Play is natural in children and promotes their healthy development. It teaches them to access and explore their creativity and imagination, but also cultivates healthy brain function, improves physical dexterity, and develops emotional intelligence. We encourage children to play and marvel at their joy as they interact with the world, but many of us stop playing as we get older and lose sight of the importance of this longevity boosting practice.
As adults, we take on different responsibilities in our work and our homes and often become consumed by the many obligations and expectations of our roles. With such a heavy focus on our long list of commitments, it’s easy to put fun on the back burner – maybe it seems frivolous, or like a luxury only afforded to youth, but play actually helps to slow the aging process and offers adults the same physiological and emotional benefits that it does for children.
Play outside to reap the benefits of connection to nature
The beginning of summer is an excellent time to get back to play; with warmer weather and more social opportunities, the energy of this season naturally helps us to invite more joy into our lives. When was the last time you went outside and put your feet in the cool grass? The practice of grounding – being barefoot on the earth – connects us to the frequencies of nature and helps us to tap into the body’s healing potential. Recent studies have pointed to the cardiovascular and immune system benefits of grounding, as well as pain and stress reduction and its mood enhancing qualities. Also known as earthing, this practice brings the conductive human body in direct contact with the surface electric charge of the earth and addresses electron deficiency. This process helps to restore homeostasis of the body and repair our lost connection to the healing frequencies of earth.
Just as with the energies of nature, play can be both stimulating and calming. While you’re outside enjoying the benefits of grounding, forest bathing or just soaking up a bit of sun for a natural vitamin D boost, there’s an opportunity to embrace your inner child who holds a more direct line to joy and freedom. As you listen to the call to tune in to a childlike curiosity and sense of adventure, observe the messages of your body, a more refined intuition and the wisdom of aging to choose activities that will help you find better balance and most easily access a state of joy.
Incorporate natural movement into your daily routines
Natural movement is an excellent choice for play and exploration, as it’s easily adaptable for varying levels of athleticism and ability. Maybe it’s chasing the kids around a park, climbing a tree, crawling like a monkey or a bear, or swimming in a lake – no matter what you choose, these activities will sharpen functional movement skills and cultivate more mobility.
When we play, we hardly notice that we’re exercising. A common variable among blue zone communities – those centres across the globe with the longest living, healthiest populations – is the prevalence of including natural movement throughout the day. We know regular, moderate exercise is effective in improving heart health, sleep quality, immune response, cognitive function and lymphatic flow, but it also promotes better microcirculation, which is an indicator of longevity and vitality.
Play improves microcirculation and keeps the body youthful
Movement improves endothelial function, which supports the cells that produce nitric oxide and keep blood vessels healthy. Nitric oxide allows blood vessels to expand by prompting them to relax, improving the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to your cells. This essential molecule is involved in many important biological functions, including synaptic plasticity.
An Italian study on centenarians (with a median age of 92 years) links good circulation to an increased lifespan, pointing to this factor as an important contributor to longevity. Researchers found that the perfusion of muscles and organs in this group of centenarians was as efficient as that in people around 30 years younger and suggests that low blood levels of the peptide hormone Adrenomedullin (bio-ADM, an endothelial function biomarker) are an indicator of healthy microcirculation.¹
One of our most popular biohacking tools in the Longevity Lab is the Bemer mat, which stands for Bio-Electro Magnetic Energy Regulation and is a medical device that has been scientifically proven to improve microcirculation by up to 30%. Bemer devices stimulate and increase blood flow to healthy muscles for improved performance and recovery. Enhanced local circulation is achieved by delivering a patented therapeutic signal using a pulsed electromagnetic field (PEMF) technology, ensuring muscles are supplied with ample oxygen and nutrients. BEMER devices are safe, non-invasive, and easy to use, with a number of longevity enhancing health benefits.
Playing well with others is still important for adults
Another common factor among centenarians in the blue zones is belonging to a community of close friends and like-minded individuals. This connection cultivates an important support network and creates a sense of belonging and purpose. While we still receive the benefits of play when doing it alone (or with a pet), including others helps to foster more intimacy, trust and understanding in our relationships. And we don’t always need to engage in active play to release the happy hormones associated with this practice; simply shifting your mindset toward more lightness, playfulness and openness to life’s possibilities will improve your relationships at home, work and in your social circles.
Reconnect to a sense of joy and lightness
Incorporating play into our lives is a valuable tool for improving mental health and physical vitality. This understanding of the physiological benefits of play reminds us that a connection to the joy that’s more accessible in youth is an important and effective longevity practice for adults. If you’ve been disconnected from play for many years (which is not uncommon for many of us as we age) and feel unsure where to start, ask yourself this important question to remember the vitality of your youth:
What made me feel most joyful when I was young?
When you shift your mindset into a state of joy and vitality, your cells remember this energy and will bring it back into your life today.
- EurekAlert! Peer-reviewed press release, September 2016: https://www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/523816#:~:text=Human%20longevity%20has%20been%20previously,activity%20or%20the%20Mediterranean%20diet