Are we ever too old to play?
At one time, perhaps not so long ago, the answer to that question would have been a quick and decisive “yes.” Today, probably not. Not only have our society’s attitudes shifted to accommodate the notion of recreation as a part of life, but for many of us, our passion for creative expression through physical activity is as much a part of our definition of self as is our work as physicians, researchers, and care providers.
Science, the stock we value, increasingly agrees with this particular weighting of variables. According to some researchers, adults work together better if they play together well, for play allows them to temper aggressions, relieve boredom, and forge solidarity. The literature on children and play draws similar conclusions. But as one story in this issue points out, child’s play also shapes a young brain, fostering skills that help with solving problems and regulating personal behavior.
Elsewhere in this issue of Harvard Medicine, we look at the toll that extreme exercise can take on us physiologically and mechanically—and how medical advances are helping to reduce those costs. We also explore the role of mentally preparing for competition, by considering not only what makes us compete but also what keeps us in the game even when we question our ability to perform. And we celebrate the role of those who cheer from the sidelines by spotlighting the work of three alumni who tend to the injuries of those who play professional sports.
We physicians have athletes great and small among our ranks: swimmers, runners, bicyclists, hikers, rowers, and, if the stereotype has an ounce of truth, more than our share of golfers. And increasingly, we preach what we practice by prescribing exercise for our patients.
As dean of this leading institution of medical education and research, play is rarely high on my to-do list. But I am reminded, even encouraged, to engage in it by someone I consider the perfect play co-conspirator: my granddaughter. With her, I know better than to say “I’m too old to play.” But more importantly, I don’t even consider it.