Why play is good for your health

When was the last time you played and had so much fun, you completely lost track of time? If it’s so long ago that you can’t even remember, chances are you’ve been missing out on something that according to Dr Stuart Brown, a leading authority on play, is a basic biological drive, as critical to our health as sleep and food.

While play is second nature for children, as adults we forget how to play, and have fun. Weighed down by the pressures of work and life, we neglect to make time for anything else, including ourselves. Whether it’s playing team games, memory games, a sport or a musical instrument, or just playing for laughs, by rediscovering your inner child, you can also discover the benefits that play can bring to your health, happiness and productivity levels.

Let laughter lower your stress levels

Playing games, having fun and laughing out loud is one of the best ways of combatting stress. Laughter can trigger the release of endorphins, the body's natural mood-boosting chemicals that promote a positive feeling. This can then lead to passion, a new interest and hobby, and better mental health and physical fitness. Endorphins promote an overall sense of wellbeing and can even temporarily relieve pain. Play that sparks lots of laughter on a regular basis can also lower blood pressure, increase blood flow, and improve the function of blood vessels, all of which can all lower your risk of heart attack and other cardiovascular problems.

Lift those physical and mental energy levels

Letting off steam during the day, including while you are at work, whether through fun games, exercise classes, or office outings to fun events, provides refreshment and prevents burnout. “Play can make us feel young again, giving us a new level of energy and fitness,” says Lucy Arnold, personal trainer and owner of Lucy Locket Loves. “I recommend taking out 30 minutes per day for play. This could be a fitness class, a new found hobby or just time spent with friends and loved ones.”

Play can change people’s perspective and make them feel refreshed and reenergised and in a better frame of mind for tackling a tricky problem, or finishing a difficult task.

Read: Payal Kadakia on making play everyday

Maintaining good mental health

Regular play sessions help to engage your brain, ensuring it stays sharp and keeping memory problems at bay. The average brain is believed to be capable of storing up to 2.5 petabytes of information, holding its own against modern digital drives. When it comes to retrieving all of that information, however, our memories can let us down. Playing games like Sudoku, completing puzzles, or pursuing other fun activities that challenge the brain can help prevent memory problems and improve brain function. Playing brain-testing games with family and friends can also help ward off stress and depression. For example, gather a number of random items and place them on a tray. As a group, take turns to look briefly at the items before covering them with a cloth, and then try to remember all of the items.

Boosting innovation and creativity at work

Play can stimulate parts of the brain that you don’t use during normal work activities. A playful atmosphere can change your mindset and help you find new ways to solve problems. Learning a new skill is generally easier when it is fun and you are in a playful upbeat mood. Increasing your creativity at work can not only make your job more pleasurable, it could also give you a chance to come up with innovative ideas that benefit your company.

Lisa Forde, director of Dotty About Paper, says: “Play can reduce stress and anxiety, and also improve productivity and focus as you have time to think and breathe. I implement team-building exercises as often as possible for my employees, as it makes them feel valued and appreciated. However, team play also helps develop and maintain relationships, and also improves social skills and empathy.” 

Building better relationships.

For children, play is a building block of social interaction with other children and developing social skills, but the same principles apply to adults and their family friends and work colleagues. Playing together and sharing laughter and fun with others can foster empathy, compassion, trust, which promotes collaboration, teamwork and a sense of belonging and community. The bonds that are forged during play even in a work setting can create a solid foundation for interactions with customers and other stakeholders in the company.

Playfulness is also a state of mind, and a playful nature can help you to feel relaxed in stressful situations, break the ice with strangers, and form new workplace relationships.

Finding your playful soul mate

People with a sense of fun and playfulness may find it easier to meet their ideal mate. In a Pennsylvania State University study, Play and Mate Preference, researchers asked 250 students to rate 16 characteristics that they might look for in a long-term mate. ‘A sense of humour’ came in first among the males and second among the females, while being ‘playful’ placed fourth for women and fifth for men. The team suggested that the attraction to playfulness could be rooted in evolution, with playfulness in men signalling non-aggressiveness, and in women, youth and fertility.

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. Thumbnail from gettyimages.

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