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Updated: Jan 27, 2022

Lily Parsey, explains why its not just girls who have fun: seniors can join in too!

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing”, George Bernard Shaw

With the proportion of people aged 60+ projected to more than double by 2050 and more than triple by 2100, we need to better understand how society can adapt to the needs of an ageing society so we can all make the most of our longer later lives.

When we think about planning for an ageing society, a lot of attention is rightly paid to providing safety, health, care and financial stability to older people. But that doesn’t mean we should forget about the fun stuff!

Encouraging creativity, physical activity and social interaction across the life course are also crucial. We need to ensure that, whatever your age, you have something to get out of bed for, whether that’s a dance group, an art class, or a walking group – or in the current lockdown, a socially distanced walk, online gym class or online drawing class.

All the research points towards the obvious: encouraging and creating opportunities for fun and play are an important building block in empowering people to have fulfilled and healthy lives for longer.

Regular light to moderate exercise can do wonders in avoiding or reducing the impact of health conditions like cardiovascular disease, diabetes or cancer. Figures by NHS England (2018) reveal that regular exercise can reduce the risk of major illnesses by up to 50% and lower the risk of early death by up to 30%.

Moreover, regular engagement in creative and community activities has been shown to significantly delay the onset of dementia and reduce loneliness. And, according to research by Brigham Young University, loneliness is a bigger killer than obesity or smoking 10 cigarettes a day.

In fact, figures show young and old alike want to engage in fun activities, with TV shows like Lego Masters and The Great Model Railway Challenge gaining traction especially among older viewers. The market for grown-up toys is also booming, with adults splashing out £383m on toys for themselves in 2017 –a £30 million increase compared to 2016.

And there’s not only a social but also a strong economic incentive for creating more opportunities for play, creativity and fun in later life. Our research published in December last year, found that by 2040, older people could be spending 63p in every pound in the UK economy, boosting GDP by 2% every year, if barriers to spending in later life are removed.

But stigma- as well as limited availability and accessibility – is still a big barrier to play in later life, and means not everyone can make the most of opportunities to engage in fun activities through their life courses.

The current pandemic and ensuing lockdown measures have made it clearer than ever that we need to challenge the widespread notion that playing is just for kids. Over the last months, initiatives by businesses, charities and volunteer groups across the country have popped up to deliver vital products and services to those who need it most, but also just as importantly to ensure people are staying connected, engaged, having fun and/ or trying something new.

At the heart of the government’s loneliness strategy, all GP practices will be putting in place so-called social prescribing arrangements to guide patients towards activity that will help them thrive - and not simply survive to the next round of medication.

This is a promising development, provided that ‘social prescribers’ are equipped with the communication skills and understanding of the available opportunities to be truly expert guides.

But there is clearly more that we can do. In the coming months, and importantly also beyond COVID-19, the Government, charities and community organisations have a responsibility to ensure that more activities are made available to people across the life course, that spaces are designed for people of all ages and that any barriers to accessibility are removed.

All the evidence points towards the obvious: We don’t stop wanting to play and have fun just because we reach a particular age. We need to remove any remaining stigma surrounding play in later life!


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