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Play Rewires Your Brain

August 8, 2017

Playing isn’t just for kids anymore. Emerging research tells us that play can rewire the brain, reduces stress and depression, help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s and memory loss, and even decreases chronic pain. When you play and laugh, it can boost your immune system, lower blood pressure, and reduce stress hormones.

With more than 76 percent of Americans indicating that they experience “great stress” at least one full day during the week, play needs to be an important part of an established health routine. Your school age children are experiencing tremendous stress on a daily basis. Everyone needs to unplug and remember to play.

Science is providing data showing that playfulness leads to more creativity and productivity. Researcher Marian Diamond in her Response of the Brain to Enrichment work asserts that playful environments powerfully shape the cerebral cortex of the brain where the highest cognitive processing takes place.

Researchers link play to healthy relationships, strong family ties, and creativity. Play is absorbing and stimulating. Play can diffuse anger, fear, and anxiety.

It is critical to learn to schedule play into your life. Every two to four hours schedule some form of play into your day.

Work

  • Physical play. Create times during the day for both physical and mental play. Keep a small basketball hoop, a golf green with a club, or a dart board in your office. Or keep an online gaming website tagged to your web browser and play once a day.
  • Color. Color invites us to be playful. Keep colored highlighters for use when you are working. Play around with the different colors. Bring a playful lunchbox to work. If possible, wear playful socks as a reminder to not take life too seriously. Also, try wearing playful or colorful jewelry as well.
  • Coworkers. Tell coworkers the science of play and encourage them to join with you. This will increase the fun for everyone.
  • Animals. Take a pet to work if possible. Animals have many play cycles during the day and will remind you to take fun breaks.
  • Break room. Keep playful mugs near the coffee pot. When things are getting dreadfully serious, get your fun cup of coffee. They may bring a chuckle.
  • Playful listening. Keep a radio station on or keep music streaming from your phone with your most playful fun music. Throughout the day listen to music and sing along. Listening to music increases your serotonin (the healing, relaxing hormone) level and when you sing, research tells us that you get an immune boost of 250 percent. Sing and dance around your office for a few minutes and notice the difference in your work.

Children

  • Physical play. My family and I played games and danced to the Cinderella soundtrack until my daughters went to college. You can do the same with your kids. Keep hula hoops and jump ropes on hand for the kids. Keep a basketball goal outside and a badminton net in the backyard. Play lively movie soundtracks (like Cinderella) and other fun music that you and your family love. While dinner is cooking, or after the evening news, play some fun music so everyone in the family can sing and dance. You can even get an inexpensive karaoke for your home. You can also play a family game of hide and seek once a week. Turn off the lights and play hide and seek.
  • Kitchen play. Have your children bake cookies with different shaped cookie cutters. Laugh as each kid cuts out their favorite shapes and don’t forget the colored sprinkles and icing. Play with holiday and fun baking themes throughout the year.
  • Bath play. Those evening baths with the kids can be a great source of playfulness with the bubbles, bath toys, and scented soap. Let bathtime be fun-time for your young kids.
  • Animal play. Playing with the family animals is always fun. Have your family take your dog on an evening stroll. The exercise is good for everyone.
  • Play games. Keep a good supply of family board games in the closet and play the games that keep everyone playing and laughing.

Important. The key to adding more play to your life is not waiting for the play to just happen. You must realize that play is key to a happy, healthy life and schedule playful times as part of your daily and weekly routine. Whether you are at work or home, alone or with your family, there is always a way to create a time for play.

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