Here comes summer! As the peak of yang in the cycle of seasons, summer is characterized by heat, brightness, growth, and vibrancy. Summer has an expansive quality and physicality; the freedom and spirit of the season suggest that we look outward and engage in the external world through adventure, activity, and play. It is a time for taking initiative, embracing risk and challenge, and most of all, having fun.
Health research suggests that play is not only important for children, but also for adults and seniors as a part of the human experience and an essential component of healthy aging. Playfulness has been associated with different aspects of well-being, including cognitive, emotional, social, and psychological benefits. Playful adults tend to be more upbeat, optimistic, positive, and relaxed. Researchers who study play in animals propose that the act of play is critical to neurological growth and development, making brains more flexible and adaptable to different environments. It may enhance creativity and problem-solving, while also strengthening social skills and encouraging emotional growth.
Play is not just an activity, but a state of mind. It involves suspending reality and creating alternative worlds. When children engage in play, they embody a sense of wonder, openness, and innocence. As adults, we would also do well to tap into that same spirit of playfulness. Playing allows us to exercise our imagination and curiosity, and encourages us to be open to different perspectives. A little levity, enjoyment, and diversion can serve as antidotes to stress, depression, and anxiety. Whether we engage in make believe with our kids, play wrestle with our dog, express ourselves through the arts, or play games and sports - the act of play grants us a reprieve from work deadlines and daily to-do lists, and shifts our focus toward things that give us pleasure and enjoyment. So take a cue from your kids this summer; take a recess from life's stressors and make time for play.
Henig, R.M. 2008, February 17. Taking Play Seriously. New York Times Magazine 38-45, 60, 75.
Pellis, S.M., V.C. Pellis, and B.T. Himmler. 2014. How play makes for a more adaptable brain: A comparative and neural perspective. American Journal of Play 7(1):73-98.
Yarnal, C. and X. Qian. 2011. Older-Adult Playfulness: An Innovative Construct and Measurement for Healthy Aging Research. American Journal of Play 4(1):52-79.
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