Taking a playful approach to learning new skills isn’t just for the fun of it. There’s substantial evidence that proves the power of play to reduce stress, enhance performance, and forge social bonds that boost creativity and innovation.
Furthermore, play is important “medicine” when taking on aches, pains, and bigger physical challenges and traumas. It’s the spoonful of sugar that helps us process intense and uncomfortable sensations.
Play is the ingredient that helps us overcome, and Tune Up Fitness® classes, immersions and trainings are packed with play. When the going gets tough, we often get silly.
What is play and why should I, as an adult, do it?
“Play is something done for its own sake…It’s voluntary, it’s pleasurable, it offers a sense of engagement, it takes you out of time,” says Dr. Stuart Brown, head of the nonprofit called the National Institute for Play, in the article Play Doesn’t End With Childhood: Why Adults Need Recess Too.
“The act [of play] itself is more important than the outcome.”
We know it can be tough to let go of serious grown-up habits. So here are some hard facts as to why you should lighten up and get silly.
5 Science-Based Reasons Why Adults Need to Play
1. Play improves your athleticism
The spirit of play means you don’t need to be right–you don’t need to be the best. You should explore and experiment. This will guide you to greater athleticism.
Find new ways to reach, hold, grab and pull. Jog on uneven terrain. Lift abnormal objects. Let your curiosity lead you down a movement rabbit hole, leaving the typical far behind.
You will soon uncover novel ways to move that enhance fine motor skills. These skills are used to make small, coordinated movements with the hands and fingers. They depend upon the muscular, skeletal, and neurological systems all working smoothly together.
In a sense, your play becomes like cross-training. When you return to your chosen sport you will have more skill at your fingertips.
2. Play reduces your stress and increases good feelings
The hormones that come with play–namely endorphins which are the body’s feel-good chemicals–counteract stress hormones. So go ahead and pursue pleasure and enjoyment through your fitness.
Find ways to move, breathe, strengthen, and self-massage that soothe and delight you.
Why only obsess over that one nasty knot in your tensor fascia latae when you could also pick a sweet spot on your upper back to roll out? Why lift the same old barbell over and over when you could spend some quality time flying your giggling eight-month-old around the house?
The endorphins from your playful choices will generate an overall sense of well-being and can even act as a pain-reliever.
3. Play boosts your creativity & problem-solving skills
Play takes the seriousness out of your fitness practice. This sets the stage for creativity and innovation. Without the “real world” consequences, you might stumble upon unexpected breakthroughs.
Your playful approach shifts you from operating in the logical left prefrontal cortex (“left brain”) to the imaginative right prefrontal cortex (“right brain”).
In a recent sit-down with Stick Mobility® creator Dennis Dunphy and Tune Up Fitness® founder Jill Miller, both had major insights on the power of play. They agreed that play is fundamental to how they innovated old systems with new tools and techniques (like the Roll Model® Method therapy balls for Miller and the long, slightly flexible Stick Mobility® sticks for Dunphy).
“The thing with innovating is you’re always playing around,” shared Dunphy. “Just exploring the movement for itself. It’s so much fun just to grab the stick and say okay, here is our baseline, this is what we know. Now let’s see what we can develop off the baseline.”
Thus, movement innovation is born.
*Stay tuned in July for the interview with Miller and Dunphy sharing their paths to becoming movement innovators!
4. Play makes nerve impulses faster and more efficient
Here’s the deal: you must fail in order to grow. You must make mistakes. You must color outside the lines to refine your ability to color within them. Thus, the messiness of play sharpens your neuromuscular control.
On a neurological level, play helps you out of the rut of old movement patterns. When gone unchecked, those ruts can become ditches. By scrambling up typical patterns, your body has the opportunity to lay down new myelin.
Myelin is the sheath around many nerve fibers that speeds up impulses throughout the body, while also making them clearer. From The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle:
“Struggle is not optional–it’s neurologically required: in order to get your circuit to fire optimally, you must by definition fire the circuit suboptimally; you must make mistakes and pay attention to those mistakes; you must slowly teach your circuit.” (Pages 43-44)
If you’d like to get even more advanced in your practice of play, get silly! Why run in a straight line, when you could make a game out of zig-zagging and leaping over garbage bags on the street? Why do your dynamic stretches in stony silence when you could do them to Motown classics?
Break the rules to stimulate new learning and myelin production.
5. Play fortifies your social bonds
Social bonds are an important aspect of your body’s ability to regulate itself. Your Social Engagement System (SES) unconsciously picks up cues from the people around you to let you know if you’re safe or in danger.
Positive playful experiences with others involve eye contact, touch, vocal exchanges, and collaborations that provide a sense of safety. They quiet the fearful reactions within the amygdala.
“Not only can the SES override stress hormones, it can prevent the release of stress hormones by increasing the level of oxytocin, a hormone that inhibits the amygdala.”(Using The Social Engagement System by Tom Bunn L.C.S.W.)
Get closer to your tribe by playing with each other!
What’s the weirdest way that you play?
How about you? Do you find novel ways to move? Creative ways to mix up your fitness? Please share your crazy ways to play in the comments below! We’d love to be inspired by you…
Author: Ariel Kiley
Special thanks to Sandy Gross, Jill Miller and Dinneen Viggiano for images for this post.
Bunn L.C.S.W., Tom. “Using The Social Engagement System.” Psychologytoday.com, Sussex Publishers, LLC. 13/11/2012. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/conquer-fear-flying/201211/using-the-social-engagement-system
Coyle, Daniel. “The Talent Code.” New York. Bantam Dell. 2009.
“Fine Motor Skills Activities for Adults.” Study.com, Working Scholars. https://study.com/academy/lesson/fine-motor-skills-activities-for-adults.html
Robinson et al. “The Benefits of Play for Adults: How Play Benefits Your Relationships, Job, Bonding, and Mood.” Helpguide.org, Helpguide Org International. 11/2018. https://www.helpguide.org/articles/mental-health/benefits-of-play-for-adults.htm
Related Article: On Becoming an Empowered Educator: It Starts With Your Practice
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