Play is very easy for children. It's hard for them to not do it. By adulthood, though, most of us have gotten the message that we should be working or spending our time on more useful matters.
But play time isn't wasted time for adults. It's not something you should leave behind in your childhood. And it's not something you should have to hide, says Stuart Brown, MD, in his book Play.
That's because spending time at play -- whether it's getting outside, working on your favorite hobby, telling jokes, or just goofing off -- provides mental and physical health benefits, says life coach Susan Biali, MD. Those benefits include:
- Stress relief. When we're focused on play, "it takes us out of our daily routine and the 'grown-up' worries that occupy our mind so much of the time," Biali says. If you laugh while you do it, all the better; it may provide even more health benefits. Research has found that laughter may relax your muscles, help you breathe better, promote better blood flow, and improve your immune system.
- Better physical health. Stress can cause many symptoms, such as headaches, back pain, fatigue, trouble sleeping, and upset digestion. As a stress-reliever, play may help lessen these problems. If you're physically active during playtime, it can improve your fitness and energy level, too.
- Better self-esteem. Play can make you feel good about yourself and your life.
- Social support. Spending time with people who care about you -- like when you're playing -- can be good for your health.
Also, spending time while at play may boost your creativity and help you become a better problem-solver, says Kevin Carroll, author of What's Your Red Rubber Ball and related books. This, in turn, can help you perform better during your time at work.
To get the most fun out of your playtime, try these ideas:
Do whatever brings you joy.
Look for activities that "tickle your brain," Carroll says. That could be dancing, running, playing chess, or figuring out the missing numbers in Sudoku puzzles. "If you can find ways to surround yourself with those things from time to time, it's only going to be a benefit to you," he says. However, he warns against activities that are harmful to your body or mind, like overusing alcohol.
If it's been awhile since you truly played, think back to what made you laugh as a child, Carroll says. You may still find joy in these things. (If you have any toys or books from your childhood, take a look at them. They may set you back on the path toward playfulness.)
Bring in a play expert.
Have you forgotten how to play? Is your imagination not as vivid as it used to be? "Children are happy to take the lead on this!" Biali says. Let your child, grandchild, or other kid in your life teach you how to play a new game or go on an adventure. If you don't have any children around, grab a pet toy and play with a dog or cat.
Join your coworkers.
Carroll often speaks to companies and their workers about the need for play in the workplace. If your company offers chances to play -- such as a basketball court, a softball team, a walking group, or social outings -- take part.
Spend some time playing with people from other departments, he says. This is a great way to learn more about your company. Also keep an eye on how your boss and familiar coworkers play. This might give you clues about how to work with them better.
Keep play from turning into work.
"One does have to be careful with play, as if we get too serious about it or start earning income from it, it can stop being so deliciously playful," says Biali.
If your fun hobby turns into work, be sure to explore parts of it that still feel like play. Biali still finds her sense of play in dance while dancing at home or taking classes with her favorite teachers.