Recess Isn’t Just for Kids: Adults Need Playtime Too

Kristin Fielding, MD

Kids are diving into two months of summer fun — an extended recess, if you like. Their vacation visions might include swimming, bicycling, kayaking, baseball, and maybe a lazy afternoon reading the latest “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” book.

Adults would do well to follow their lead, setting time aside for a recess of their own. If your life feels weighed down with responsibilities and worries, it’s important to take time for yourself to be outdoors, to dance, to create — in short, to play.

Playing as kids means having fun, exploring, losing yourself in the moment. You should give yourself permission to do something enjoyable without feeling guilty that you’re “wasting” time. Just as recess does for youngsters, adult play releases tension, clears the mind, and encourages creativity.

The most obvious benefits of play that involves physical activity are improved cardiovascular health and lung function, reduced blood pressure, and, of course, burning calories. But exercise also lowers stress hormones (cortisol and adrenaline) while unleashing the “feel-good” hormones called endorphins that lift our mood and boost our feeling of well-being.

Getting exercise doesn’t have to mean a joyless jog around a track, though. When patients ask me how to fit more physical activity into their lives, the big thing I emphasize is to choose something you enjoy. Otherwise, a few days of determined effort will be followed by a decline of enthusiasm, and you’re back where you started.

Instead, try a new approach:

  • Discover a fun activity. Have you heard of disc golf? Based on traditional golf, this game uses a flying disc instead of a ball, and an elevated metal basket as the target rather than a hole on a green. It’s less technically demanding than golf, but you’ll enjoy a good walk and a little friendly competition.
  • Get in touch with nature. A ramble through a nature preserve or bird sanctuary, a hike in one of our forests, or a stroll on one of our beautiful beaches offers a chance to reconnect with nature. But try it with an emphasis on mindfulness, something the Japanese call “forest bathing.” Spend time in the moment. Let your senses take in your surroundings: see the many blues of the ocean waters; feel the the texture of a seashell in your hand; hear the sounds of the wind passing through leaves overhead.
  • Think beyond exercise. Don’t think of gym time or a workout as your recess. Think beyond exercise and have fun. Try your hand at a “paint night,” go to a comedy club for some laughs (another trigger for endorphins), volunteer to walk dogs or play with cats at an animal shelter. Do something you enjoy.
  • Don’t forget your spiritual side. Meditation or prayer can be a great stress reliever. Try setting some time aside in your day for these sustaining practices. Other activities, like knitting or crocheting, as I do, can have a meditative aspect too. Even gardening and pulling weeds from the flower bed may have that same effect for some individuals.
  • Family time. Lure your kids away from the video game console or the television for a family game night with card games like rummy or Uno, or board games such as Pandemic, which requires a cooperative effort instead of fierce one-on-one competition.

Think of adult recess as giving yourself time to enjoy something, while focusing less on the things you think you “should” or “must” do. You’re likely to find yourself happier, more relaxed, and a little healthier, too.  

For more tips on mindfulness and wellness, visit the Being section of our Lifespan Living health and wellness blog.

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