5 Health Benefits of Play

Goofing around isn't just for kids.

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Photo by Jim Purdum/Getty Images

If you think the benefits of playtime ended shortly after you learned how to tie your shoes, it may be time to channel your inner kindergartner. Playing can improve your health, happiness, and productivity. Here’s why:

Laughter can bust stress.

A good chuckle can lower stress levels, science suggests. In one study, some participants watched funny videos, while others sat quietly. Those who watched the videos had better recall (hello, improved memory!) and showed lower levels of cortisol, the hormone connected with stress. Stress can damage your body by causing all kinds of problems including headaches, anxiety, and sleep problems. In other words, the physical and mental benefits of laughter are no joke.

Play can help your brain grow.

Even well into adulthood, easy memory games may help stimulate brain growth. Learning new names for colors was linked to increased gray matter in the brain, according to one recent study. Researchers gave participants colored cards with nonsensical names and asked the participants to memorize the new monikers over a span of three days. After the experiment, participants' brains, scanned via MRI, showed the growth of new gray brain matter, an important part of our brain that helps us make decisions and process thoughts.

Play makes you more productive.

Office meetings filled with humor actually result in better communication between coworkers, according to new research from VU University Amsterdam and the University of Nebraska at Omaha. The study found that when someone told a joke, it sparked others to chime in, breaking down barriers to communication. Taking small breaks from hard work can result in greater productivity, not to mention stronger problem-solving skills, according to other research.

Play is good for your heart.

Physical play is a great way to trick yourself into becoming more active—a habit your heart will thank you for. Walking the dog burns 230 calories per hour, dancing burns 320, and a leisurely bike ride zaps over 420. Even a quick game of soccer with your kids in the backyard can burn 500 an hour. Bonus points for taking your play outside, which offers many added benefits, The New York Times reports.

Play is good for your relationship.

Playing around can literally help your ticker, but it's also good for your heart in a less literal sense. Couples who play together stay together, research suggests. One study looked at couples who regularly reminisced over funny experiences in their past. Thinking back on those times led to greater relationship satisfaction, the results suggest.