Here at Lindywell, we’ve been focusing on turning the play into a daily habit, both on and off the Pilates mat. What I’ve found is that taking time for play is about so much more than just having fun—it’s an essential component of my mental and physical health.

As adults, however, it can be difficult to integrate play into our normal routines. If you’re anything like me, you have a full schedule of commitments and priorities that need your attention. The good news is, you don’t have to carve out hours each day to leverage the many benefits of play. In fact, you may not even need to add anything extra at all.

Here are five reasons to turn this childhood pastime into a daily habit, plus a few tips for how to do it.

1. Play for Mental Health

Mental health struggles can feel unavoidable sometimes. Our world is hectic and our lives are busy! This is why play is so needed—it might even help you restore the balance you’ve been craving in your life.

During COVID-19, 200 respondents in quarantine were asked to track their mood states. According to the research, those who prioritized leisure activities (I.E. things that they participate in voluntarily for fun) were more mentally adaptable and resilient in the face of pandemic stress. Those people were also less vulnerable to depression, anxiety, and loneliness, and they reported higher overall life satisfaction. 

Even in hard circumstances, play can be the natural mood lifter you need to help sustain mental and emotional wellness.  

Your New Daily Habit: Shift your perception of “play.” What I mean is, everyday activities like working out, making dinner, or listening to music in the car can be playful if you choose to make them so. Pick a workout that you love, try a new recipe for dinner, or put on your favorite music from high school to turn these everyday activities into outlets for play.

2. Play for Productivity

Productivity is often the name of the game, whether you’re cleaning the yard or working at an office. Surprisingly, play can be a key element in helping you be more productive. Office workers who played a team video game for 45 minutes were 20 percent more efficient and productive when returning to their tasks. This playtime activity emphasized collaboration and enjoyment, and the results paid off. 

Team members also improved in their cohesion, problem-solving, communication, goal orientation, motivation, and creative thinking. Plus they had to make time to focus and process information quickly, all of which boosts brain function.

Your New Daily Habit: Take play breaks in between productive chunks of your day. Go for a walk, dance around the house, or play with your pet. I love to BLANK on busy days—and I always come back feeling refreshed and ready to jump back in.

3. Play for Your Relationships

It’s not a coincidence that young children who play together often become close friends. This phenomenon isn’t true of just children either. Play is a way to build healthy adult relationships too, no matter your stage of life

A group of adults (45 years or older), who played together for 10 consecutive weeks, had a  noticeable improvement in their relationships with one another. They reported feeling more emotionally attuned, cooperative, altruistic, trusting, and empathetic toward one another—so cool! 

They also felt encouraged to be authentic without any fear of judgment. That’s because shared play can reinforce secure community bonds. So powerful, and yet so simple.

Your New Daily Habit: Prioritize opportunities for play and fun in your relationships with romantic partners, family, and friends. Maybe you put away the phones and try playing a card game while waiting at a restaurant or play charades while catching up with your friends. These small changes can make a big difference in how you connect with the people around you. 

4. Play for Self-Confidence

Confidence doesn’t have to come from loving how you look in the mirror or being the smartest one in the room. Play can actually give your confidence a surprising boost. That’s because fun activities can nurture a sense of personal worth and value, increase feelings of competence and self-efficacy, and create more meaning in life. 

Here’s the trick with this one: your chosen form of play must be enjoyable, stimulating, active, and intentional in order to count as a confidence booster, according to the research. In other words, binging your favorite TV show won’t do the trick. Play that boosts your confidence should immerse both the brain and body. 

Your New Daily Habit: A great way to gain this confidence is to make your daily movement more playful. While I think most Pilates workouts (okay, maybe all!) are fun, we have a few workouts specifically designed to be fun, like Mood Boosting Pilates. 

5. Play for a Vibrant and Energetic Sense of Self

To quote George Bernard Shaw, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old. We grow old because we stop playing.” I love this quote because, even though he spoke those words almost a century ago, his point is still so relevant today.

A playful, imaginative attitude will keep you vibrant, energetic, and full of wonder. If you’ve ever watched a child, you know exactly what I’m talking about here. This not only feels great, but it also supports overall health and can even increase predictors of longevity. 

Adults (over age 59) who prioritize active recreation on a regular basis have more efficient metabolisms and more expendable energy, which lowers their risk of cardiovascular disease or cancer mortality. Illness prevention that’s also fun? Count us in!

Your New Daily Habit: Find ways to play that you truly enjoy—rather than letting it be another item on your to-do list. This will help you stay consistent with play so you can reap the benefits well into your 50s, 60s, and 70s and beyond. This is an important part of aging intentionally and loving the journey of it.

Play Is the Daily Habit Your Schedule Has Been Missing

Making play a daily habit can be as simple as turning things like dinner, a workout, or your drive to work into a playful moment. You don’t necessarily need more time—you just need to be intentional about what you do with your time and how playful you make it!

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