TAKE A MOMENT AND THINK back to those days of long ago when you were a child. Do you remember the fun you had playing hide-and-seek or chasing your friends around in a lively game of tag? Did you ever build a big tent in the living room with your mom’s sheets and blankets? Remember the thrill of swinging so high on the park swing that it took your breath away? Or perhaps the joy of building sandcastles at the beach, or maybe just playing games with family and friends at home on Saturday nights while enjoying big bowls of popcorn and juicy apples?
PLAY IS JUST FOR CHILDREN, RIGHT?
Things change in the transition from childhood to adulthood. We became seriously focused on the responsibilities of work, family needs, and church and community obligations, and rightly so. Periodic snatches of “time off” are more typically opportunities to catch up with neglected home chores such as cleaning out that messy closet, washing windows, pulling weeds out of the flower garden, or organizing the garage. It is likewise often viewed as an opportunity to catch up on work assignments. Somewhere between childhood and adulthood we forget about doing something just for pure fun. The very thought seems almost irresponsible.
This concept is a mistake. At any age we all need a healthy dose of play time. It’s as important a human need as sleep and breathing fresh air. Taking time to relax and have fun can be vital for fueling the imagination, enhancing problem-solving abilities, infusing our lives with joy and emotional well-being, and enriching relationships. Those who do not give themselves permission to play tend to feel more anxious, experience periods of depression, be less optimistic and less social, and neglect other healthy lifestyle habits.
WHAT IS PLAY?
It’s common to think of play for adults as involving planned, specific goaldriven activities, such as a scheduled family visit to the zoo, a staff outing to a restaurant, or a church Saturday night social. Such activities definitely have their place and value.
However, an ever-ready spirit of play is of more benefit to us mentally and physically in the long run. The ability to participate and enjoy play spontaneously is something innate in all of us. And simple things can bring out this spirit in our daily routines, such as sharing a joke with a coworker, playing fetch with the dog,building a snowman in the backyard, going on a bike ride with your spouse with no particular destination in mind, playing “chase me” with a child, or playing table games together with family and friends. There doesn’t need to be any specific goal or point to the activity beyond the enjoyment of the moment.
Play also usually includes laughter, thus releasing those “feel good” endorphins so beneficial to total body health.
Play can help:
1. Relieve stress on our body by taking our mind momentarily off the pressures of work and pressing commitments.
2. Promote brain health. By engaging in fun activities that challenge the brain, such as puzzles and table games, we boost our memory retention and problem-solving skills—definitely beneficial to any age-group.
We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing. George Bernard Shaw
3. Increase activity. Play that involves physical activity is obviously the most beneficial. Taking a walk with a friend during a break at work, playing games outdoors with family
and friends, skipping stones on the pond, taking a bike ride, or doing some exercises to music have the potential to strengthen the heart, improve lung function, and reduce
4. Bring us closer to others by boosting relationships. Playing alone—such as reading a book—has some value, but for improving social skills and bringing joy, vitality, and
resilience to relationships, play should involve one or more other people, preferably away from electronic gadgets. Incorporating more humor and play into our interactions with others can improve social skills, keep relationships fresh, heal emotional wounds, and resolve conflicts. It is also a great way to overcome shyness when building new relationships.
5. Keep us young and energetic. Besides infusing our lives with joy, stress relief, and increased activity, play can improve our resistance to disease, despondency,
and depression, thus contributing significantly to overall quality of life.
HOW TO START
Not real sure how to include play in your life? For a start, take a few moments to remember what brought you real pleasure in the past. What engaged all your attention and
made time pass effortlessly? The activities that brought you this joy when you were younger are most likely the same ones you could enjoy today—only maybe in a different
form. Find out what you like and give it a more prominent spot in your life. Most importantly, allow opportunities to show up spontaneously sometimes—opportunities to
laugh and engage in something enjoyable on your own or with others. Yes, it’s true: playing is for children, and it’s definitely needed for the child in all of us.