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The wellbeing benefits of playtime for adults

Let me take you back to when you were a child. Can you recall playing a favourite game, enacting role play scenarios or doing a fun activity with friends or alone? What feelings did playtime conjure in you? Most likely it made you feel happy, content, calm or energised. Playtime helped us be creative, develop social, thinking, problem solving and physical skills. Unfortunately, by the time we hit secondary school, playtime seems to be off the agenda. However, re-introducing playtime into our schedules can be a beneficial self-care practice to help enhance our sense of wellbeing because as Dr Stuart Brown (Founder of the US National Institute for Play) says “the opposite of play is not work, it’s depression.”

Snow sculpture made by my neighbours having fun in the snow


  • Causes feel good endorphins to be released helping to reduce stress. Can stimulate smiling and laughter.

  • Can improve heart, lung and muscle function when doing physical play.

  • Can be a form of mindfulness helping you to be in the present moment to reduce anxiety and worry.

  • Triggers the secretion of BDNF (Brain-derived neurotrophic factor) a protein essential for the growth of brain cells thereby reducing your risk of age-related conditions such as dementia.

  • Stimulates creativity and problem solving. Helps you be more agile and adaptable.

  • Can improve relationships and ways of working with others.


One definition of play is to engage in an activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose.

In his book Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Open the Imagination and Invigorates the Soul, Dr Brown outlines five types of play to consider which will bring you joy:

Rough-and-tumble play

Rough-and-tumble play is active. Think dodge ball, kicking, scavenger hunts, tug-o-war, batting, play wrestling. This form of play develops cognitive, emotional and physical skills.

Ritual play

Think activities or sports with set rules such as Chess, Battle ships, board and card games. These help us create, strategise, design and participate in activities that bring people together for a common purpose.

Imaginative play

Creative activities such as role playing, storytelling, craft and art work, comedy and improvisation sessions.

Body play

This is about getting ourselves out of gravity with activities such as white-water rafting, surfing, windsailing, diving, snorkling, riding roller coasters, mountain climbing, hiking, yoga and pilates.

Object play

This is about building things with blocks, Lego, using found objects to build dens, making snowmen and sandcastles.


  • Based on the types of play outlined above and / or what you liked playing as a kid, create a list of fun things you might like to do.

  • Now schedule some of these play activities into diary and / or schedule a play date with a fun person or child.

  • Be prepared so you can use waiting times and other opportunities for play. Keep:

- art and craft resources on hand so you easily do something creative when the mood or an

opportunity arises

- simple games on hand you can play solo or with others

- playful objects like a rubiks cube, puzzle, spinning top on your desk to play with whilst on a

call to play with or near the kettle whilst you are waiting for it to boil.

  • Sing or dance whilst on hold, cleaning your teeth, waiting for the printer, kettle to boil, microwave to ping or doing housework.

  • imagine you are going to be on a talent show and start practising your unique talent every chance you get.


If you want play as a self care activity to develop your professional skills, just make sure you allow time to:

  • Reflect on what you have learnt from the play activity. This could be better focus, improved patience, learning to trust your instincts, thinking differently etc.

  • Determine how you can apply this learning to the workplace. For example, role playing may help you understand your stakeholders better or have more thoughtful scenario planning sessions.


Whether for personal or professional development, try out different forms of play and see what works for you. I’d love hear about your playtime and what’ve you’ve learnt from it. After all, couldn’t we all do with a bit more play in our responsible, serious adult lives?


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