The science of why playing is good for adults

We all know that playtime is important for children. It is a vital part of early development and improves creativity, social skills, language, and imagination in young brains. But what about playing as an adult – is it still important?

The short answer is yes. Not only is it beneficial for general wellbeing, but different types of play support different mental functions in an adult mind, from the emotional to the intellectual and even medical.

Brain Function:
Doing puzzles or playing mentally stimulating games can boost our problem solving skills and creativity. Research shows that playing encourages development of the cerebral cortex even in adults, and also triggers the release of Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF)—a molecule which is vital for brain cell growth, learning, and memory.

Social Skills:
As an adult, playing with others helps us to develop and refine our social skills, including communication, cooperation, teamwork, and ability to read body language. It also aids our perception of social boundaries and helps to break down interpersonal barriers, which supports relationship building. Just one of the reasons you often see playful teambuilding activities in corporate workshops and away days.

Stress and Pain Relief:
Playing releases endorphins—feel-good hormones produced in our brain and nervous system. These neurochemicals act on the opiate receptors in our brain to reduce pain and increase sensations of pleasure. This helps our body to manage stress and discomfort, particularly in physically taxing situations like childbirth.

Emotional Healing:
Endorphins not only relieve stress, but they also give us feelings of euphoria, boost self-esteem, and reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. In adults, play shared with a secure partner can have a positive emotional influence on an insecure person, replacing unhelpful beliefs with more positive thoughts and behaviours.

Relationship Building:
Playing with another adult regularly can build trust and help us to feel safe with that person. This, in turn, opens us up to intimacy and sharing. Laughing together also fosters empathy and compassion, which are essential components of healthy relationships.

Tips for increasing playfulness:

  1. Build playtime into your daily routine. Don’t wait for a spare moment to rear its head—
    make play a priority.
  2. Decide what kind of play is actually fun for you. Playing should feel light and easy, not like another ‘to do’ on your list.
  3. Take goals out of play. If you like sport, do it for the sheer fun of it rather than hitting a new personal best. If you play music, do it purely for joy rather than nailing that difficult part. Whatever your passion, devote at least some time doing it just for the love of it.
  4. Spend more time with children. Young minds are less bogged down by social expectations, deadlines, or life stresses. Let yourself meet them at their level, rather than staying in your responsible grown-up mindset.
  5. Share play with others. Whether it’s a partner, family member, friend, pet, or even an online connection, opening ourselves up to playing with others has many wonderful benefits.

As adults, it is easy to forget to play, or treat it like something frivolous that simply isn’t meant for us. But whatever our age, our bodies and minds are designed to play all the way through our lives. Not only is it vital for our wellbeing, but it helps us to manage our adult responsibilities too. So there is nothing to lose and everything to gain by having a little fun sometimes!


Why Adults Need Playtime Too Break That Mould Podcast

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