Forest Bathing International Magazine, Issue 1 - Page 34

Sometimes as we get older we lose touch with our inner child. But playing isn't just for kids. Becky Howie's article shows how unstructured play is beneficial for adults in a myriad of ways–

and how nature amplifies those benefits.

Why Play is Still Important for Adults

Unstructured play time is widely accepted to have benefits for children’s growth and development. However, when it comes to play time for adults, we often discount it as frivolous, immature, or simply a waste of time – with the possible exception of organized sports. But organized sports are very different than spontaneous, unstructured play, and due to their goal-oriented nature, they can often rob us of many of the real benefits of play. Dr. Stuart Brown, who founded the National Institute of Play, states that “play is something done for its own sake” which is pleasurable and “takes you out of time.” It is not something that’s done with an end-goal in mind. According to the National Institute of Play, when our lives are deficient of play, it constitutes a genuine public health risk and can contribute to the prevalence of conditions like depression, stress-related diseases, interpersonal violence, and addiction. Play is a source of vitality in our lives that will benefit us far beyond our childhood years if only we will let it.

Benefits of Play

There are many benefits of incorporating play into our lives as adults. The old adage “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” actually holds true for adults in many ways, and when we start to lose the playfulness and joy in our lives, our company can become less appealing to others, and our relationships, creativity and motivation can suffer. But when we find ways to incorporate play into our lives as adults, the benefits can be enormous, including reduced stress and increased creativity, energy and productivity.

How Nature Magnifies the Benefits of Play

Now, play can take place anywhere both indoors and out. But when we combine play with time in nature, the benefits are multiplied. In the same way that Green Exercise (which is exercise pursued in a natural environment) has added benefits over simply running indoors on the treadmill, green play can have added benefits as well. In their 2014 book Your Brain on Nature, Selhub and Logan present research showing that time spent in nature can reduce stress and depression, increase creativity, and boost our immune markers in ways that similar activities done indoors cannot. It can also help us develop closer relationships with those around us. So, I invite you to go out in nature and take an adult version of recess!

Five Ways for Adults to Play in Nature

You may be thinking, “That’s great, but if I start playing around in public I’m going to look like a fool.” If you feel embarrassed about playing where other people might see you, consider going to a place that’s far enough off the beaten path that you will feel comfortable and still be safe, or bring your kids or dog with you – they will give you social license to make a fool of yourself in public. There is something invigorating about letting go of social norms and just playing spontaneously. Here are some suggestions to get you started:

Climb a tree

This was part of an assignment in my graduate wilderness therapy program. I thought it was silly at first; after all, I was training to be a professional therapist and not a kindergartener. But as soon as I tried it I was flooded with memories of climbing trees as a child, getting pine pitch in my hair, and hiding above everyone else’s heads during games of hide-and-go-seek. So I kept at it. Once a week for a whole semester I visited my tree in a public park, took off my shoes and climbed up into her branches to sit for at least twenty minutes.

continued on page 36

Increasing Your Vitality by Playing in Nature

By Becky Howie, M.A.

By Becky Howie, M.A.

Increasing your Vitality

incrEasIng your VitAlitY

by pLayiNg in NatUre

Increasing your Vitality

by Playing in Nature

by Playing in Nature