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The Importance of Play in Adulthood

Adults playing tug of war

We all know that kids love to play and that play is crucial for healthy child development. But what about play in adulthood? As we age, we tend to let go of the kid in us, focusing instead on the responsibilities and priorities of adulthood. But adults can benefit from taking time to play just as much as kids.

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Woman Kayaking

With the levels of stress rising, more researchers are emphasizing the importance of play for adults. Play brings joy to daily life, helps relieve stress, boosts mental health and can even enhance physical well-being. There are many ways for adults to incorporate more play into their lives. From hobbies and interests to exercise and sports, adults can find ways to play more. Outdoor exercise, in particular, has been shown to increase exercise enjoyment and adherence, two crucial ingredients in encouraging people to be more active.

Why Is Play for Adults Important?

Play is important for adults for a variety of reasons. Just like play allows kids to develop their cognitive, emotional and behavioral skills, play for adults has similar effects. Adults need playtime to relax, recharge, reconnect and reinvest in their self-care. With so many responsibilities and obligations packed into busy schedules, adults rarely find time for play. But taking time out of your daily life to prioritize downtime and enjoyment is vital to health and well-being.

Below are four ways that play is important for adults:

  • Keeps adults young at heart: Adults can tend to get bogged down in the day-to-day chores and requirements of life. Losing a spark of joy can have significant consequences on adults, their friends and family and the community at large. By committing to playtime, adults can find their inner child once more and reconnect with the joy they felt when they were a kid.
  • Stimulates creativity: Everyone has creativity in them — it just depends on whether it’s being tapped into or not. Playtime gets adults out of their routines, putting them in new and exciting environments and situations, which can ignite creativity. Adults may find that when they return from playing, they are filled with new perspectives and ideas they may otherwise not have thought of.
  • Helps relieve stress: Stress is an ongoing public health issue affecting millions of adult Americans. Without ways to unwind, adults remain in a steady state of fear response, which has long-term impacts on health and well-being. Playtime is a natural de-stressor, giving adults an opportunity to put their worries aside and enjoy the present moment. The more often adults can prioritize playtime, the better they can become at managing and reducing stress naturally.
  • Enhances social connections: A survey found that 36% of respondents described themselves as feeling seriously lonely. Humans are social creatures, and we require human connection just as much as basic necessities like nourishment and sleep. Adults experiencing loneliness can benefit from including more playtime in their lives. Play is a social practice, often involving friends, family members and other community members. Spending more time in play can help enhance the social connections adults need to thrive.

Children Playing

How Does Play Influence Health?

Play for adults can result in numerous positive health outcomes. Play offers physical, psychological, emotional and social health benefits that extend into daily life. Just as adults prioritize other healthy habits like diet, exercise and sleep, they should also make time for play in their daily and weekly schedules.

man and woman high-fiving

Benefits of play for adult health and well-being include:

  • Encourages physical activity: More than 60% of U.S. adults are not engaging in enough physical activity. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity exercise. Many people don’t exercise frequently enough because they don’t enjoy it. Play is a great way to boost enjoyment and engagement in physical activity. Active play promotes an increase in exercise, which is vital to long-term health and disease prevention.
  • Promotes mental well-being: With the rates of depression and anxiety increasing among Americans, it’s essential to find ways to promote better mental well-being. Play for adults is a naturally enjoyable endeavor, helping adults reconnect with their emotions and find happiness and joy in something they love. The endorphins released during play can boost positive feelings and ease negative emotions, which can help mediate mental health over time.
  • Improves brain health: Keeping a sharp, healthy brain is critical to maintaining a high quality of life. Stress and cardiovascular disease are two significant risk factors in developing Alzheimer’s disease. Adults of all ages can adopt healthy lifestyle habits to help reduce their risk of cognitive impairment and boost their brain health. Since play helps reduce stress, improve emotional well-being and optimize physical health, adults should focus on ways to incorporate more play into their daily life so they can continue to experience great brain health.
  • Boosts intimacy in relationships: Over the years, numerous studies have found that married people or those in intimate relationships are happier. But it’s also the quality of the relationship that predicts happiness. Further research has found that laughter and play between partners is a key ingredient in relationship well-being. To reap the rewards of an intimate relationship, partners should prioritize laughter, enjoyment and playtime to strengthen their bonds.

What Types of Play Are Best for Adults?

Adult play takes on a range of forms. Unlike play that kids undertake, adults don’t tend to use a slide or head for the swing set. Instead, adult play looks more like downtime, taking a break from the daily responsibilities of life to recharge their batteries. Since everyone is unique, what’s revitalizing for one person may not be for another.

