When was the last time you actually played? You know, the kind of play we did as children–running, jumping, loudly singing, swinging our arms, using our imaginations to make up silly games. That kind of play. We used to spend countless hours losing ourselves in playtime and our parents often had to remind us to eat, bathe and sleep.
Play doesn’t only give parents welcome relief, it provides important life lessons and helps children develop. But somewhere between childhood and adulthood, many of us stop playing. Instead, our leisure time is often spent in front of the TV or the computer. A 2009 article in U.S. News and World Report by Nancy Shute outlined nine reasons to incorporate play into our adult lives.
1. Play is good for the brain. All animals play. Rats that socialize more with other rats develop more complex brain function. Grizzly bears that play the most often survive the longest in the wild. Play stimulates portions of the brain that process emotions and executive function.
2. Play teaches us to use our imagination. Children around the age of two start developing their imagination via play. Imagination feeds our spirit.
3. Rough–and-tumble play teaches us how to cooperate and play fair. According to studies of humans and animals, roughhousing is important for the development of social awareness, cooperative skills and fairness.
4. Play helps us learn friendship skills. Mutual play develops around the age of 4-6 years old and helps us learn how to listen and incorporate another point of view into our world. Mutual play is the first form of friendship children experience.
5. Playing with a complicated subject can be the best way to learn. Ever wonder why children often learn computer systems faster than adults? Tinkering with something complicated and learning through trial-and-error can often help you learn and remember much better than a user manual.
6. Children perform better academically when they have recess. Studies show that preschool and middle school children display better behavior and academics with regular periods of recess.
7. Physical play delays mental decline in old age. According to research, seniors who exercise regularly and engage in puzzles and word games show slower cognitive decline.
8. A little play can solve big problems. Play is nature’s tool for solving cognitive difficulties and creating new neural pathways.
9. Playing at work is an essential means of dealing with stress and on-the-job dangers. Police officers and firefighters often use humor to help them cope with job-related stress.
We often take play for granted and designate it as a trivial waste of time. Yet play is just as important to our physical and mental health as eating right, getting enough sleep and exercising. If you are struggling with stress, anxiety or depression, more playtime is a great way to live in the moment and improve your mood. From sports and games to laughing with family and friends, play more to live better!