There are plenty of reasons that we encourage children to play everyday: play helps to develop their imagination, creativity, literacy, independence, and physical coordination.
But play isn't beneficial just for kids. It's also associated with several benefits for hard-working adults, too.
Why should you find time to "play everyday" as part of your self care plan? Because letting loose, laughing, and having fun helps you to blow off steam, relax, and cope with stress more easily.
Depending on what types of games and activities you're into, playing may even contribute to cognitive growth and greater emotional resilience. So before you go thinking that you don't have the time or energy to be more playful, read on to find out why fun is an essential part of any wellness routine.
Benefits of Playing
One definition of play is "engaging in an activity for pure enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose."
Even though there isn't necessarily an end goal in mind when you're playing, it doesn't mean it's a waste of time. Quite the opposite actually, considering that play helps to "recharge your batteries."
Studies have shown that when adults carve out more time for hobbies and games, especially if there's a social component involved, or if it's done in nature, they can benefit from lower stress levels, enhanced problem solving skills, protection against depression and anxiety, and more.
Recently Dr. Mike Rucker, author of The Fun Habit, interviewed us at AdaRose about self care and its relationship to fun. There’s lots of overlap!
Here are some of the many ways that playing can boost your mental health:
1.) Releases endorphins: When you're having a good time, laughing, moving around, and bonding with others, your body naturally releases these "feel good" chemicals that brighten your mood.
Endorphins, which are responsible for the feeling of a "runner's high," can even dull pain naturally, which is why you might feel elated and more energized after working out.
2.) Can help ward off depression: Piggybacking on the concept above, play is highly beneficial for your mood. It's a great way to escape, even temporarily, from negative thoughts that can leave you feeling anxious and insecure.
Hobbies have also been found to contribute to greater optimism and motivation, two keys for preventing depression. As a bonus, find ways to play with other people whose company you enjoy, since having supportive and uplifting relationships is one of the best ways to feel happier in general.
3.) Boosts creativity and cognitive function: Older adults who continue to engage in play have been found to have better protection against memory loss and often loneliness, too.
Activities like games, puzzles, crafts, and low-impact sports are thought to stimulate certain regions of the brain, such as the prefrontal cortex, that help to keep the mind sharp. These types of activities can often also serve as an important form of social connection.
4.) Enhances productivity: There's a reason why many large offices include spaces dedicated to games, exercise, and play time. When employees take breaks throughout the workday to let their minds wander and to relax and socialize with others, it helps to lift their morale and can even spark interesting and novel ideas. In short, they work better.
Another perk of play within the workspace is that it can bond employees and encourage collaboration.
5.) Can improve your physical health: Given that your mood and mindset have a big impact on your physical health, it's not surprising that having more fun can protect against certain conditions.
Physical hobbies, such as sports and exercise, are among the best for promoting a strong immune system and healthy cardiovascular system. But really, anything that brings you joy is probably also beneficial physiologically.
Ideas for Adults to Play Everyday
Playing everyday can be as simple as whipping out a board game at home, kicking around a ball with your kids in your yard, or even decompressing by getting lost in a video game or on your phone.
The key to benefitting the most from leisure time is to do something you actually enjoy; the time should feel like it passes easily because you're absorbed in what you're doing, not feeling guilty about it.
There are countless ways to add more fun into your life, such as:
Joining a local team sport like basketball or softball
Picking up golf or tennis
Meeting with a friend or group weekly for a game of poker, chess, or checkers
Taking bike rides to anywhere that sparks your interest
At work, playing foosball or ping pong with your coworkers
Completing crossword puzzles, quizzes, or other games in the newspaper
Playing a fun game on your smart TV, phone, or VR headset (we like Acron, Attack of the Squirrels!)
Doing something creative with your kids or family, such as making art, crafts, or even simple games like hide and seek
Connecting with nature by playing with your pets outdoors, or frisbee in a park, boogie boarding at a beach, or hiking in the wood