The Game-Changing Benefits of Healthy Play
In our speed-of-light, hectic lives, many of us focus so heavily on work and family responsibilities that we never have time for pure fun.
Somewhere between childhood and adulthood, the pressures of life can cause us to take everything so seriously, that we forget how to play. When we do happen to carve out some leisure time, we’re more likely to zone out in front of the TV or computer than to engage in genuinely rejuvenating play.
Sure, adult life is full of important responsibilities, but that doesn’t mean we have to take things so seriously that only work matters. In fact, if we want to live healthy, balanced lives, play is much more important than most people imagine.
One of the time-honored ways that families can have fun is by playing board games or good old card games. Both are inexpensive, and both readily cater to all ages. They also tend to have simple rules, while their educational benefits are usually heavily masked by plain fun.
The great news about games like Trouble, Monopoly, Fish or Bridge is that they aren’t simply child’s play, or a pastime reserved for retirees. Whenever you get the game board or cards out, a number of game-changing health benefits come along for the ride, benefiting all involved.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the benefits.
Games inevitably lead to laughter, which in turn can trigger the release of endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. Endorphins promote an overall sense of well-being and can even temporarily relieve pain.
A Reduction in Cognitive Decline
A study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that challenging your brain with mentally stimulating leisure activities (including playing board games or cards, doing crossword puzzles, reading, writing, and playing musical instruments), is great for your mind.
Seniors who participated in such activities about once a week for a 20-year period reduced their risk of dementia by 7 percent. Those who engaged in these activities more often reduced their risk even more — by 63 percent!
Lasting Family Connections
Spending time together helps to form lasting connections between family members. Kids from families which have regular “check-in” times, such as a family dinner time or a regular game night, often have higher self-esteem, get better grades in school, and are less likely to drink alcohol, take drugs or engage in other risky behaviours.
Improved Brain Function
Playing chess, completing puzzles, or engaging in other fun activities that challenge the brain can help prevent memory problems and improve brain function. The hippocampus and prefrontal cortex, the parts of the brain which are responsible for complex thought and memory formation, particularly benefit from playing board games.
A Boost in Energy and Youthfulness
In the words of George Bernard Shaw, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” Playing can boost your energy and vitality, and improve your resistance to disease, helping you feel your best.
Lower Blood Pressure
Endorphins not only make you feel happier, they also help your muscles relax and your blood to circulate, lowering your blood pressure as a consequence.
A Stronger Immune System
Research has shown that negativity, depression and stress can reduce your ability to fight disease. Positive feelings and thoughts, such as those which accompany the laughter and enjoyment that comes from playing games together reduce stress, boosting your immune system.
With a list of game-changing benefits like that, board and card games deserve to be seen as much more than quaint parlor activities from another era. Rather than slipping into a habit of feverish messaging or dozing off at the TV, give yourself permission to select a board game for the family, and let the health benefits begin.