Whether or not we choose to act according to social norms is our own choice, but as the years accumulate and we become steadily older, there is a sense of having to leave play behind in order to become more serious. Unfortunately we associate ‘play’ with childhood and so playing is considered childish. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been asked when I’ll stop ‘playing on kids’ bikes’ when I ride my BMX. It makes me laugh just as hard as when I’m asked how I’ll feel about my tattoos when I’m old (in case you’re wondering about the answer, I imagine I’ll feel damn cool with an armful of tattoos and a blue rinse, thank you very much).
But leaving play behind in childhood is a big mistake; we adults can really benefit from time spent engaged in voluntary, pleasurable activity with no specific goal. So though being an adult means dealing with numerous serious things, it shouldn’t have to mean leaving fun in the past. The benefits of play for adults have been well documented, from boosting creativity to decreasing the likelihood of Alzheimer’s. It’s not only possible, but downright necessary that we make time for play because the more responsibilities we have on our shoulders, such as mortgages, children and jobs, the more we actively need it relieve stress. The benefits of play for adults have been well documented, from boosting creativity and helping with depression to decreasing the likelihood of Alzheimer’s. It’s as essential to our wellbeing as food and sleep. Play, by its very nature, is fun and that triggers those feel good hormones, endorphins, which promote that sense of wellbeing we may well be missing after a hard day in the office. Play can help you smile, loosen up and see things in a more light-hearted manner, which is helpful if you’re feeling overwhelmed. Play also helps us to learn – it’s how we developed our motor and cognitive skills as children but it’s just as useful in adulthood. So how should we play as adults?
Make time to switch off from all technology and be spontaneous. Too often, when we finally have some time away from our work to enjoy at our leisure, we spend it gazing at a TV screen in an effort to relax. But this zoning out doesn’t bring the benefit that engaging in active play delivers.
Sport is an ideal way of filling your adult playtime, particularly if you choose to participate simply for pleasure rather than focusing on achieving anything. And of course, riding bikes is just about the best fun you can have. As inhabitants of the developed world, we are so fortunate to be able to spend time riding bikes for pure entertainment – don’t forget to cherish and celebrate your time on two wheels! Go for a bike ride with a friend and make time to just mess about, rather than setting a target distance to pedal. Challenge each other with games that will make you both laugh (and have the secondary benefit of improving your bike handling skills). Find somewhere safe and see who can balance for longest without putting a foot down. Have a ‘slow race’ where the last to reach the finish line without stopping or putting a foot down is the winner. Can you take one hand off and ride with it touching your head? Can you ride with a hand on each other’s shoulder? What about trying wheelies? Or attempting to hop over painted lines in a car park? Perhaps you could try riding that BMX track you’ve been eyeing up for the last few months. Maybe you could book yourself onto a velodrome session or take your bike off-road for the first time? Whatever you do, make sure you factor some fun into your week and you’ll never stop growing, learning, smiling and laughing. In the words of George Bernard Shaw,
“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”