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Meredith Sinclair, 52: Let’s Play

Author and former elementary teacher Meredith Sinclair wants us to play — for our health and wellbeing and just for the pure joy of it. Her book Well Played is a “practical and FUN guide for reconnecting with our playful spirits” and she shares advice for how we can all get playfully engaged.

Let’s play. Summer is here, and that means it is time to let go and have some mindless summer fun. This week is a reminder that play is on the menu and we strongly suggest that you partake in as big a portion as you can manage. There may not be any verified studies on this, but from what we have observed, we humans generally seem innately good at play when young, and then again in advanced age, but in that middle block, the 40-60 range, is where we may experience certain play constipation.

It may be that sort of inner judgmentalism that says “What will people think?” which kids and the elderly just don’t have. So, for all you type-A, highly-focused, in-it-to-win-it types, this week is for you. Get out, do something that makes you laugh, get silly, get dancing, play a game, do it with others. If you are still worried about what others are thinking, I’ll tell you a secret: If they are thinking about you at all, which is dubious, they are probably admiring your ability to let go and wondering how they can incorporate more of that into their own lives. Your assignment is to, this weekend, become a shiny example of fun — if not for yourself, then do it for the others.

How old are you?
52.

How did you get interested in the topic of play?
As a young mom and “OG” parenting blogger, I was searching for a niche in the growing blogosphere that felt unique and authentic to me.

Having spent my early career as an elementary teacher and seeing firsthand how play transforms children’s ability to learn and develop, I became fascinated by how playfulness translates into adulthood and positively affects our work, our wellness, and the relationships throughout our lives. Once I went down that rabbit hole, there was no going back.

How do you get adults to re-engage in play?
My biggest piece of advice for folks who feel their playful spirit has left the building is to take time to think about the activities, experiences, and adventures that most lit you up as a child. The stuff that made you playfully lose track of time. I even provide a worksheet in the book to help get you there. Then, purposely seek out ways to incorporate similar activities and experiences back into your life. 

“Play is absolutely a mental, physical, and emotional muscle that longs to be used and strengthened”

Do you think play is a muscle that needs to be exercised?
Play is absolutely a mental, physical, and emotional muscle that longs to be used and strengthened. Take a look at how other animals in the wild naturally play. It’s biologically built into us as animals. Brain research has proven that when we deprive ourselves of playfulness for too long, we can begin to see signs of “anhedonia,” or the inability to fully experience joy and pleasure. Nobody wants that. And it’s super simple and fun to fix! 

Can you tell us a little bit about your book, “Well Played: The Ultimate Guide to Awakening Your Family’s Playful Spirit”?
Well Played
is a practical and FUN guide for reconnecting with our playful spirits. That innately play-driven part of us that came so easily as kids. We never lose our desire to play, it just gets buried under big grown-up responsibilities and expectations. In the book, I share simple ideas for creating a more playful and creative home, for being a more playful/less-stressed parent, and ways to playfully connect with our own friends, our significant others, and all by ourselves. My North Stars when writing this book were two quotes: “You can discover more about a person in an hour of PLAY, than in a year of conversation” (Plato), and “It is a happy talent to know how to PLAY” (Emerson).

Some people will be very playful with their pets, but not with other people. Does this count?
Pets are an incredible way to tap into our playful spirits. I mean, look at dogs…they are play machines! It’s important to interact with other humans as well, but if you’re looking for a way to jump-start your FUN-o-meter, turn off your phone and go hang out with a puppy or kitten for a bit. 

Health Benefits of Play

What are the lasting physical effects of play?
Play is magical, really. Not only is it the cornerstone of child development, it also rejuvenates us in so many ways as we age. It’s been proven to relieve stress; stimulate the creation of new synapses in our brains, which supercharges our ability to retrieve information and learn new things; and increase our overall productivity. Periods of pure playfulness also reduce anxiety and release happiness-inducing endorphins creating a sense of overall well-being.

