Come Out and Play: It’s Good for You!

A father jumps over a sprinkler as his wife and daughter watch.If you were handed good health, laughter, and joy would you take it?

As far as I can tell, it is much more difficult to explain play than to experience it. Spring is the perfect time to try out some new ways to play, revisit some of your favorites, and, most importantly, bring a playful attitude to areas of life that feel less than playful. Play improves your health, without a doubt. With rates of obesity climbing for children and adults, social media depression as a new phenomenon, and more time spent in front of the computer and television than outdoors playing (to name a few changes due to the devaluation of play) we need to take a serious look at where we are headed and what play and playfulness means to all of us, no matter what our age.

Currently there are many advocates for play. Play can be part of every facet of living no matter what your age. Good health (less of the bad stress, more of the good stress), loving relationships, life-long learning, and increased creativity are some of the many benefits of play.

Ashley Montagu wrote in Growing Old:
“The truth about the human species is that in body, spirit, feeling, and conduct we are designed to grow and develop in ways that emphasize rather than minimize childlike traits. We are programmed to remain in many ways childlike; we were never intended to grow ‘up’ into the kind of adults most of us have become.”
(Quote taken with permission from The New Game Plan for Recovery: Rediscovering the Positive Power of Play, Quereau, T. & Zimmermann, T.)

What are these childlike traits? (Observing our own children gives us the key)

  • Curiosity
  • Imagination
  • Playfulness
  • Open-mindedness
  • Willingness to experiment
  • Flexibility (Swing!)
  • Humor
  • Energy
  • Receptiveness to new ideas
  • Honesty
  • Eagerness to learn
  • The need to love

A couple of examples about our attitudes around play and laughter:

  • The mother of a infant recently wrote for a parenting blog about how she is not able to spend 15 minutes playing and relaxing with her baby because she is thinking of all her “to dos.” A number of mothers and grandmothers wrote in to say, relax and enjoy your baby, the time you have at this age is precious.
  • Liane Hansen, a well-known reporter on national NPR’s Weekend Edition told the story of a woman at a music concert who turned around to say something to a couple sitting behind her who were laughing in response to the performance. The woman said, “Stop, I can’t hear the music because you are laughing too loud.” “Lighten up folks,” was Liane’s response.

Okay then, what are some ways to play (for all ages) that improve your health and bring more joy and ease into your life?

  • Trade massages with a child, friend, lover, sister.
  • Get or make some play-dough, dig up some local clay, or buy some at a craft store, clear a space on an outside table or cover your kitchen table or counter and go for it!  Don’t “make” anything—play with your elbow, your knuckles, your fingernails, notice how the clay changes, watch how different amounts of water changes the clay. There is no right or wrong way to play with clay and it’s recyclable. When you are done playing with the clay enjoy the cleaning up process just as much as you enjoyed the rest of your play time.
  • Eat something or imagine eating something you have always wanted to try but just haven’t done it yet.  Our senses are often dulled because we have done the same exact thing over and over again. Imagine yourself going into the exact travel or restaurant setting that you’ve always dreamed of, that four-star restaurant in France that you’ve read about for instance. Write a story about the place, the food, the colors, the utensils you used to eat or how you ate with your fingers only and how that felt or how you ate the dessert blindfolded while being fed by your partner. Order that appetizer you always wanted or try a new dessert.
  • Eating at home and cooking with friends or new friends can be great fun. Pretend you are in another country and after your culinary experience write a review and send it to all of the friends who shared in the experience of the meal.
  • Spend some time recalling the special smells of your childhood, maybe it was your mom’s perfume, or popcorn roasted in the fire at home, or freshly washed sheets that your mom hung up to dry outdoors, or your dad’s aftershave lotion or pipe aroma. Take a walk and see what smells entice you. When you are cooking, eating, at the market take time to smell the fruit, the scent coming from the oven, the market stalls the freshly baked bread.
  • If you played an instrument as a child you might try playing that same instrument as if you never played it before, see what happens if you strike the keys on the piano softly or drum on a paint can fast and then slow. If you have never in your life played an instrument find one that is not too technical like a kazoo or a shaker and have some fun experimenting with sound.
  • Listen to the sounds around you, spend time alone with a natural setting and listen to what you hear and don’t hear, make some of your own sounds on a walk, in the shower, sing a made-up song as you walk, whisper into your pillow.
  • Take a walk with the intention of seeing green or blue, take photos and create a journal of your play day, add poems, paint with mud on a rainy day, play with watercolors or paints placing dabs of color on pressed board, different kinds of wood, drift wood, rocks, a wall in your garage or closet, tennis shoes, sandals, or wherever your imagination and play lead you.

After you play with some of these ideas or some of your own, find ways to bring that same playful attitude you experience in playing with your senses into your everyday life of work, relationships, visioning, and creating.

If you were handed good health, laughter, and joy would you take it?

© Copyright 2011 by Mary Alice Long, PhD. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • LF

    April 21st, 2011 at 9:58 PM

    Playing has only decreased over generations and now it has almost hit a zero now. Kids are only interested in gizmos and outdoor sports and even indoor games have become passé.

    One more thing that I would like to add is that even for us adults who grew up with considerable play, it is only a child-thing and play is not considered something to be of value to adults. But I beg to differ. Playin is a wonderful experience and no matter what you play,it can really help you.

  • Mary Alice Long, PhD

    April 25th, 2011 at 3:46 PM

    Thank you. There is so much evidence in our culture that play is devalued in every age group. On the up side, there are many involved in delivering the good word about the value of play and how to improve as the “State of Play”

  • Benjamin

    May 3rd, 2011 at 5:03 PM

    When I think of smells of childhood, I remember my Dad’s Old Spice aftershave and the smell of turtle wax. He used to wash and wax his car on the weekends and I can remember holding that open circular tin for him as he did so when I was only old enough to be at eye level with the hood. Even today that smell of car wax takes me back. Thanks Mary for jogging my memory. :)

  • Abigail

    May 3rd, 2011 at 6:41 PM

    I wonder if the deterioration of social play can be blamed mainly on people spending more time social networking online than IRL networking. Maybe people just dislike being near others physically more now. You can make any reasonable excuse to leave an online conversation, but you can’t do that in real life.

  • taylor

    May 3rd, 2011 at 6:46 PM

    I don’t enjoy conversing online anywhere even close to meeting up with friends. There’s no real heart in it because you’re not getting the full picture-no body language or touch on the arm for example. My friends and I all very tactile and I think that’s a big missing piece of the online friendship pie. Fun stuff just isn’t as much fun if you’re not doing it in person imho.

  • Dean

    May 5th, 2011 at 7:26 PM

    When I was first married we used to get together with a few other couples on a Saturday night and have a card night. Each couple took a turn of hosting it on rotation so no one person was left to do everything. It was never taken seriously and we played the simplest of games like twenty one and snap just for laughs. It was more about connecting than gameplay, or should I say connecting through gameplay.

  • Jake

    May 5th, 2011 at 8:37 PM

    Convenience is part of it too. Want to talk to your aunt? Log into MSN and talk as long as you want without leaving the house. Once something becomes that easy in society, anything that needs even a bit of effort becomes annoying and tedious because you found a better way to do it.

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