The Top 10 Benefits of Play
Play for Children and Adults too!
While play was once thought of as a childhood activity, scientific research has identified many of the benefits of play for adults too. The benefits are not only physical benefits - there are social, emotional and mental benefits to engaging in play on a regular basis.
#1: A stronger, healthier body
If you define play as any type of spontaneous, stress-free experience, then it’s easy to think of activities that get you off the sofa. Rough and tumble play with the kids, or playing tag could lead to improved physical benefits. Researchers suggest that adults should get at least 30 minutes of physical activity per day for health and wellness.
Play provides a straightforward alternative that doesn’t need the gym. The physical benefits for children include improved motor skills, better flexibility, increased balance and coordination – as well as the ability to ward off childhood obesity. 
#2: A healthier mind
The impact of play on the minds of lab mice concluded that even short bouts of playful activity can trigger the secretion of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). BDNF promotes brain growth, especially of the cerebellum - responsible for motor (movement) control. BDNF also promotes hippocampus growth - thought to be the centre of emotion and memory, especially long-term memory.
A 2003 study, for example, looked at the impact of rough and tumble play and concluded that it could lead to neurological (brain) growth. In other words, wrestling around with the kids in the backyard could lead to a healthier brain. 
#3: Better problem-solving skills
Having trouble coming up with the answer to a difficult problem? One possible solution is getting outside and playing. That’s right, according to a study (“The Effect of Play on Convergent and Divergent Problem Solving”) from Canadian researchers at the University of Toronto and the University of Waterloo, play leads to the development of “divergent thinking". Divergent thinking is the ability to come up with many independent solutions to the same problem. 
#4: Improved creativity
Researchers have shown a direct correlation between periods of extended play and improved creativity. A big reason for this is because play is usually unstructured, with no true beginning and no real ending. This is observable in children, where periods of free play often lead to new types of games with rules made up as they go.
Adults, too, can leverage this creativity benefit of play if they are looking for ways to “think outside the box.” It’s the reason why innovative tech startups often have game rooms that encourage play during break periods. Play leads to more effective work.
#5: Increased productivity and efficiency
On the surface, play and productivity would appear to be at the opposite ends of the spectrum. After all, what boss would want his employees “playing” when they could be working hard? But as Dr Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute of Play, has pointed out, play in a corporate work environment can actually lead to enhanced productivity.
Employees who enjoy where they work and what they do every day feel more engaged. This translates into higher morale and the propensity to work harder. 
#6: Better relationships
The first research into the link between play and better relationships focused on children, and especially preschool children. What researchers found is that children who routinely socialised with others of the same age-adjusted better to social situations. Play gave these children better social and emotional skills, as well as a sense of belonging. 
Adults, too, can use playfulness as a relationship-building tool. In a romantic relationship, playfulness can actually encourage greater intimacy between two partners. It can also rekindle a long-time relationship that might have lost its spark. 
#7: Improved emotional intelligence
In today’s corporate world, one of the big buzzwords is “soft skills,” and it’s precisely here that play can prove to be so beneficial to adults. Play helps to build confidence as well as the ability to work well in groups. No wonder so many corporations now engage in elaborate team-building activities that involve play.
In children, the benefits are noticeable as well. Researchers have found that children who participate in play are better able to navigate social situations without awkwardness and with improved self-confidence. 
#8: Reduced stress and anxiety
In adults, play can be a useful way to reduce stress and anxiety. As researchers have documented, play helps to modulate our reaction to stressful events. Put another way, playing in a spontaneous, rules-free away is a great way to blow off steam and chill out.
The most effective forms of play for stress reduction are those that take place outdoors, but even short video games can help to “take the edge off” after a rough day at the office.
#9: Greater optimism and life positivity
In 2013, a study called “The Playful Advantage” showed that engaging in play can boost coping strategies and lead to an improved outlook on life. The researchers looked at the behaviours of around 900 university students. The students described as playful were better able to cope with stress and were more positive about life. 
#10: Greater capacity for cooperation
Finally, periods of unstructured play can actually make you a better person, as measured by the capacity for cooperation. We observe this in small children. According to a recent study in the Journal of Early Childhood Research, unstructured play often needs children to share, negotiate, resolve conflict and reach consensus. This occurs all in the course of a single play session. 
RELATED: Have more fun with fitness!
Based on the growing evidence supporting these benefits, it’s easy to see why the study of play has become serious business. Play is one way to unlocking a full range of physical, mental, social and emotional benefits, both in children and in adults. If you would like further information on the why and the how of getting more play in your life, download The FREE Importance of Play eBook below.