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The Crucial Health Value of Play ...
for Kids AND Adults

One of life's simple pleasures -- playtime -- is not only as good for you and your kids as it feels, but it also seems to be disappearing from many adults' and even kids' schedules.

And while there is surely something to be said for working long hours and enrolling your kids in non-stop enrichment activities, there are increasing arguments that free play (tag, hide-and-go-seek, playing house, building with blocks), for kids, and various leisure-time activities for adults, are just as important.

Many Kids Missing Out on Unstructured Play


When's the last time you found your inner child and took time to play?

Unstructured play, things like playing with blocks and dolls, running around outside, building forts and making up imaginative games, is fast becoming a thing of the past for American children, according to an American Academy of Pediatrics report.

The beneficial free play is being bumped out in favor of educational videos, classes and other enrichment activities -- so much so that it may be hurting children's physical and mental health.

The American Academy of Pediatrics is now suggesting that pediatricians examine children with "stress checks" to be sure their schedules are not overloaded.

"A lot of pediatricians are seeing stress in children with this kind of [overloaded] schedule. It's not true for all kids, but it is a serious problem," says report author Kenneth Ginsburg, a pediatrician of Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

Free Play Encourages Healthy Development in Kids

free play

Unstructured free play helps kids become creative and discover their own passions.

The report stresses what commonsense also indicates: that allowing kids to play freely, along with providing "downtime," is necessary for their healthy development. According to the report, this type of play (dolls, books, blocks, physical play, etc.) helps children:

  • Become creative

  • Develop problem-solving skills

  • Relate to others

  • Discover their own passions

  • Adjust to school settings

Adults Need Playtime, Too


Adults should take time to play everyday by doing something that makes them feel good (and doesn't feel like a chore).

Kids are not the only ones who benefit from unstructured downtime -- time to do whatever your heart desires. Adults also need to play, for their health, their minds and their very sanity.

When you take time to do something you love, levels of dopamine and serotonin rise in your body, which makes you feel calm and pleasant. Meanwhile, adult playtime gives you a chance to:

  • Connect with family, friends or new acquaintances

  • Reflect inwardly

  • Learn a new skill or hone an old one

  • Relax and de-stress

  • Be creative

"You feel happier, healthier, and more fulfilled when you can do things that provide the kind of satisfaction you're looking for," says Howard E.A. Tinsley, PhD, professor emeritus of psychology at Southern Illinois University. "Over the long term, the ability to do these kinds of things leads to a greater level of physical and mental health, and to a higher quality of life."

Playtime is also essential to help adults relieve stress, says Blair Justice, PhD, professor of psychology at the University of Texas School of Public Health.

"You don't have time to make yourself sick," he says.

However, when adults become overly stressed and don't take time for leisure, they do just that. Too much stress leads to increases in chemicals such as cortisol and norepinephrine, which can disrupt the immune system and cause you to feel edgy and hostile. Studies have also found a link between high levels of these chemicals and heart disease.

Not Sure How to Play?

Kids seem to know inherently just what to do to have fun, but adults may need a little help. Above all else, make sure your playtime is enjoyable, and not something that feels like "one more thing to fit into the day."

Playing should be simple, fun, easy, and something that's a regular part of your routine. For this reason experts suggest NOT planning a complicated vacation for your playtime, but rather focusing on the little things (vacations are healthy, too, but for most don't happen often enough to rely on for your sole playtime).

Researchers say that many people enjoy nature, being near water, pets, poetry and good conversation, but do whatever you enjoy.

"People take drugs like heroin and cocaine to raise serotonin and dopamine, but the healthy way to do it is to pet your dog, or hug your spouse, watch sunsets, or get around something beautiful in nature," says Justice.

Try to fit some type of play into your day, everyday, and you'll feel the difference. Need a few more ideas? Try:

  • Window shopping

  • Calling a friend for a chat

  • Flipping through a magazine

  • Putting on some music and dancing

  • Going for a walk

  • Drawing or painting a picture, or making something out of clay

  • Doing something you enjoyed as a kid (carving a pumpkin for Halloween, for instance)

  • Playing a board game

  • Singing a song

  • Playing with your pets

  • Daydreaming

  • Writing something (a poem, a note to your spouse, a letter)

  • Joining an adult sports league

Recommended Reading

Play "Penguin Dive" Now

Some Very Fun Exercises for Your Brain ... With an Amazing Little Test at the End


Good, Old-Fashioned Play Just What American Kids Need

The Power of Play

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