Time to play

Thursday, September 19, 2013 - 11:56am

By STEPHANIE WOOD and MARGARET ANGUS

Play. For most children, it’s second nature. Give them an opportunity to imagine, build or play a fun game, and they’re quick to jump in. Somewhere on the road to adulthood, however, “play” drops off the to-do list (maybe about the same time as we introduce the to-do list). Replaced with mundane but necessary tasks like “go to work so I can pay the rent or mortgage” or “buy groceries and make meals,” many adults relegate play to the category of “distant memory.”

Evidence shows the importance of play for children, but what about for adults? The fact is, play at any age has the potential to dramatically transform our personal health and relationships. Play generates optimism, increases mastery and protects against factors that lead to poor mental health and stress-related illness.

When we see other adults playing, our first reaction could be surprise; we might even judge them for it. But they are actually taking part in healthy activity.

The well known benefits associated with children’s play include:

  • Increased ability to build imagination
  • Development of social skills
  • Building co-operation
  • Advancement of physical development
  • Emotional improvement

For adults, the benefits are similar. Through play, we can continue to learn about ourselves, our surroundings and each other. Play offers us a break from the everyday routine and challenges and inspires our creativity. Plus, it’s fun! Consider play an investment in your health and well-being.

If you’re not sure how to incorporate play into your routine, then start small. Respect where you are when you start. It may feel uncomfortable at first, especially if this isn’t something you normally do. Challenge yourself to play at least once this week. As you get more comfortable (and start having fun with it), you’ll likely find it easier to play more often.

National Institute for Play has excellent information on the benefits of play, as does Dr. Stuart Brown in his Ted Talk on how play is more than fun; it’s vital. (But don’t spend too much time learning about play; it’s cutting into your play time.)