Experts have long studied the benefits of play for children, and the evolutionary logic is undeniable.
Play introduces and hones practical skills like hunting, cooking, building, child care, and health care. Playing doctor? Cops and robbers? And so on.
Play teaches children social boundaries. If you’re nice enough but not too much, you can get your way without being a pushover or turning off potential friends.
Play teaches you to cooperate. If you don’t play well with others, other people won’t play with you. That’s no fun.
Play makes the body stronger, faster, and fitter.
Play is very important for child development. The benefits are well-established. Trust the Science. But what about play for adults?
Perimenopause and menopause comes with a complex web of physical, psychological, and social symptoms.
The treatment usually prescribed by doctors, hormone therapy (HT), is controversial and not appropriate for some women. I won’t get into the HT debate here—Mark did a great job covering the pros and cons recently. Suffice it to say that HT isn’t the answer for everyone, and it’s not a panacea by any means.
Whether or not they choose to go the HT route, many women desire additional support during perimenopause and beyond. For the sake of keeping this post from becoming a novella, I’m going to focus on mind-body therapies today.
Some of my fondest childhood memories revolve around my neighbor’s trampoline. It was an unsafe, wide open, enormous monstrosity of a trampoline. There was no net (this was the 60s after all), the springs were exposed and really good at snagging errant body parts, and it was conveniently located right next to a 5 foot wall that we’d jump from. I mean, how could you not? It was right there.
You’d bounce for hours, you’d bounce till your calves were on fire. You’d spend hours trying to perfect the front flip, and then the back flip. You’d have death matches where you and another guy would fly at each other from opposite ends of the trampoline, colliding in mid air and trying to knock the other on his back. We called it jousting.
Thankfully, there were no catastrophic injuries. No concussions, no hyperextended knees, no torn ligaments. I can’t even recall a broken bone.
It’s one thing to look at studies. What if we look at “finished products”? What if we look at whole organisms that appear to be doing things right and try to learn from them? People are always looking at the “Blue Zones” or this guru or that celebrity and trying to glean insights about healthy diet, lifestyle, and behavior. I say expand that outlook to encompass other populations you might not have considered. LIke kids.
Kids are kids. We tell them what to do, they learn from us, and they are put on this earth to watch us and do what we do. What if we flipped that? What can we learn from watching kids? How do children approach life, health, and movement—and what can we take from that approach and apply to our own lives?
Here’s what we can learn from kids.
Believe it or not, Christmas has never been my favorite holiday. As a kid, I was always partial to Halloween—not just for the candy, but more for the adventure of venturing out into the black night with your best friends and marauding all over town. As I’ve gotten older, Thanksgiving has enjoyed special prominence in my life for obvious reasons—the food, the gratitude, the family gathering around the table to partake in the bounty laid before us, the lack of adornment and focus on what truly matters. I wasn’t so into gifts as a kid, instead preferring to mow lawns or paint houses to pay for my own stuff. Or perhaps it was my parents who preferred that I work for my possessions and helped instill that in me. But that’s not to say Christmas wasn’t a big deal. It was.
I have to admit: There’s something special about the Christmas or holiday “spirit,” whatever that is. You can feel it in the air, and I’m not quite sure what’s behind it. All I know is that it exists.
One of my biggest inspirations was my late father, Laurence Sisson. He supported our family as a painter, primarily water color paintings of New England nature scenes. His work ethic was insane as was his creative genius. But my most salient memories of him are not those spent in the art studio watching beautiful representations of nature’s glory appear before my eyes. No, what I remember most are the evenings spent around the piano. He was also a great jazz pianist, and often took paying work as a musician when the times demanded it. During holidays, he’d play the classics. On quiet afternoons, he’d noodle on the keys. Piano music was the backdrop of the house. And, I’m convinced, playing that piano kept his brain nimble to the very end. Music and Brain Function If you spend any time at all on social media, you’ve probably seen the videos of otherwise unresponsive Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease patients lighting up when a favorite piece of music from their younger days plays. There’s this one, where an old man in a nursing home on his last legs comes to life. After listening to some of his favorite music, he becomes incredibly responsive, answering questions about himself and his life. Music gives him access to the parts of his brain that were previously shut out, at least for a brief moment. The most recent one I saw is of a former New York City prima ballerina with Alzheimer’s disease. When she hears “Swan Lake,” she motions to raise the volume and then launches into the choreography from her chair—the same dance she mastered and performed over 50 years prior. Even as I’m writing this and picturing it, I feel tears welling up from the beauty of the moment. Most of you reading this aren’t in that dire of a cognitive situation, but you can probably relate to the effect music can have on our brains. We’ve all felt the power of music. When that song comes on and catapults you back to some bygone era of your youth. When you hear an album and actually smell the smells, taste the tastes, and feel the emotions it evokes in you. Something powerful is happening in the brain, and we shouldn’t wait til degeneration sets in. If we know there are certain lifestyle, dietary, and behavioral modifications that can improve the outlook of a patient with dementia, then enacting those changes before dementia arises will be even more powerful and effective at staving it off. Music is one possibility. And if merely listening to music can have that effect on cognitive function, even severely degenerated cognitive function, what can playing music—creating it with your own mind—do for it? Playing an Instrument for Brain Health We actually have evidence that playing an instrument is protective of brain health and function. In one recent study, researchers asked 23 former orchestral musicians if they or any musician they knew had dementia. Dementia rates among the queried musicians were nonexistent, … Continue reading “Brain Benefits of Playing Instruments”