What if video games and movie nights (or day-long movie binges), weren’t guilty pleasures, but instead, brain food? Play is often associated with children, but play is just as essential for adults because it can keep our minds flexible, stimulate creativity, treat anxiety and depression, aid problem-solving and even heal relationships. Here, we invite you to play, like an adult.

I recently listened to an NPR Ted Radio Hour podcast called “Press Play” about the benefits of play in adulthood. Although the podcast is geared towards play in adulthood, it does touch on the importance of play in our early childhood development, and after listening to this podcast for a bit, I started to wonder: if I had played more as a kid, would I be smarter today? Perhaps be better at problem-solving? Growing up as an only child, I didn’t play in the traditional sense. I had a more independent, imaginative state of play because that was what was available to me. Basically, I played alone by way of daydreaming, often to music.

While looking into this idea more, I learned that Stuart Brown, MD, psychiatrist and author of the book “Play,” considers art, books, movies, daydreaming, and even flirting to be forms of play. Dr. Brown (also a guest on the podcast mentioned above) is the founder of the National Institute of Play and has spent his career reviewing over 6,000 case studies of play history in individual’s lives. There is so much to read about his work (including how lack of play can be a contributing factor in the cause of violence), but one of the more exciting things he found (perhaps only to romantics like me) is that play also helps couples revive relationships and delve into other forms of emotional intimacy. (Source: Psychcentral, The Importance of Play for Adults by Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S.) Who needs to spend money on a marriage counselor? Get your partner to play with you! OK, I’m going to quit while I’m ahead on this one.

So, what is play?
Instead of spewing off Wikipedia’s or Webster’s definition, or even Dr. Brown’s examples above, I think the answer is unique to each individual. What activities offer you pleasure?

Playful Suggestions
I like to make any outdoor area my personal playground by throwing in an occasional cartwheel, climbing a tree, twirling around like a ballerina (especially fun on slippery surfaces), jumping as high as I can in the ocean into oncoming waves, and staring at the stars while imagining worlds in the distance.

If I’m indoors, I’m likely putting on a self-created film festival. Sometimes I’ll pick a genre, a theme, or an actor/actress and watch as many films of their films as possible in one day.

If I’m with other people indoors, games never get old. I’m talking board games, card games, video games, drinking games – sign me up. Otherwise, if it’s an outdoorsy crew, exploring in any fashion (via paddleboard, skis, ice skates, kayak, bike, even on foot) is ideal and often more fun with others. I was recently in Las Vegas on a dead Monday night during their off-season and my partner and I found ourselves sliding down railings, running and dancing around fountains, and practicing for a future tightrope competition by dancing along the railing of the Bellagio, with added twirls at each lamppost for extra fun. As I mentioned above, any outdoor space can become a personal playground. I encourage anyone who reads this to play whenever, whereever, and as much as possible. Beyond being good for the mind, it’s good for the soul.

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