There are many forms of play using the whole spectrum of our skills and abilities and energizing every aspect of our mental and emotional expression. Science has proven the effects play has on us mentally, physically and emotionally. It is the same as comparable experiences that are “real” or not done in the form of play. It has also been shown that imagining an experience affects the body and mind similarly to the real experience. Have you ever imagined what something would taste like, feel like or look like? It can seem very real! I have had a dream where I was falling and woken up to find myself actually falling off of the bed or imagined a scary situation where I got chills. I have imagined how something tasted and actually found myself salivating. Most of us have had these very real feelings come about as part of play. Children naturally use play in a beneficial way to enhance their life experience and learn from those experiences. With these benefits, why do we stop playing, for the most part, as we become adults?
"The experience of play changes the connections of the neurons at the front end of your brain," says Sergio Pellis, a researcher at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada. "And without play experience, those neuron aren't changed," he says. (National Public Radio, US. - https://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2014/08/06/336361277/scientists-say-childs-play-helps-build-a-better-brain)
Therefore, as we become adults and grow older how can we expect the brain to change modes and learn without this important imaginative and experiential tool. Play is very important to keeping our brain flexible and growing, which is called neuroplasticity. If you are interested in finding out more about the neuroscience of play, follow the link below and watch a video from the Aspen Ideas Festival with Stuart Brown talking about Neuroscience and Play!
Play has many different elements and other components which involve sensory experience can be part of it, like music, dance, games, humor and physical exercise or competition. It can be mostly a mental exercise, very physical, emotional or a combination of these. Play is an altered state and an exploration of “what ifs”, “could bes” and all that is possible. Play is random and spontaneous and an adventure in going beyond what is certain! Play gives context to chaos and helps us to understand our evolving world. It starts as nonsense and silliness that leads to discovery.
If you want to defy aging or maintain a semblance of youth, play is probably the primary way that this can be done. It is probably the only reasonable way of staying both healthy and younger. So, keep playing in your life to live longer and enjoy life more while you are here. It will keep the brain synapses firing and that is key to awareness, alertness, learning and growth.
“When children pretend, they are using their imagination to move beyond the boundaries of reality. "A stick can be a magic wand, a sock can be a puppet, a small child can be a superhero.” – Fred Rogers
If we can keep that child alive in us and allow curiosity and play to flourish we, as Adults, have that same boundless possibility!