Here are five different ways adults can play:

1. Social Interactions

One of the most common types of play adults engage in is making time for their social life. Getting together with friends over coffee, going out for dinner, hitting the trails together or hosting a game night are all ways adults use their social lives as a form of play.

Adults on bikes

Humans are social animals, and feeling connected to others is deeply important for both psychological and physical well-being. Copious research has found that loneliness, social isolation or dissatisfaction with one’s social life puts people at greater risk of psychological disorders, including depression. A chronic lack of social interaction can also affect your physical health. Studies show that left untreated, chronic loneliness can increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, sleep disorders and substance use.

Living a life that’s more abundant in social connections can enrich your life in the following ways:

  • Boosts mood and makes you feel happier
  • Creates a sense of safety and belonging
  • Provides a network of people to confide in and rely on for support

Even brief and unstructured social interactions can leave people feeling happier and more connected. A study found that even social interactions between people who have weak ties, such as with acquaintances, are correlated with stronger social and emotional well-being.

2. Hobbies and Interests

Just as kids like to play with arts and crafts or building blocks, adults also have hobbies and interests they like to spend their time working on. Having projects, hobbies or interests to work on is a great way for adults to play. Adults can find enjoyment and downtime in pursuing hobbies and interests, and they can also use it as a path to further self-discovery. Many adults try out new hobbies, eventually settling on the ones that allow them to feel fulfilled and expressed.

Adults pursue hobbies out of pure enjoyment rather than a necessity or obligation. Because of this, hobbies allow adults to immerse themselves in the present moment, leaving behind daily stressors and worries. Hobbies also provide adults with a creative outlet, helping them come up with new ideas and hone their problem-solving skills. Overall, hobbies are important for mental health and well-being and enriching our lives.

There is a vast array of hobbies or interests adults can spend time on. Here are some popular ones adults enjoy:

  • Music
  • Food
  • Reading and writing
  • Travel
  • Pets
  • Video games
  • Health and fitness
  • Arts and crafts

Many adults have more than one hobby, making time for many different interests in their lives. Spending time exploring different hobbies is important to adding more meaning and enjoyment to daily life.

father and daughter playing video games

3. Organized Sports

Organized sports aren’t just reserved for kids or professional athletes. Many adults enjoy playing sports, whether it’s an impromptu touch football game with neighbors or a community intramural league. Sports provide adults with numerous health benefits, including physical exercise, social connections and stress relief. Playing sports into adulthood can also improve problem-solving skills and cognitive function.

Despite the numerous benefits of sports for adults, many people who enjoyed playing sports as kids eventually stop playing sports by young adulthood. According to experts at Harvard, adults stop playing sports after childhood due to a lack of time, interest or accessibility, as well as health issues that prevent them from it.

Other experts say that adults who loved to play sports as kids could really benefit from recreational sports in adulthood. They cite evidence that shows that playing sports can help you continue developing skills like:

  • Time management
  • Discipline
  • Regulating emotion
  • Self-esteem

Additionally, being part of an active recreational sports team can help alleviate depression and anxiety symptoms. Playing team sports is naturally motivating, which can give people a sense of purpose, accomplishment and direction. Having a weekly game or ongoing practices can also give adults something to look forward to in their week.

And the good news about playing casual sports is that you come to realize it’s not all about winning. Knowing you’ll lose a game now and then can also help adults build self-awareness, cooperation and leadership skills.

4. Games and Challenges

Adults love to play games just as much as kids. For adults, games are a great way to let out the kid in you. The sillier the game, the better as it allows adults to remain in the present moment, filled with laughter and enjoyment. Plus, the healthy competition of a challenging or fun game is a positive thing to add to your life.

Some examples of popular ways for adults to enjoy games and challenges include:

  • Board game nights
  • Murder mystery parties
  • Sports days

Whether it’s with a group of friends, a neighborhood block party or a family BBQ, there are lots of opportunities for adults to have fun with games.

Friends playing cards

Another popular way that adults can play is to sign up for a challenge. These competitions usually involve fitness, such as 30-day workout challenges, but they can involve a variety of different themes. The popular ice bucket challenge during the summer of 2014 is a good example of adults around the world playing together for a good cause.

5. Outdoor Exercise

Everyone needs exercise, and they need it every day. But for many people, exercising indoors, such as at a gym or recreation center, starts to feel like going through the motions after a while. Especially in the summer when the weather is nice, taking your exercise routine outdoors is a great way to add more play to your life.

Outdoor exercise can be more beneficial than indoor exercise in the following ways:

  • Increases your motivation
  • Helps you stick to your goal
  • Boosts positive mood and relieves negative emotions
  • Elevates self-esteem
  • Enhances social well-being
  • Connects you with nature
  • Makes exercise more enjoyable

Outdoor Exercise Benefits

The benefits of exercise combined with the enjoyment of being outside make it more likely that adults will want to exercise. Compared to indoor exercise, people who exercise outdoors are more likely to keep up with their exercise plan. Adults who exercise outdoors also report feeling greater self-esteem and social well-being.