Are physical sorts of play better than just mental/sitting types?
Physical play is incredible and important to keep our bodies (and minds) fit, agile, and healthy as we get older. But if you aren’t able to engage in physical play like you once were, all is not lost! The most important thing to aim for isn’t a certain KIND of play, but the way that playful experience makes you feel. The kind of beneficial play I’m talking about has no end goals or expectations placed upon it. No trophy you’re trying to win or benchmark or striving to meet. Play is for play’s sake alone. The thing that makes time stand still, gets you lost in the process; not the end goal.

We have read that people learn better and faster if they are being playful. Have you found that to be true?
As a former teacher of young children, I saw on the daily how play enhances and expedites learning at every turn. While our adult brains may not be developing at the same rate as children’s, any time we add a pop of playfulness to a new concept, it’s a good thing. 

“Music and dancing — which go together, in my book — naturally elevate our playful spirits”

Is there playful music — for adults, that is?
Music and dancing — which go together, in my book — naturally elevate our playful spirits.  My husband and I always have music playing, in our home, car, as we walk or work out, pretty much whenever we can. And it’s ALL over the place as far as genre. And we love exploring new artists and going to see as much LIVE music as possible. Our kids will tell you music was a constant in their lives growing up. I’ve found that the most playful and fun music there is, is the kind that makes YOU dance…physically, mentally, and emotionally. Turn it UP!

Why do people love playing pickleball?
I just LOVE that pickleball has become such a phenomenon, and it’s getting folks of all ages — 6, 16, 46, 66, 86 — all out on the court playing together.   

As a tennis player, I’ve recently jumped on the pickleball wagon as well. Tennis folks can be snobby about it but once they play, they usually pipe down. People enjoy it because it’s more accessible and easy to learn, it involves less running to get a ball and more finesse at placing the ball to win a point. And it’s super social.

Play Prescription

Top 3 favorite play situations for less-than-playful adults?
1. Start with your SELF. Choose one thing from your own childhood that you remember LOVING to do. Did you love to swing on a swing, do cannonballs in the pool, throw catch in the yard, play arcade games, build sand castles, paint by number? Now just DO THAT ONE THING. No one needs to watch or put it on Instagram. Pay close attention to how it makes you FEEL. Repeat.

2. Find a playful friend and plan a “play date.”  I know this sounds a little nutty, but you don’t have to build blanket forts or make crafts with popsicle sticks (unless you want to). Simply grab your most playful pal and pick something that takes you slightly out of your well-planned, predictable life a little. If you can’t think of a playful pal, then that’s step one. Get one.

3. Surround yourself with playful things. Pop a bunch of Jenga blocks in a cool bowl on your coffee table, get a turntable and some vintage records, buy a grown-up LEGO set (they exist and they’re AMAZING), put a badminton net in your backyard, buy some inexpensive watercolors, paper, and brushes and just lay them out on your kitchen table. You won’t be able to resist the call of your inner child.  Sometimes we need to trick ourselves into having more fun.

Top 3 most fun movies? 
BIG
Something’s Gotta Give
Toy Story 2

What are the 3 non-negotiables in your life?
Laughter: I’m incredibly attracted to a feisty sense of humor. I need it like I need air.
Optimism: I’m not into pretend positivity, but let’s at least begin with what’s good in this life.
Sweat: I’ve recently discovered that a good run or vigorous workout is an incredibly playful practice for me. And I finally feel confident in shorts! 

Most impactful book you’ve read?
When I was young, I got a collection of E.B. White books for Christmas and I’m pretty sure the secret of life can be found collectively within Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little, and The Trumpet of the Swan.

Connect with Meredith:
Website
Instagram
Facebook

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AUTHOR

David Stewart
David Stewart
David is the founder and face of AGEIST. He is an expert on, and a passionate champion of the emerging global over-50 lifestyle. A dynamic speaker, he is available for panels, keynotes and informational talks at david@agei.st.

 

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