The Power of Play - Adults need recess too

Posted 7/10/2020

It is a happy talent to know how to play. Ralph Waldo Emerson, American writer

Can you remember the last time you played? If you can’t, then you may be missing out on an important way to give your physical and mental health a boost. Studies and research show that adults, too, have a lot to gain from the act of playing. When done frequently, it strengthens your heart, boosts your lung function and lowers your risk of developing coronary heart disease. Not only that, physical play like sports and exercise, also reduce your stress hormones (e.g cortisol and adrenaline) and trigger the release of endorphins — your feel-good hormones — which elevates your mood and helps you relax after a stressful day.  As you age, play facilitates happiness, wards off depression, improves cognitive health and lowers your risk of developing age-related diseases like dementia.

Play is essential to our health says Dr. Bowen White, physician and founding member of the National Institute for Play a nonprofit that supports research into the power of play. “Play is so deeply ingrained in terms of our own evolutionary drive to survive, he said. “Play helps us connect with other people because we are open in a way that allows them to feel, maybe, this is a safe person to be with and maybe even fun to be around.”

Think of play as more of a mental approach to activities, not necessarily the particular activities themselves. It could be taking part in your favorite sport, playing a board game, solving sudoku puzzles, swimming, taking an exercise class or cooking a new recipe. What feels like play to you may not to the next person, and that’s okay. “The definition of play connotes voluntariness and vulnerability. It’s anything you feel like doing without being made or forced to,” explains play expert, creative strategist and toy designer Yesim Kunter.

Decide What Fun Means For You. A lot of the time adults can’t even remember what they like to do. Or maybe you’ve outgrown the things that you liked to do in the past and haven’t gotten around to identifying new things that you enjoy. If this is you, there are two steps you need to follow:

  • First, sit down and make a list of the things that you enjoyed doing as a kid. Then, go over your list and highlight those things that still sound appealing.
  • Google “fun ideas for adults” or “bucket list ideas“. You’re looking for ideas on fun things you may want to try. Once you have your list, just like before, highlight the ideas that sound most interesting.

Ways you can easily incorporate play in to your life:

  • Swinging (I watched my 4-year old niece swing on her new big girl swing recently, and was kind of jealous of all the fun she was having.)
  • Coloring
  • Playing with building blocks
  • Walking barefoot outside
  • Eating ice cream
  • Dancing around the house
  • Hula hooping
  • Blowing bubbles
  • Drawing with chalk
  • Singing silly songs
  • Laying on a blanket and watching the clouds move during the day
  • Counting the stars at night

The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct. Carl Jung, Swiss psychoanalyst

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