Healthy Living, Parenting, Spring 2017

9 Reasons Why Adults Benefit from Play

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Play is vitally important during one’s formative years. Spending uninterrupted time playing can improve a child’s mood and health, and help them develop important social skills. Moreover, research claims that children learn best when they play. However, there is an abundance of research that indicates adults also benefit from periods of unaltered play.

Dr. Stuart Brown from the National Institute of Play claims that individuals should define “playing” according to how it applies to themselves. Play is a state of mind rather than any specific activity. Ultimately, it is a voluntary activity a person engages in solely for fun. Whether you’re participating in a board game, playing cornhole, or clearing levels in a virtual dungeon, when you take the time to enjoy yourself, your mind and body reap the benefits.

1. Play Relieves Stress

Perhaps the most obvious of the benefits of play is stress relief. Balancing work, responsibility, and social engagements as an adult is difficult and can garner a lot of stress. Exposure to stressful stimuli increases your cortisol levels, which can have lasting harmful effects on the body. Long-term exposure to stress factors can result in various issues including anxiety, headaches, fatigue, and sleep problems.

Engaging in fun activities lowers cortisol levels and releases endorphins. Endorphins are the body’s natural feel-good chemicals that help relieve pain and can induce feelings of euphoria. Playing also encourages laughter and levels of happiness, both of which are antidotes to the negative effects of stress.

2. Playing Helps Develop Social Skills

While play can be a solitary activity, you benefit more when you engage with others. Ample amounts of play help develop communication and cooperation skills in children and young animals. Young crows play tug-of-war or swinging on tree branches, and dogs and cats teach their young how to fend for themselves through mock battles or wrestling.

In fact, studies show that forgoing playtime causes dysfunction in animals. The social impact of playing in a group isn’t lost on adults. Playing a game of cards with your co-workers or even something as simple as hangman during breaks can improve workplace relationships and communication.

3. Play Stimulates Your Brain

Research into children’s learning habits indicates kids learn better while at play. The results of one such study show that learning names for colors is linked to increased gray matter in the brain. During the experiment, participants received colored cards with nonsensical names and memorized the new monikers over the course of three days. Afterward, MRI scans of participants’ brains indicated the growth of new gray matter.

Solving number puzzle games such as 2048, Sudoku, or chess stimulates brain activity. They help you develop decision-making and critical thinking skills. If you don’t enjoy logic puzzles, there are a variety of games available that have a similar effect on the brain. Simple matching or other memory games are just as stimulating and are available in many phone or tablet app stores. Word games such as Scrabble, word searches, or crossword puzzles also stimulate the mind and encourage brain growth.

4. Play Improves Relationships

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Just as play at work can help improve workplace communication and cooperation, it can be beneficial for the vitality of other relationships. Research suggests that individuals who play together, stay together. Whether you’re playing video games, poker, or a round of Uno, playing games with friends fosters a sense of trust and increases camaraderie.

Play is also important for romantic relationships. One study showed that couples who reminisced regularly over enjoyable or funny experiences were happier than those who did not. Taking the time enjoy an activity with someone helps develop a sense of intimacy between the individuals. Sharing fun experiences leads to greater relationship satisfaction.

5. Playing Improves Your Health and Prevents Disease

Taking time out of your busy schedule is good for your emotional, mental, and physical well-being. When you play outside with friends, children, or pets, you engage with nature, which can improve your mood. You also reduce your risk of vitamin D deficiency. If your playtime includes at least 30 minutes of physical or aerobic activities like yoga, it can lower your blood pressure, reduce arthritis pain, encourage weight loss, and lower your risk for diabetes.

If you aren’t a fan of rigorous exercise like biking or running, or don’t have access to a gym, physical play is an excellent way to become more active. Walking your dog burns roughly 230 calories per hour. Dancing burns around 320 calories, and a game of Frisbee can burn anywhere from 105 to 765 calories every half hour, depending on how much you move.

Moreover, activities like ballroom dancing, checkers, or playing a musical instrument are associated with preventing or stalling the development of Alzheimer’s disease. By releasing neurotrophic factors (biomolecules that support the growth and survival of mature neurons), these activities encourage neurons to grow and make new connections.

6. Play Increases Productivity

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The phrase “work hard, play harder” is a great way to approach completing your assignments. If you’re working on a long project, try taking regular breaks to stretch, play a short game, and disengage from your task for a few minutes. Taking a break to play might seem counterintuitive, but it’s beneficial to your overall work progress.

Playing and setting aside time to have fun increases your motivation to work. Taking short breaks from focusing for long periods can result in greater problem-solving skills because you allow your mind to rest and commit to memory information you’ve internalized.

Furthermore, research from the University of Nebraska and VU University Amsterdam states that fun activities such as telling engaging jokes at work can help break down barriers of communication, which is vital to successful group projects.

7.  Playing Increases Your Energy

According to playwright George Bernard Shaw, we don’t stop playing because we grow older. Rather, we grow older because we stop playing. Physical play is good for your overall health, as it can combat many factors that affect your physical and mental well-being. However, play in general boosts your vitality and energy levels. The more you play, the more relaxed and healthy you’ll feel.

8. Playing Can Heal Emotional Wounds

When you participate in fun social activities, you engage in the same behavior that positively shapes the minds of children. Fun activities promote emotional health in children and help them grow into well-adjusted adults. For emotionally insecure individuals, playing regularly with a group or a partner can help replace negative notions and behaviors for positive ones.

9. Playing Boosts Creativity

In addition to helping you feel healthier and stress-free, playing refreshes the mind and boosts creativity. Whether your designated play time involves reading, watching funny videos, playing outdoors, or solving a puzzle, playful activities will stimulate your imagination and expand your innovative psyche.

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