerebral cortex
  • Play can even help to keep us young.

Now let’s face it, Girlfriends, who at our age does not want to improve her memory, and her brain functionality; not to mention more stimulation and growth in our cerebral cortex?

As I became more intrigued about play, I found myself doing more reflection. There were so many things I used to enjoy playing in my past. And so many of those things I had stopped doing.

Why did I quit shooting basketball hoops, playing volleyball, four-square and chess games? What other things had I stopped doing?

I pulled out my journal and started to make a list.

Here Are Some Starter Phrases That Helped Me Brainstorm More About the Play

I used to… (play piano, dive, swim, play chess and poker)

I always liked… (playing basketball, volleyball, four-square).

I once loved… (creating and acting out plays, running lemonade stands and running through the fields of sunflowers).

I remember when… (we would go water skiing in the lakes, and boogey boarding in the ocean)

When I was younger, I loved… (doing cartwheels in the grass and playing Candy Land with my mom. I loved riding my bike through the neighborhood and sledding down the mountain in the winter).

I was pretty good at… (jumping on the trampoline and making up cheer and dance routines).

I wish I would not have stopped… (playing board games, basketball, volleyball, …just being open to more play).

These exercises were so cathartic for me that I decided to get off my bum, quit worrying about my 70-year-old body, and return to focusing on more play in my life.

Since our beach vacation, I started playing pickle ball, volleyball in the swimming pool, and challenging my grandkids to games of chess. Last week I drug my sister out to shoot some hoops and play HORSE. We also tried out tossing a few games of disc golf.

And, during a recent sister weekend, we all joined in and learned a new dance on YouTube to the tune of, “We are family.” We laughed until we cried… our endorphins were running wild!

Now It Is Your Turn. I Challenge You to Create Your Own List

I want to invite you to join in and create your own list to identify what you might be missing in your life. Ask yourself the questions I did about play… Why did you quit? Is this where you stop? What play can you add back into your life? What new play can you experience?

I urge you to consider ways you can get more play in your life. Jump in and you will quickly be reminded how much fun it is.

Play is so good for our brains, our body, our relationships, our self-esteem, and our overall happiness.

Oh, and yes, and that nagging question, “Why did I decide to stop?” has changed. I now have a new question I ask myself, “How far can I go?”

Let’s Have a Conversation:

Have you stopped engaging in play? When did this trend begin? Do you think you want to get play back into your life? What kind of play would you pick up?