Active Play – A Daily Prescription for Good Health by Caroline Mittmann

With all the demands and stressors of today, there seems little opportunity or desire to add one more thing to the list, especially play or to exercise. For children, telling them to go outside to play might be the only thing they do the first time you tell them to; but, for adults, suggesting they go play or find some way to move their bodies more than what the demands of the day have already required sounds like an undesirable or impossible task. You’re physically, emotionally, and mentally depleted, and still have some chore that surely takes priority over “playtime” or exercise. So why do so many health professionals encourage people to do it? What are play and exercise going to do for you, even if you do manage to find the time and muster up the energy? What could it look like for adults to incorporate active play into their daily lives?

Active play is so basic, natural, and easy for kids, but we seem to lose that propensity as we age; the value of it gets lost in the milieu and melee of adult obligations and responsibilities, so we avoid it, ignore it, or suppress it. But this can come at a cost, as G.B. Shaw is famously quoted, We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” Those demands and stressors of our lives feel more and more burdensome, and our sense of satisfaction and well-being seems to fade into a nostalgic memory of when we were younger and life was easier, when we laughed often and felt more care-free. The stress of today is very real and heavy, so adults need all the tools and strategies in their arsenal to combat the negative consequences of this challenge. Play and movement are two such defenses! Here is why we should actively play: 

  • Movement promotes strength, balance, coordination, and skill for our bodies to function practically.
  • Play promotes creativity, ingenuity, problem-solving, and connection for us to function emotionally and socially.
  • Both promote the release of natural endorphins, which contribute to your sense of pleasure and well-being, mitigating the effects of stress, and keeping you feeling young and energetic. Used separately or together, play and movement help us to release our stress, experience fun, and feel refreshed.

Integrating play and exercise into your routine might take some initiative, sacrifice, and discipline, but the positive effects of doing so are undeniable – Science says so! Look for ways to build active play into your schedule, just like you would schedule a lunch with a friend or a workout at the gym or book club after work.

You may be wondering what active play could look like, so here are some ways to incorporate active play into your routine:

  • Take a walk and create a scavenger hunt to find something that stimulates all your senses.
  • While cooking or cleaning, put on some music and let your body move to the beat.
  • Set up game night with others to play activity-based games, such as charades, Minute To Win It, or movement-based video games.
  • Spend time with children or pets.

If you are interested in learning more about the evidence behind the benefits of play for all ages, you can visit the research of Stuart Brown, MD or’s article “The Benefits of Play for Adults.”


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