There are plenty of options for outdoor exercise. Walking and hiking trails or nature paths allow adults to connect with nature and exercise at their own pace. Outdoor sports fields and jogging tracks let adults get in their aerobic exercise. Additionally, many local communities have outdoor fitness parks, which encourage adults to perform strength and resistance training exercises.

How Can You Combine Play and Exercise in Adulthood?

It’s important for adults to commit to a lifelong exercise habit to help improve health, prevent illness and enhance quality of life. A lack of physical exercise can contribute to heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity and some cancers. Since most adults don’t meet the exercise recommendations, they should find ways to incorporate more activity into their lives in ways they enjoy.

Exercise can feel like play. By combining play with exercise, more adults will be willing to get the activity they need to thrive. Outdoor adult fitness parks contain exercise equipment designed to give adults two types of exercise they need — strength to build muscle and coordination to improve balance and mobility.

Strength Exercises

Strength training exercises help build muscle over time. Different exercises target specific muscle groups, which help isolate and build strength in key areas. In addition to building strength, resistance training can also help encourage fat loss when done in combination with cardio exercise.

Many people enjoy strength and resistance training for the challenge and the satisfaction of building their strength. Below are some of the best types of outdoor fitness equipment for adults to build strength and have fun exercising outside:

  • Chin-up bar: Build back, shoulder and bicep strength and challenge yourself by beating your personal best on the chin-up bar.
  • Dip station: Strengthen your triceps and upper-body stabilizer muscles with tricep dips at the dip station.
  • Pushup bar: Pushups are a key upper-body exercise that work your triceps, chest and shoulders. Practice proper form and perform more reps using a pushup bar.
  • Leg lift: Leg lifts are a great core exercise, working both the abdominal muscle group and the low back. Build core strength by practicing leg raises on the leg lift station.
  • Step-up: Step-ups are a fun and challenging exercise that help build quad, glute and hamstring strength. Build your lower-body strength with the step-up station.
  • Sit up: Sit ups are a classic abdominal exercise, but they also help strengthen hip flexor, chest and neck muscles. Practice your sit ups and build your core muscles at the sit up bench.
  • Curl-up: As reverse sit ups, curl-ups also help strengthen abdominal muscles, but they target the lower abdominals. Improve your core strength and stability with the body curl bench.
  • Back extension: Lower back health is vital to strength, stability and coordination. Strengthen your lower back muscles with the hyperextension bench.
  • Chest press station: Push exercises work the chest, shoulders and triceps. Grow your chest strength with the press station.
  • Row station: Rows are a pull exercise that help grow your back and bicep muscles. The row station will help you strengthen your back, spine and joints.

list of strength exercises

To get a full-body workout, combine several of the above exercises into your workout, helping balance your body and build total strength.

Coordination and Mobility Exercises

Coordination and mobility exercises are vital for all adults to incorporate into their physical activity. Maintaining high levels of motor coordination, stability and balance protects adults from injuries and falls as they age. Mobility exercises help adults continue to live a high quality of life not limited by mobility restrictions.

Many people find mobility and coordination exercises enjoyable because they’re a good personal challenge and easy to turn into a friendly competition with others. Below are some of the outdoor fitness equipment that will help you with coordination and mobility:

  • Balance beam: The balance beam helps adults increase their proprioception, which is their awareness of their body in space. Balance practice is also essential for the vestibular system, which allows you to coordinate your movements in relation to gravity.
  • Beam jump: Beam jumps are a good bodyweight resistance exercise that also helps improve stability and coordination. Practicing beam jumps can also help you improve endurance.
  • Monkey bars: Monkey bars are a fun activity and fitness park favorite. They help with upper-body strength, and they can also improve mobility, coordination and posture.
  • Rope climb: Rope climbing is an excellent physical and mental challenge. It builds upper-body strength, grip, coordination and mobility.

The combination of both strength training and coordination exercises can help adults improve their physical health and mobility, extending their longevity.

woman on balance beam

Embrace Adult Play With Miracle® Recreation Products

Adults need to keep play alive, spending time each week to let out their inner kid. Outdoor exercise is a great way to combine the necessity for both exercise and play. Improve physical and emotional health with outdoor fitness parks for adults.

Miracle Recreation provides innovative and durable outdoor fitness equipment for adults. Learn more about the types of outdoor fitness equipment available for parks, schools, recreation spaces and more. Find a Miracle Recreation distributor near you  or request a quote to get started!

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