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The Importance of Play: Why We All Need to Have Fun

December 09, 2015 Posted in: Family Health , Article

Let's face it: We're all busy people. With our jobs, housework, school, appointments, and other daily commitments, finding time for play is often a low priority. We often overlook it, viewing it as unnecessary or guilty pleasure. But play represents more than just fun and games. When properly applied, it can improve the physical, mental, and emotional health of people of all ages.

Play and Childhood Development

The importance of play begins in early childhood and is considered essential by most child development experts: "It is a natural tool for children to develop resiliency as they learn to cooperate, overcome challenges, and negotiate with others," a study in Pediatrics reports.

Some types of play and associated benefits include:

  • Free unstructured play. This stimulates creativity and imagination. It enhances social and emotional growth while also allowing kids to learn independence.
  • Physical play. This stimulates exercise and instills healthy habits for a more active adulthood. This kind of play has been linked to a decrease in childhood obesity.
  • Social play. A social focus helps children increase their social skills, encourages sharing and cooperation, and can increase resiliency when faced with social challenges. Kids also develop stronger emotional ties with their peers as a result.
  • Parent-child play. This is such an important way for children and their parents to form close bonds. The relaxed atmosphere of play allows parents to interact in new ways with their children and sometimes can reveal fears or concerns children have that they cannot voice effectively. It also provides teachable moments for the parent to act on.

Playtime Is Not Just for Kids!

While it's obvious that children benefit greatly from play, they aren't the only ones. Adults are just as in need of some fun as children are, and the wellness gains are not dissimilar. In a TED Talk that discussed the concept of play in depth, Dr. Stuart Brown explains that "The opposite of play is not work; it's depression." He's also found some correlation between violent criminal behavior and a lack of play in the lives of the perpetrators.

While you won't necessarily become a criminal from not playing enough in your life, your mood will likely be affected all the same. Doing an activity you enjoy stimulates relaxation, creativity, and problem-solving, and it can aid in relationships. Physical activities also get you up and moving, which is healthy for your body and mind.

Finding Time to Play

For many adults, setting aside playtime is difficult. They struggle with the concept of letting themselves have fun, especially when there are other pressing matters to which they must attend. Here are some ways you can help yourself play without the guilt:

  • Think about play differently. Try to remind yourself about the importance of play and how it's a positive part of your everyday well-being. Allow yourself a small act of play a day. Even if it's something as simple as working on a crossword puzzle or playing with a pet can help.
  • Write a personal play history. Try to recall the things you once enjoyed doing when you played as a child. Think of the memories that brought you the most joy and try to recreate some of them now.
  • Find playful peers. Finding others who have playful tendencies or enjoy doing the same activities as you can help inspire you to make more time for play.

Play is supposed to be fun, but a lot of adults would rather structure physical activity around a routine workout or sports team. Instead, think back to your childhood and enjoy some free-form fun. Don't worry about the effects on your health; instead, just concentrate on letting your hair down for a while without worrying about calories or mileage. Chances are, you'll be much happier -- and healthier -- for it.

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