“It is a happy talent to know how to play,” wrote noted American Philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson, (1803-1882).  Emerson, a proponent of self-reliance, individuality and freedom, and a strong believer in human potential, recognized the importance of recreation centuries ago.  The need is just as critical today. Amid life’s unrelenting pace, play helps us maintain a sense of inner and outer balance. Affording sufficient time for restorative recreation in our lives enables us to nurture a healthy mind and a healthy body.

Plenty of research exists to support what previous generations knew and practiced:  that kids need to play.  The unstructured time spent outdoors with friends, building forts, climbing jungle gyms, and pretending to be superheroes, professional athletes, queens, and astronauts has a strong positive impact on learning, social connection, empathy development, and communication.

Sources such as the National Association for the Education of Young Children, National Public Radioand academic researchers such as Dr. David Whitebread of the University of Cambridge are nearly unanimous in their assertion that play is crucial to the overall wellbeing for both children and adults.

The benefits to play for adults are well documented:

  • Improved relationships: couples who retain a playful interpersonal style tend to address challenges more successfully.
  • Sharpens mental function: improves memory, enhances cognitive skills and wards of dementia.
  • Creates community and connection to others.
  • More productivity at work and at home.
  • General sense of calm, tranquility and wellbeing.

“Play” for adults can take many forms; we don’t have to don red capes and fight imaginary villains—although that certainly qualifies!  As you define your version of play, consider any of the following activities as a good place to start:

  • Athletics: softball or soccer leagues, golf, tennis; fitness classes
  • Mindfulness: Yoga/meditation
  • Creative hobbies: painting; ceramics; writing
  • Music
  • Knitting
  • Baking
  • Dance:  Zumba, ballet, ballroom, jazz
  • Board/Video Games
  • Puzzles
  • Consensual, safe sex games
  • Outdoor activities: hiking, skiing, camping.
  • Community service/volunteerism.
  • Cultural Arts (attending plays, movies, performances)
  • Socializing

The key is to embrace something that provides a joyful experience, engages your mind and/or your body, and generates positive energy.  This positivity then spreads to other areas of your life, enabling you to face challenges with robustness and confidence. Adequate play at every age forms the cornerstone of an authentic, empowered, balanced lifestyle.