Most parents understand the importance of play for their children, but what about the importance of play for grown-ups? As an undergraduate, I minored in early childhood development and had the opportunity to teach nutrition through play and exploration. Play is important throughout the life cycle, even as we age. In fact, the National Institute for Play believes that play can dramatically transform our personal health, our relationships, the education we provide our children and helps corporations be innovative. Play is the gateway to vitality and not bad for reducing stress levels either.
Ask yourself what you do on a regular basis for fun? When was the last time you tried out a swing, went down a slide or played hide and go seek? Most adults have a mindset that they are too old to play – nonsense! There is actually strong evidence that this could not be further from the truth. In fact, play may be equivalent to the fountain of youth, keeping you young and healthy. Studies demonstrate that those who incorporate play into their lives have decreased stress related diseases, decreased mental health issues, addiction and interpersonal violence.
How about relationships? Playful interactions and communication help produce a climate for connectivity. Play can help refresh long-term relationships. The ability for adults to tel. stories, disclose fantasies and use their imagination can keep relationships fresh and light hearted. And that’s all I’m going to say about that – use your imagination.
Play can also generate optimism and a sense of perseverance. A great example of this is Boise’s infamous Boise “Race to Robie Creek” – the hardest half marathon in the northwest. Each year has a different theme and figuring out the messages posted along the race route helps athletes forget their pain. This year’s pirate theme is “Plunderin’ fer Booty.” What a playful way to enjoy 13 miles of torture.
So, what is the nutrition connection? Getting back to children, cooking is playing. So if you’re not inclined to go down the slide or swing, take a cooking class! Learning how to enjoy new and different foods by creating, using your imagination and tasting is all about play. Cooking classes are great ways to learn difficult nutrition concepts and have a blast doing it. All of the senses are involved and cooking classes are adaptable to just about everybody’s learning style.
The U of I Dietetics Program will be offering a series of “playful” cooking classes this fall. We hope those of you “young at heart” will take the time to join us, de-stress, play with food and make an investment in your well-being.