Hands skimming across the monkey bars. The pleasing rhythm of the swings. An impromptu game of tag. The sound of giggling bouncing off nearby trees. These are just some of the classic scenes from . . . a bunch of adults taking a break from work?
Ok, you were probably envisioning smaller humans at recess or a park. But perhaps grown-ups should make our version of recess or playtime a little more common. As we age, we tend to leave jungle gyms, colored pencils and bumper cars behind for just plain ol’ gyms, pencils and cars. Research suggests that we should resist this natural progression and incorporate more play into our days.
Fun is a worthy goal in and of itself, but it can also boost your overall well-being and help you cope with stress. Whether your thing is Legos, coloring books, dodgeball, Nerf battles or something else, make a point to seek out playtime. Find an activity that allows you to lose your sense of time, that is pleasurable and that you do simply for the enjoyment of it, rather than a particular outcome. These are the key elements of play.
Go for whatever excites you, but here are a few areas where you can find some new (or old) inspiration.
Arts and Crafts
Thankfully, arts and crafts are not viewed exclusively as the domain of children. But you may have noticed that in your second grade class everyone participated in painting or drawing or the art activity of the day. As we age, we become more self-conscious about the quality of our art and believe that only those who are “good” at art should continue doing it.
Well, stop worrying about whether your art is “good” and worry only about if you enjoy doing it. Art is subjective and remember, you should be focused on how pleasant the process is, not if your painting can fetch a five-figure payday when you’re done.
Jump on a new trend like sip-and-paint classes or adult coloring books or just grab a pencil and sketch pad or water colors. Whatever you enjoy, just set aside some time to fully immerse yourself in the process of creating. It could provide you with more than a pleasant break in your day.
“Studies have shown that those kinds of activities can help with memory recall, lowering blood pressure and improving your overall sense of well-being,” says Erik Berger, MD, a Denver-based Internal and Sports Medicine Doctor.
Let’s face it, being an adult is overrated. Bills. Responsibilities. Emails (So many emails). Parent-teacher conferences. It’s generally frowned upon the have waffles and ice cream for dinner every night. The complete lack of scheduled recess and snack time.
You know what can make it better? A water fight. Or dodgeball. Or hide-and-seek. Or any other number of supposedly childlike pursuits.
To start, it gets you moving. So you enjoy the many health benefits of exercise (or at least not sitting). As noted earlier, play can help improve your overall well-being and reduce stress, and it could help increase your creativity at work. So next time you have a brainstorming meeting at work, break out the Nerf guns beforehand. You should probably run it by your boss first due to the aforementioned bills and responsibilities (To be completely clear, we’re not responsible if you get fired for hitting your boss in the temple with a Nerf round).
If group games are not your flavor, you can still go to a childhood stomping ground and reap some benefits. The playground is a great place to let your “inner child” meet your “outer adult” who wants to stay in shape but also finds the gym monotonous.
You can do pull-ups on monkey bars and squats, step-ups and push-ups on benches – whatever else you can come up with! Dr. Berger says you will not only be reaping the physical benefits, but feeling a sense of creativity and accomplishment from being able to dream up and complete new exercises.
The Campaign for North Africa is a war game that features a map that is 10 square-feet, 18,000 characters, a three-volume rulebook and can last up to 62 days. Playing that game is, uh, a choice you could make. You can also play any number of card or board games that don’t take months. As long as you enjoy the process and aren’t overly concerned with “winning.”
Board games, and other leisure activities like playing an instrument, building a puzzle, reading and dancing, are associated with a reduced risk of dementia. Dr. Berger notes that you also shouldn’t overlook the social aspect of these activities. They can be a great way to meet new people and develop a community around the activity, which has its own host of health benefits.
Whatever your choice for play, remember to fit it in when you can. Dr. Berger says that people sometimes view exercise and play in a similar way – if they can’t commit to a six-week fitness routine or a softball league, then they shouldn’t try at all. But just one bout of exercise can have health benefits, as can play.
“You might not have an hour during the day, but even if you take 10 or 15 minutes to shut your phone off, close your computer, open up a hard copy of a book, play a game or something like that to change the pace of your day, it would be helpful,” says Dr. Berger.