The Value of Play in Adult Life

The busy life of most adults requires excessive expenditure of focused energy to provide for one’s needs and the wellbeing of the family. Many adults claim that the stress is so acute that it precludes opportunities for recreation or play. A common solution for many has been to resort to self-entertaining through electronic gadgets. Is this a wise choice?

Prior to the technological era, adults would unwind from their daily routines by socializing, playing recreational games or sports, traveling and enjoying family activities, reading or watching television. Though these practices are still maintained by many, more individuals elect self-entertainment with electronic gadgets.

We are well aware of how helpful playful activities are for children. We encourage our youngsters to spend time with friends and play outside since we know that these activities enhance children’s learning, physical fitness, social skills, independence, task mastery and wellbeing.

In his book, “Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul” Stuart Brown points out that play is not a trivial action but a necessary activity for our health and wellbeing.  Brown lists the ten play benefits: “1. Play has been scientifically proven to be good for the brain. 2. Play teaches us to use our imaginations. 3. Rough-and-tumble play teaches us how to cooperate and play fair. 4. Play helps us learn to be friends. 5. Sometimes the best way to learn a complicated subject is to play with it. 6. Kids do better academically when they have recess. 7. Physical play delays mental decline in old age. 8. A little play can help solve big problems. 9. Playing at work is not just useful; it’s essential. 10. When we get to play right, all areas of our lives go better.”

Professor Peter Gray of Boston College who wrote “Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant and Better Students for Life” practices what he preaches for children. In addition to his academic life and writing he is also a long-distance bicyclist, backwoods skier, kayaker and a backyard vegetable gardener. He sees these playful and healthful ventures as his way of learning and enjoying life.

Researchers at Emory and Andrews University and The Center For Disease Control and Prevention surveyed over 500 adults 19-90 years of age in the Seattle Tacoma area whose “Immersion in media environments was evaluated using the participants’ estimates of the time they spent during a typical week surfing the Internet and watching TV, including videos and DVDs.” As hypothesized, health-risk factors – specifically a higher BMI (Body Mass Index) and a greater number of poor mental-health days – differentiated adult video-game players from non-players.” Also, “Female video-game players reported greater depression and lower health status than female non-players.”

The evidence supports the advantages of active play activities for individuals of all ages.

To stay healthy:

  • Keep your play activities social, physical and self-rewarding.
  • Abstain from solitary, sedentary play for prolonged periods.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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