Another September has faded away – but you can pay attention to self care in October, too! See what Linda Riley says about making play work for you as part of a self care plan..
Start Playing Around – and bring your pets! All work and no play…well you know how that ends. It turns out the old adage has science to back it up. Even as adults, we can enhance our lives with play. Word play, physical play, humor and even hanging out with our four-legged friends all enhance health and our sense of well-being.
We can grow our brains with play! Recent studies suggest that we actually grow more gray matter when we play memory games. It took just 3 days for participants in a recent study to show brain improvement on an MRI after playing a game matching colors to words. Match games, Pictionary, word games and card games all contribute to memory and brain growth.
Play ’til you fall down laughing! When we play, we laugh. That’s a good thing because laughter increases the flow of oxygen through our blood, and the production of endorphins in our brain. Not only does it makes us feel better, it’s great for our health. Laughter lowers blood pressure, thus reducing risk for stroke or heart attack. It also boosts the immune system by decreasing stress hormones. And a good hardy-har-har-har is its own cardio workout, helping to burn calories and provide and extra boost of energy.
We get more done with play! Playfulness, humor and laughter break down barriers, help us relax and encourage cooperation. Whether at the office or out with friends, when we find ways to make work fun, we do better together and get more accomplished. A study from the VU University of Amsterdam and the University of Nebraska at Omaha revealed that co-workers developed stronger problem-solving skills and increased productivity just by being playful with each other. Research also indicates that couples who play together are happier, too.
Go outside and play! For some people, going to the gym is a grind, but sports are like kids’ play! Whether you play soccer, football or softball, enjoy walking the dog through your neighborhood, or tending to your perennial garden, being outside and moving is good for every single part of you! Moving around while having fun gives all the health benefits of exercise, and the distraction of a good game relieves the stress and worry of work and responsibilities. Playing on teams or doing parallel activities with friends adds the extra benefits that a healthy social life provides including reduced stress, healthier hearts and enhanced cognitive function.
Canines and Felines like play too! A long, long time ago hunters and wolves became unlikely companions. According to Greger Larsen, evolutionary biologist and research scientist at Durham University, hunters started following wolves’ footprints about 30,000 years ago, knowing they would lead to prey. Wolves in turn, lingered after the kill to feast on scraps. Thus was the beginning of a beautiful relationship that has evolved into the cherished bonds we hold with our beloved canines.
As it turns out, the union had benefits beyond a good meal. Scientists have long documented that spending time with animals has powerful emotional and curative impact. When people and pets spend time together, they all release “the love hormone,” oxytocin, which triggers feelings of happiness and increases trust. Being with our animal friends can lower blood pressure, ease anxiety, reduce depression, assuage grief and even help with social memory, which strengthens our human relationships.
And what about those mousers, tabbies, tigers and all? It turns out cats are good for us, too! Just like with dogs, cats and humans enjoy health benefits from their mutual bonds. People who sleep with cats not only sleep better, they may have healthier joints. Scientists have noted that the vibrating frequency of cat purring has therapeutic benefits to bones and muscles. And think about it, don’t you feel great when you watch their goofy antics?
So, find a friend – with two legs or four – and start playing around! It will round out your self care program and make you feel happier and healthier all year long.