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The Joys of Child’s Play

Toss a water balloon. Break out your hula hoop. Take a kite to the beach. Playtime is good for your body, spirit and mind.

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Woman doing hula hoop
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When was the last time you had a pillow fight? Played hopscotch? Went to an arcade room? You’re probably thinking, Lady, I’m a full-grown adult. I don’t have time for that childish stuff. Well, for the past year or so, I’ve made so-called “childish” activities a priority in my life. Why? Play benefits grown-ups, too.

  • According to a study published in the European Journal of Humour Research, playfulness in adults was associated with improved psychological and physical well-being and greater life satisfaction.
  • People who participate in activities that they enjoy and find meaningful tend to be happier and live longer, according to the National Institute on Aging (NIA).
  • Your choice of play may help you maintain social connections or meet new people. That’s especially important as we get older. According to the NIA, social isolation and loneliness increase the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, depression, dementia and death.
  • A 2013 study conducted by researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found that playful adults reported experiencing less stress than those who weren’t playful. They also were more likely to use healthier stress management techniques, such as positive reframing.
  • A study conducted by researchers at Pennsylvania State University and published in the American Journal of Play found that being playful, fun-loving or having a sense of humor may make us more attractive to potential romantic partners.

In other words, get out there and play. That’s what I’ve been doing.

Here are some of the things that have me giddy like a kid in a toy store.

Hula hooping. You did this when you were younger, right? Just so you know, working the hoop around your waist isn’t nearly as easy as it was when we were kids. It’s a real workout. According to the Mayo Clinic, hula hooping results are in line with other types of dance-aerobic activities, like salsa and belly dancing. Over the last several months, I’ve gotten back into hula hooping and I love it. Moving my body, getting in flow and learning new tricks brings me happiness!

Playing jacks. Remember that game with the small rubber ball and the little metal jacks (colorful ones if you were fancy)? I was a jacks queen in middle school. I recently bought a set of jacks and have been playing with them often. Your girl’s still got it! This game is just as much fun as I remember, especially when my teenage niece gives me some competition. Bonus: According to the NIA, research suggests that mentally stimulating activities (like jacks) may positively affect memory.

Coloring. This one I picked back up at the recommendation of a psychologist I interviewed for a work assignment. She said coloring engages all of the senses, which promotes mindfulness, and it helps relieve stress. At the time, I was skeptical but remembered how much I enjoyed coloring as a kid. So I whipped out some crayons and tried it. I’ve been unleashing my inner artist ever since. Staying within the lines (or not, if I choose) is super- relaxing. Plus, I love seeing my pretty creations when I’m done.

Stickers. If you’ve ever spent time with young children, you probably know the power of these bad boys. Parents and teachers can get kids to complete chores and do schoolwork or homework, all for a little smiley face sticker. Although I’m older, I’ve recently discovered that earning stickers makes me happy. I’ve been using them as tangible rewards to help keep me on track with my workouts. Putting a sticker on my exercise calendar after I’ve completed a workout gives me a little “cha-ching” feeling.

Unicorns. Yep, I’m a grown woman who still loves unicorns! Now, I’m not running around saying I believe they’re real, but I’m fully embracing my craze for the mythical creature. In fact, some of my stickers and coloring activities tend to be related to unicorns. There’s just something about unicorns that makes me feel a special kind of magic (Black girl unicorn magic, of course).

Since I started prioritizing play, I’ve been having the time of my life! And as it was when I was a kid, the more I play, the more I want to play. So I’m always on the lookout for other fun activities. That’s another upside of play: It can be whatever you want — game night with friends, dancing, reading, karaoke, video games, sports, visiting an escape room, anything. As long as you’re enjoying yourself, go for it!

Follow Article Topics: Me-Time