You’re never too old to play

All work doesn’t just make Jack dull, but maybe unhealthy, too

By Dr. Matthew Lapp, Columnist, The Times

CTColLogoMattLappWhen was the last time you completely lost track of time doing something you love?  You may not have thought of it this way, but it’s very likely that you were engaged in what scientists call “free play.”  If you’re like many people, life may be filled with work demands, family responsibilities, and stresses of the daily grind, but did you know that taking time each day to engage in free play is actually something that is good for your brain and for your overall level of well-being?

Let’s first start with a definition.  According to Dr. Stuart Brown, the head of a California non-profit called the National Institute of Play, “play is something done for it’s own sake.  It is voluntary, it’s pleasurable, it offers a sense of engagement, it takes you out of time.”  In other words, play is something to get lost in, something to be done for pure enjoyment, and something that comes in variety of flavors and forms.  

That also means that play may mean different things to each of us.  Some people may get lost in creative endeavors like painting or building, some people play while gardening outdoors, and others may join recreational leagues for exercise, enjoyment and social camaraderie.  Whatever the case may be, more and more research suggests that play is something that is good for adults too!

Aside from the health benefits, adults who regularly engage in play have better social well-being, and can actually keep their brains more active allowing them to stay sharp as they age.

For children, the benefits of unstructured play are even more dramatic.  According to Sergio Pellis, a researcher at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada, free-play helps the part of the brain responsible for decision making, executive function, and regulating emotions to develop and make connections.  His research suggests that without play, those connections may never get made, thus impairing development for life.  Those connections also foster a greater sense of social connectedness and interrelationships among individuals.

Unfortunately, as legislation has moved toward more testing requirements and a greater emphasis on science and math, free play, including recess, art and physical education classes have suffered.  In some cases, these opportunities for play have been completely eliminated to the detriment of our youth.  In addition, children have started to specialize in sports like soccer, baseball, and football at a much younger age than ever before, virtually eliminating free play from their schedules.  Aside from the repetitive use injuries that are becoming much more prevalent among youth sports participants, we may be missing an early window of brain development by planning out every last minute of our children’s lives.

In addition, some people have suggested that free play may be even more important than classroom work for later academic success.  One study found that activities that promoted cooperation, helping, sharing, and consoling, all components of group play, had a greater influence on later academic achievement than early concentration on grades and classroom success.

The take away message is that you are never too young or too old to engage in playful activities.  There are so many different types of play activities to try and to experience that there is sure to be something for everyone.  And, just in case you aren’t sure where to start, here is a simple quiz featured on NPR this week to offer a few options.  Share your play experiences here or on Facebook!

Drs. Allison and Matthew Lapp are the owners of Salus Chiropractic Studio in Thorndale. For more tips on living a health, happy life, visit them on Facebook at

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