Play isn’t just for toddlers and kids anymore! Everyone deserves to feel happiness and joy no matter how many candles are on your birthday cake. But there’s more to it than just putting a smile on your face… play is particularly important for older adults because it offers so many physical and cognitive benefits that it gives you a big boost to your quality of life too.
Why is play important for older adults?
Improves cognitive function
A lot of how you play involves creativity, imagination and even problem solving (but in a fun way!) so it’s only natural that it gives your brain a boost. Whether it’s card games or sports or taking up a new hobby—whenever you use your brain you’re helping to keep it sharp as you age.
Provides social connection & fosters friendships
Most older adults feel more lonely than they did when they were younger. Family and friends have left or are busy and they don’t get to see their loved ones as much. Feeling isolated can be really hard on your mental health. But unsurprisingly… play can be the solution!
Often the ways we play involve group activities which can foster friendships and grow relationships while creating support systems with people who are similar to you. The great thing about play is that you’re having fun together which only deepens your connection. If you feel you don’t have many people to play with, try signing up for any group activity to meet new friends—you won’t regret it!
Improves mental & emotional well-being
Just the act of doing something, anything, feels good. Combine this with the social benefits of spending time with others and you’ll see your mental health improve. Simply put, play is fun. When you’re having fun, you’re laughing and feeling joy. It releases endorphins that make you feel happy, improves optimism and can reduce stress, anxiety and loneliness.
Improves physical abilities
Some of the best ways for older adults to play involves being physically active. Things like sports, gardening or outdoor photography all require movement. Because these activities use your muscles you end up maintaining your physical abilities. Who knew having fun could help you get stronger and more mobile too? That means you can play your way to better everyday physical function! Staying active also helps reduce aches & pains, improves immunity and boosts your energy.
How To Play
Now that you know why play is important for older adults, it’s good to know how to play. First of all, you’re not the same as when you were younger. So playing tackle football? That’s definitely not going to be for you. Choose activities that your body can do without the risk of injury or pain.
The most important thing to remember is to choose activities that you genuinely enjoy and don’t come with any obligations. Play is play, not work. It’s often more about how you feel about the activity than the activity itself. For some, taking up photography can feel like a chore and for others it’s a fun expression of creativity. It all depends on what you like, your interests and your attitude towards it.
20+ Fun Ways To Play To Get You Started
There are so many ways to play! Basically if it’s something you are interested in or brings you joy—go for it. Your mood, brain, body & mental health will be so much better for it.
Here are some ideas to inspire you to start discovering how YOU want to play:
- Play a sport (Lawn bowling, ping pong, croquet, pickleball, miniature golf, pool—there are so many sports to choose from)
- Bust out some vocals at karaoke
- Try stand up comedy
- Go dancing—whether with a partner, by yourself or in a group class
- Spend time with your grandkids (build a fort, make up stories… who knows where you’re imagination will take you??)
- Spark some friendly competition with a card game
- Enjoy your hobbies like gardening or birdwatching
- Go for a walk in nature or explore the city
- Fire up your brain cells with a fun puzzle
- Let your goofy side out by playing with pets
- Feel like a kid and go fly a kite
- Take up photography
- Go bird watching
- Enjoy a fun picnic with family
- Get creative with painting, knitting or crochet
- Try a new hobby like a cooking class or learning computers
- Learn magic tricks!
- Let your imagination run wild by writing stories
- Go to a carnival, theme park or arcade
- Take in a concert, theater show or sporting event
- Take a tour of any kind
- Release those feel good endorphins in an exercise class!
There are literally millions of ways to play. As long as you’re having fun… you’re doing it right. If it’s exercise that brings you joy, make it even more fun by taking a cardio drumming class or dance class.