• Katrina Down

Adults play too!

For twenty years I had a fabulous pair of Bauer Turbo’s. They were well worn (much like the owner) and had been my partner in crime through many memorable moments and painful injuries. I was strangely attached to them until one fateful day in 2018 when I was energetically sideswiped by a 10 year old at a roller disco and I wiped out in spectacular fashion.

Bruised leg and ego aside, my beloved comrades were damaged beyond repair and I was forced to terminate their many years of service. (At this point I feel it important to mention that the child in question sustained no injury, but did blow me a rather large, spitty raspberry as he zoomed off on his pristine new quads…how rude!) I replaced my skates with a similar; although less vintage; pair and now opt for skating on the seafront with my daughter where the air is fresher and there are fewer 10 year olds with a beef for more senior skaters!

Why are my Bauer’s important? Well they are not, however, my skates are one of the many ways in which I engage in sheer, unadulterated, childlike fun and THIS IS important.

As adults we believe that maturity banishes our childhood need to play. We are socially conditioned to prize responsibility so highly that we relegate play to nothing more than a futile, wasteful past-time. When we do engage in recreational activities, we have a propensity to participate in competitive play or “play with rules” as this is more acceptable then reckless, wild, pleasurable childlike silliness, and yet play (in all its forms) holds as many benefits for adult growth and development as it does for children.

Play increases our ability to adapt, to problem solve/critically think and to be creative. When we think of the skills involved in “free” play, it is easy to consider the schematic development that may ensue as a result of an hour’s carefree indulgence. Psychiatrist and author of the book “Play” Stuart Brown, MD likens play to oxygen…

“it’s all around us, yet goes mostly unnoticed or unappreciated until it is missing”.

Consider the feeling of wrapping up in your cozy winter coat and braving the cool Autumnal air to kick fallen leaves with the kids or frolicking in the waves as the water glistens on a balmy summers’ day. These moments are priceless and yet serve no purpose to our adult responsibilities. However, during these moments the brain is stimulating the production and secretion of chemicals that have multi faceted benefits on our mental, emotional, physical and social capacities.

Mental benefits

With the release of neurotransmitters such as dopamine and endorphins, play increases our willingness to confront challenges, to take risks and push ourselves beyond our comfort zone. Risk taking is synonymous with raised dopamine levels, which facilitates our ability to embrace and conquer fear. Risk taking in turn, is vital for the development and maintenance of emotional regulation, especially in relation to fear and anger and is fundamental to our ability to conduct risk analysis.

Learning is facilitated by fun. I remember many days, sat at the back of my math's class, my cheek squished into my open palm listening to the monotone waffling of my teacher, as he drearily recalled algebraic methodology. I also remember how compass fights with the class rebel seemed far more appealing and the many detentions that followed (not advised!). On the other hand, I had a phenomenal English teacher who made words dance off the page, who brought Shakespeare to life through potion making and sword fights. Needless to say, I remember far more about Macbeth than I do Pythagoras. This concept still holds true as we get older. When we are engaged, when we are energetically absorbed in the things that we do, we are able to learn and retain information/new skills far more readily. Play and more importantly pleasure; increases brain functionality, memory and growth within the cerebral cortex, stimulating brain cell regeneration.

Emotional benefits

As suggested above, play helps us to regulate our emotions. The release of neurotransmitters has been linked to a reduction in anxiety and depression and an increase in confidence and self-esteem. Although I could focus quite heavily on the emotional benefits of play and the science behind it, I need only ask you to consider this. The beautifully infectious giggles of a child having fun, the times you laughed so hard your face ached and you couldn’t catch your breath, the unreserved squeals of delight when a child is being swirled full speed on a roundabout…the emotional benefits of simplistic fun are pretty self-evident.

Social benefits

Play is frequently an interactive pastime. As a result, our social interactions, ability to relate to others and our capacity to empathise, are positively affected. We often become more innate in our way of being and with that, behave more congruently when we are immersed in play. This has been noted to have beneficial outcomes on existing relationships and the forging of new ones. It has been evidenced that couples who engage in playful fun, solidify/rekindle their relationship and form stronger bonds of emotional intimacy. Couples who play together, stay together, or so science would suggest.

Physical benefits

Climb higher, run faster, think quicker…the more we use our bodies the more efficient they become. Play engages the spontaneous and methodical use of our bodies and minds, engaging muscles and processes that otherwise may go long periods of time without use. The physical benefits are not only achieved through strenuous physical play, motor skills and strategizing can be influenced with a game of chess! Regardless of whether play employs our mental of physical engagement, we will feel the benefits physically, even if this is merely with stress relief. Have fun, keep young!!

Life is all about balance and there is nothing more magical than letting your inner child breath some fresh air once in a while! Throw caution to the wind, bench the opinions of others and indulge yourself!! It doesn’t matter if you paint, play dodge ball or have a game of cards, the benefits will be there. And if you fancy a skate…I’ll see you on the seafront!

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