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Travel, Play, and Health Health Benefits of Travel & Play for Grownups

Play is an integral part of life at all ages. The United Nations High Commission for Human Rights has affirmed that every child has a” right to right to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child”. However, the benefits of play for children as they grow, such as physical activity, stress reduction, creativity, social connections and personal development, are relevant across all ages. On October 15, 2018 AARP Thought Leadership invited thought leaders in Play to join us and discuss the Health Benefits of Travel and Play for Grownups.

Alison Bryant, Senior Vice President of Research at AARP, started the day by saying “Play is fundamental. It is fundamental to life and learning. And we hear this all the time when it comes to kids, our idea is that we should really be talking about this across the lifespan.” As AARP seeks to disrupt aging by supporting people to live the way they want to as they age, we are also seeking to support people of all ages to travel and play.

Play, especially in the form of vacations, long weekends, and play through travel has a tremendous potential to serve as a gateway to a healthy lifestyle. Play is what psychologists call an intrinsic motivator, meaning that play is its own reward because people play finding it satisfying to them. Intrinsic motivation can be especially effective in supporting regular behavior that can otherwise be difficult to sustain, such as physical activity.

Play and travel are especially powerful because they are inspirational. As people live as they age, they are seeking more than just the necessities of life, they are aspiring to achieve new goals and enjoy life in the moment. Play and travel are powerful because healthy behaviors can be included in that moment of enjoyment. Play in a social setting can also provide additional extrinsic motivation to be physically active, and can also combat social isolation and loneliness, which are equally dangerous for health.

“People shared their stories -- all races, all genders, people out walking with their dogs. It was an opportunity to create a community around something that was healthy and fun. We know that having someone with you to walk, and with that accountability, really does make it more fun.”

Julia Alexis, Vice President of Strategic Initiatives at AARP Public Policy Institute, discussing the AARP Fit & Fun Challenge daily walking challenge.

Dr. Epel, of UCSF provided powerful evidence of the benefits of both vacations from a study that randomized participant to either a 6-day relaxing “pool-side” vacation or a 6-day “meditation” retreat. Which did better? Health benefits as shown by gene expression were immediately seen in both groups, but the vacationers who experience the meditation retreat had prolonged benefits out to 10 months. This study, along with others that show that “Women who skip vacations tend to get heart disease earlier in life demonstrate the importance of vacations in combatting stress.

As the number of people who are living to 100 increases, so does the need for play and travel. The traditional three-stage life comes from the industrial revolution, where youth is devoted to learning and playing, adulthood is devoted to working and play and travel does not reemerge until retirement. However, as many people are experiencing increased longevity with multiple careers, the need to retrain at midlife and work well beyond the traditional age of retirement, we increasingly need benefits of play and travel at all ages.

“[Nordic walking is] helpful for a lot of ages, and it’s so wide in terms of the activity for any type of people, from a six year-olds to 100. There is no limit. You can use them anywhere. It’s a fun activity.”

Gianpietro Beltramello, President Gabel Poles

AARP Thought Leadership and Research have been working on better understanding what we call the “Longevity Economy,” which measures the economic contribution of people 50 and over – $5.6 trillion in 2015 – and it’s growing. The leisure and hospitality sector accounts for over six percent of consumer expenditure’s impact on GDP. We are asking for all sectors of our economy to create programs that increase opportunities for play for all ages, no matter what your zip code or ability level.

“The magic is, the power of play creates connection and well-being. We turn fear into friendship. People over 80 and under 20 playing croquet together—it’s powerful and simple. The invitation is, ‘Let’s play together." James Creasey, President and Founder of Jiminy Wicket

There is strong evidence that the chronic stress in minority communities, along with a lack of access to opportunities’ to play and travel, contributes to health disparities. Dr. Thorpe, a gerontologist, added his own observations to this research. “I work at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, and you see it three blocks away. You have an area with broken sidewalks that deter people from walking and food deserts all over the place. Crime deters people from going outside.”

As we increase opportunities for play, we must also make sure that we increase access to all communities, or we could worsen existing health disparities. Ebony Andrews, Field Producer for GirlTrek, spoke at AARP about how important play and travel resources such as our public lands are underutilized by African Americans, especially women and girls. (Insert quote by Ebony Andrews). AARP is therefore particularly interested connecting to minority communities on the issue of healthy living through its Multicultural Leadership communication channels.

As summarized by Alison Bryant, Senor Vice President of Research at AARP, “Play is fundamental. It is fundamental to life and learning. And we hear this all the time when it comes to kids, our idea is that we should really be talking about this across the lifespan.” As AARP seeks to disrupt aging by supporting people as they live the way they want to as they age, we are also seeking to support them in traveling and playing for all people of all ages.

As Debra Whitman, AARP’s Chief Policy Officer, summed up the day: “People are living longer, but the traditional three stages of life -- of playing while we are kids, working hard as an adult [then] playing in retirement -- that needs to go. We need to play as we age to remain healthy and avoid burn out. Carving time out where we take care of ourselves and take care of others is critical. No guilt. Starting now, play is an integral part of life at all ages. The evidence is in: Play and travel will inspire health benefits for grownups.”

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