Play on! 7 Health Benefits of Play – At Any Age!
To selectively quote William Shakespeare: “Play on... and give me excess of it!"
We adults think play is just for kids, right? Wrong, wrong, WRONG!! And that's our problem...
My friend and founder of Primal Play, Darryl Edwards says: "play can be confusing for us adults; it is either seen as frivolous, deemed as foolish, or blanketed as childish activity related to relieving boredom with no well-defined goals."
But how wrong can we adults be? Very wrong says Darryl: "When we play we kick our minds into imagination mode, and we tap into that powerful charge we get from positive experiences with other happy people."
What is play?
So, what is 'play' exactly? It's defined as “an activity engaged in for enjoyment and recreation, rather than any serious or practical purpose.” More deeply, however, it's an intrinsic human need which benefits body and mind.
Play can be free or structured and ordered by rules e.g. sports, card games, and so on. It can be solo or social. Humans (usually as children) aren’t the only species who play - dogs chase balls or sticks, cats love to play nip and tuck with their owners (and each other) while dolphins, for instance, love to chase one another in the sea.
What are the health benefits of play?
1. A stronger, healthier body! Children develop reflexes, motor skills and balance; outdoor play exposes us to sunlight, nature and fresh air; it builds muscle, improves heart and lung functions; and it helps prevent obesity and associated conditions
2. More self-esteem and emotional ‘intelligence’! Disputes in unstructured play help children (and adults!) learn how to feel and control their emotions; less verbal (autistic?) children can express their feelings and experiences through play.
3. Better teamwork and co-operation! Rather than being governed by rules and boundaries, children (and adults!) learn to work together to achieve mutual goals through sharing, negotiation and conflict resolution.
4. Better problem-solving! Play teaches us, through a concept called ‘divergent thinking’, to create ideas by considering many possible solutions, rather than choosing from - and fitting in with - a pre-determined outcome.
5. Better work experience and better productivity! Play improves work (and life) outcomes - increasing numbers of companies (including the likes of Facebook) are including play in the workplace setting because it has been shown to have beneficial effects - increased job satisfaction, creativity, boredom relief, reduced stress.
“When employees have the opportunity to play, they actually increase their productivity, engagement and morale. Not only does having a playful atmosphere attract young talent, but experts say play at work can boost creativity and productivity in people of all ages. There is good evidence that if you allow employees to engage in something they want to do, (which) is playful, there are better outcomes in terms of productivity and motivation.”
- Stuart Brown, MD
6. More creativity! Play encourages creativity - we can all be creative, despite the conventional wisdom that only a select, lucky few are blessed with such ability! Children can express emotions through their creativity, while adults - through play - can revisit latent creativity and it may encourage them to “think outside the box” in a work - or indeed personal - setting.
7. Less stress! Play helps to reduce stress in our lives - it’s a buffer which reduces the impact of stressful situations while regulating out responses and reactions to stressful events. In short, it helps us to ‘chill out.
Community and social connection
Play helps forge social connections, as well as developing a sense of community and belonging - considered vital for child development and has been recognised as a basic human right of every child by the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights.
Modern life and lifestyles leave kids with little time for creative, unstructured play, the consequences of which mean we grow up facing - potentially - impaired brain and muscle development, poorer social skills, and compromised problem-solving abilities, far more disposed to becoming antisocial, socially awkward and worse, develop violent tendencies.
Don’t forget to remember!
Adults who have forgotten how to play experience narrow, rigid thinking and struggle to cope with stressful situations or events, whereas playful people are able to transform virtually any environment to make it more stimulating, enjoyable and entertaining.
Promoting play in your adult life
All work and no play make for a very dull girl. As we've seen, play is really important as part of a healthy mental and physical lifestyle and, while it comes more easily to some than others, we can all bring a bit more playfulness and fun into our lives…
- do things which bring you happiness and joy - what creates a spark? Play is fun, but also absorbing and time-consuming. Remember: keep it fun!
- be a big kid and try to lose that ‘grown-up’ self-consciousness: step out of your comfort zone - join a 5-a-side team, get into am-dram, do an open mic night
- make play important and make the opportunity for it - go for a walk somewhere different, dig out an old board game favourite. Schedule some time into your calendar/diary as you would anything else.
“We don’t stop playing because we grow old. We grow old because we stop playing.”
- George Bernard Shaw
In an age where self-care advice is abundant - let's make sure to make time for play... at every age!
Check out this guest post from Al Natrins on having fun getting into exercise and how to incorporate movement to improve body and mind.