12 Again: the Importance of Play

March 1, 2010 at 7:46 am Leave a comment

In “Generation B,” a column written with Baby Boomers in mind, the January 29, 2010 issue of the New York Times, featured columnist Michael Winerip describing a weekly touch football game played among friends over the course of years.  The name of the group is “12 Again” and the participants are all friends in their fifties, playing a game that sends them limping home.  The rules have changed over the years to adjust for physical limitations.  One player describes how they don’t “go long” any more because they can’t really run that far that fast, and the time required to sack the quarterback has lengthened as a concession to age, but they still play every week when they can.

The name of the group, 12 Again, is a reference to how playing makes them feel. This is true of many favorite childhood games, bringing back memories and making us revert to a time in life when game playing was expected and routine. Do you and adults you know routinely play hide and seek, or do you wait for visiting grandkids or time babysitting the nieces and nephews to give yourself a reason? What about tag, or one of its many variations? The favorite in my neighborhood was called “TV Tag” and had the added element of embarrassment. If you were about to be tagged, you could sit down and call out a TV show or character and then you couldn’t be tagged.

There is an old Twilight Zone episode, called “Kick the Can” that was also included as a segment in the Twilight Zone movie. The residents of Sunnyvale Rest Home look and act old, until a character named Charles Whitely comes along with the secret to youth. If you act young, you are young, and he engages some of his fellow residents to play a childhood game called Kick the Can. In a review of that episode posted on the Twilight Zone project, it explains that Charles “…is saying that it’s not only a surrendering-to-the-inevitable mindset that makes people ‘old’, but that it’s a driving sense of fear, the sort that adults of any age often feel and what ultimately separates them from their youthful counterparts.”

Play has a significant role in aging. Studies show that creativity doesn’t change, and can help forestall some of the brain effects of age. Singing, painting, and even video games are being explored as brain boosters. Singing improves your health, even if there is nobody around to hear you. I know I will often gear up for a stressful day, or calm down on the way home by singing along with a favorite song, be it rock anthem or folk music. After all, there is nobody in the car but me! There is no doubt that games like tag, kick the can, hide and seek, and football have all the benefits of exercise too, boosting mood and sending a rush of oxygen to the brain.

So host a game night instead of a movie night for your friends, breaking out old favorites from the closet or shopping for second hand games at garage sales. Instead of gathering for coffee, gather for a walk (to a coffeehouse) and catch up on friends and family as your roam in a beautiful setting such as those highlighted in our previous post dated August 21, 2009. When you hear a favorite tune on the radio, turn it up and sing as loud as you can. And the next time you have a big family gathering that ends on the lawn, there is no law that says the adults must sit while the children go play. Embarrass your kids with a full-out run during Red Rover Red Rover or introduce them to Hospital Tag or any of the other fun tag games. Just do it all safely! As the guys in “12 Again” have reported, they all go to work sore the next morning.

And remember the saying I saw on a birthday card aimed at someone turning 50. Roughly paraphrased it said, “Don’t let anyone or any group tell you that you are too old to do anything you want to do. That is what knees are for!”

–ht

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Healthy Aging: How to live to 100 The Aging Brain: Bad News/Good News

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