Playing is just as important for adults as it is for children. Among its many benefits, adult play can boost your creativity, sharpen your sense of humor, and help you cope better with stress.
We all know that play is important for children. Kids need play to develop and we automatically add play time into their daily schedules. Research shows that play is critical for adults’ well-being too — but many of us don’t play enough anymore.
Anything you do recreationally that brings you joy or excitement counts as playing, whether it’s getting stuck into a video game, playing sports, collecting stamps, or writing short stories in your spare time.
Whatever style of play works for you, know that making time for it can have substantial benefits for your mental and physical well-being.
Why is play important for adults?
Researchers say that play is critical for child development, and studies show it’s important for adults, too. Playfulness as an adult has many benefits for our well-being and character.
1. Boosts your overall well-being
A 2011 study discusses how playfulness in adults may be linked to certain desirable characteristics, such as liking to make people laugh, the ability to ease tension, and being able to support creative processes in a group.
The researchers asked people to rate themselves on five types of “playful behaviors”: spontaneous, expressive, creative, fun, and silly. They found that higher playfulness scores were associated with:
approaching life with excitement and energy
playful expressions of love
a sense of hope
sense of humor
The authors concluded that because of these links, playfulness significantly contributed to overall well-being.
A 2013 study has also positively linked play and playfulness with well-being and life satisfaction. The research showed that playful adults tended to do more enjoyable activities and have a more active way of life than less playful adults.
2. Helps you cope with stress
Spending time doing things that bring you joy and pleasure has a relaxing effect that counteracts stress.
A 2013 study found that playful adults reported having lower stress levels. Play also helped them use healthier coping styles like acceptance and positive reframing.
The authors found that even though playful and less-playful adults were equipped with the same coping skills, playful adults were more likely to use them effectively.
3. Boosts your physical health
Adults who play more may have a more active wau of life, and therefore may be physically healthier.
The authors of a 2016 study stressed the importance of making physical activity “fun” for adults. They noticed that children were more likely to be intrinsically motivated to exercise when having fun, like jumping and playing in the water. In other words, when exercise feels like play instead of hard work, adults are more likely to engage in it.
A 2019 study found that playing every day helped people with type 1 diabetes in many different ways, including:
feeling more supported
sharing more frequently with their partner about how diabetes affects them
All in all, the research is abundantly clear: Playing as an adult has significant benefits for our mental and physical health.
How to be more playful
Unlike children, most adults don’t have regular playtime built into their schedule. That means we need to be intentional about play and find ways to incorporate more play into our lives. Here are some tips to get you started.
1. Find your play personality
Dr Stuart Brown, researcher and founder of The National Institute for Play, has identified eight “play personalities” that can help you find out what kinds of play work best for you:
The Collector: You enjoy building collections, such as collecting stamps or vintage cars.
The Competitor: You enjoy playing (and winning) games with specific rules, like playing for a neighborhood soccer league.
The Creator or Artist: You find joy in making things, or making things work. You might enjoy doodling, woodworking, decorating, fixing machinery, or sewing.
The Director: You enjoy planning and directing, like hosting themed birthday parties.
The Explorer: You play by discovering something new, either physically (a new place) or mentally. You might play by going on a vacation to a new place or discovering a new type of music.
The Joker: You enjoy being silly and foolish. You might enjoy improv theatre or simply making your friends laugh.
The Kinesthete: You enjoy moving your body as play. You might practice yoga or take a dance class for fun.
The Storyteller: You play by listening to or creating stories. You might enjoy going to the theater or writing in a journal.
2. Play as exercise
One of the main benefits of playing as an adult is that it automatically makes you more physically active — and regular exercise has many mental health benefits.
Rather than viewing exercise as a chore that you need to complete, try thinking of fun and playful ways to exercise. For example:
Instead of swimming laps, you might have a swimming or diving contest with your children or friends.
Instead of going for a jog, you might play tag or ultimate frisbee.
Instead of lifting weights, you might go to a rock climbing gym.
3. Get into a play mindset
Playing is just as much about your mindset as it is about the activity you’re doing.
As Dr Brown says, two people could be throwing a ball back and forth, and one person could be playing while the other person isn’t. It’s important to get into the right mindset to be more playful.
Dr Browns’ book, “Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul,” defines the play state as a “state of mind that one has when absorbed in an activity that provides enjoyment and a suspension of sense of time.”