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The Importance of Play for Mental & Physical Health

When we are children all we do is play. We make up games, play pretend, create new rules, and make broom broom sounds as our cars go round the corner on our racetrack rug. But somewhere along the way we get too old or too cool for play, and then it seems it gets lost forever. Which is a great sadness for us and the world as a whole.

Play allows us to release tension, to be silly, and goofy. To let our inner child out. It also allows for problem-solving, team play, body awareness, movement and FUN!

Movement and fun don't always get put in the same sentence… but they should! Because if you enjoy the activity you are doing you are far more likely to continue to do it!

No one is going to continue to get up and go to the gym at 6 am before work if they hate it, no matter how good it may be for you.

Find an activity that brings you joy, and that may be gym! I personally love lifting heavy things…but it is not for everyone. You may find more joy running, swimming, hiking, cycling, dancing, boxing, climbing, bouncing, swinging around a pole, hanging from a hoop or rowing a boat. There are a whole myriad of ways to move your body, so if you haven't found something that sparks joy in you yet… keep trying.

Movement is such an integral part of life as a human on this planet, if you can't move how will you get your grocery shopping done? Walk upstairs if the elevator breaks down? Get up off the floor after playing with your children or grandchildren? Even sitting and standing off a chair (or the toilet) will become a struggle if you neglect your body.

Whilst some sort of strength training is essential to maintain bone density and muscle mass as you age, strength training comes in all shapes and sizes and you don't have to be deadlifting like an olympian to see the benefits. Find a gym, trainer, or home workout regime that works for you, that motivates you to turn up, either because it's fun, social, a challenge, energetic or your trainer lets you use them like a therapist whilst you exercise… Whatever it may be that gets you there, strength training is non-negotiable.

Then all the other days just pick something FUN!

Try to play a game with your kids or grandkids or nieces or nephews or just steal a friend's child.

See how much you laugh… and SWEAT!

Then take that sense of adventure and playfulness and apply it to all your movement sessions.

(I avoid the word ‘workout’ because that seems too structured and serious. You should try and do as many different movements as you possibly can. The human body has 360 joints and most of those joints can move in a variety of different directions. Even if every joint only moved forwards and back (which they don't) that's already 720 different movements!!!

So just think about that next time you go to the gym and just do the same 6 exercises! Don't get me wrong, squats, deadlifts, shoulder press, glute bridge, push-ups and chin-ups are great for you… but you are capable of SO MUCH MORE!

Adding variety to movement sessions keeps them interesting, and keeps your body functioning better as a whole. If you only ever squat and lunge forwards, backwards and on the spot… what will happen when you trip over sideways? You will have no strength in that area and get just as injured as someone that does no exercise at all.

This is where the importance of play comes in. When you play a sport, a game or try something new you are pushed outside your boundaries, you are forced to explore new planes of movement… without even realising.

Balance games are great, try throwing a ball standing on one leg. You can do this with a friend or to a wall by yourself, try experimenting with throwing from different angles and different sized balls.

Or when you are at the gym next ask yourself when you go to do an exercise “could I do this differently? Could I do it on one leg? Or sideways? Challenge yourself to try new patterns of movement.

Another benefit of training this way is that as well as being great for your body it's also awesome for your brain! When you try to do new things with your body you really have to focus, especially if it involves balance. This will take you out of an overthinking mindset and throw you into the moment at hand. It is unintentional mindfulness, which will help you destress. As well as the additional blood flow to the brain from movement, the inability to worry at any given moment is a great relief for our autonomic nervous system.

It will also help improve your neuroplasticity, which is your brain's ability to form new connections and increase development. Even as you age. So turns out you CAN and SHOULD teach an old dog new tricks!

On top of all this, finding movement you enjoy, and increasing the playfulness you have with your body and with life will make you happier!

When you smile your body releases three different hormones: dopamine, endorphins, and serotonin. These are known as the happy hormones!

​​These amazing hormones can even temporarily reduce body aches or minor pains. Over time increased laughter can elevate your pain threshold and help you build a higher pain tolerance

If you can find some exercise that will make you laugh and smile it will lower stress hormones and reduce physical tension throughout your body. It can also help lower your blood pressure.

Laughing and smiling trigger a chemical reaction in your brain, which releases small proteins called neuropeptides. These tiny molecules maintain immune tolerance and may help fight potentially serious illnesses.

So if all this information doesn't make you want to jump up and try something new right this second I would be surprised.

Increased immunity, decreased pain, improved brain function, enhanced mood, less stress as well as better muscle and joint function and mobility. What’s not to love about all of that!?

If you want to learn more about movement play or you are curious about how to go about incorporating games and fun in your day then come along to Vivacious Escapades Sunday, June 26th 9 am - 12 pm Central Ringwood Community centre where I will take us through some fun moves for all ages and fitness levels.

You will also have a workshop with Physiotherapist and Exercise Scientist Guy Agutter on injury prehab/rehab and the role of pain in your body. As well as a Nutrition and Food Forum. Tickets are $60 and are available via Humanitix.

Everyone that buys a ticket before May 30th goes in the running to win a prize pack valued at over $200 that includes a 60-minute relaxation massage, a 45-minute personal training session, a 700ml hydro flask drink bottle and a tote bag full of goodies.

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