“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”
I really like this quote from Bernard Shaw as it expresses that play is a great way to stay young and healthy. Play is a purposeless, pleasurable and voluntary activity simply for the sake of enjoyment. It is about the state of being – as opposed to doing. We are human beings after all!
In our hectic and modern lives, many of us focus on work and family commitments without ever carving out time for play and fun. Stress levels are rising as many are juggling two jobs, taking care of children and/or elderly, rushing through the day without pause and rest, and dealing with the unpredictability of these times. Moreover, when we get some leisure time, we may turn to TV or our digital gadgets rather than enjoying ourselves in playful activities connected to ourselves and others. Somewhere between childhood and adulthood many of us engaged less and less in playful activities. We tend to neglect play because it is not valued in our productivity-driven and goal-oriented culture!
Emotional, physical and nutritional stress create imbalances in the body and affect all aspects of our physiology.
High stress levels disturb our hormonal balance, our nervous system and immune function.
Whereas our body is designed to cope well with short-term stress, ongoing stress is problematic and create a prolonged stress response in the body: High cortisol levels upset the finely tuned hormonal balance. Our nervous system is on high alert and stays in ‘fight/flight/freeze mode’. Our immune function gets exhausted. Our digestion switches off. Physiological changes can lead to weight gain, digestive issues, headaches, hypertension, sleep disruption, low memory function, anxiety or low immunity. Chronic health problems are to a great extent due to our busy and stressful life-style.
Lowering stress is essential in leading a healthy and balanced life.
Eating healthy food and physical activity are important pillars of a healthy life-style. Many people seem to only focus on diet and exercise when trying to improve health and well-being. Yet, pausing and playing are two other important aspects to consider when working toward better health. Pausing is essential to lower stress: Tuning in with yourself, having quiet moments, connecting to your heart and mindful breathing throughout the day are ways to help calm the nervous system and engage the ‘rest and digest’ part of the nervous system that helps us relax and ease.
Taking time for play can play a crucial role in creating more health and balance in our lives.
Play is a fun way to lower stress, change our body’s physiology and balance the nervous system. Play activates the fight-or-flight response in a safe environment. When there is no real threat and the activity is enjoyable, play trains the body and mind to better tolerate this type of stimulation. Engaging in more play is a way to both enjoy life more, and to train our minds and bodies to calm quickly when the fight-or-flight response gets activated. Therefore, it helps you get more resilient to our daily stress.
Play makes you feel good!
Play can trigger the release of endorphins, the body’s feel-good chemicals which promote an overall sense of well-being. Positive emotions such as enthusiasm, joy and excitement affect the hormonal and chemical balance in the body which promotes health. Play improves brain functionality and creativity. Studies have shown that play improves the immune response and makes you less susceptible to sickness. Furthermore, play helps you to connect to yourself and others, and to get a more positive outlook on life.
Take some time each day to play!
What do you enjoy doing? Do you have a hobby that you have neglected for years? What enjoyable activity did you put off for years, because ‘life got in the way’? What did you used to like when you were a kid, teenager, young adult? – Maybe it is time to get your painting stuff out, start knitting again or try a pottery class? Maybe you always wanted to dance salsa? Start singing, dancing, bring out your dusted guitar… whatever it is that moves your heart and makes you happy. Shut off your devices and play! Be present with your activities. Take time to play regularly!
Create little moments of play during your day!
If you have children or grandchildren, it would be easy to get play into your daily life. Take time to engage with them, laugh, play around with paint, get creative. Get your board games out to play with your partner or friends. Play with your pets, take time to potter about your garden… The options are endless. We are all different, and have different preferences and favourite activities. Be curious and open, and see where your heart takes you. Enjoy!