While this past year on Beyond the Bite I have discussed a range of important diet and lifestyle topics, such as eating fat, avoiding toxic personal care items, getting enough sunlight, keeping your lymph system clean, avoiding blue light, and sourcing local food, there is still one major factor of life that I have yet to dedicate a post too – play. Though it is true that having a schedule and “sticking to it” can help you have a productive day at work or school, having times of of creative, carefree, and enjoyable activities is truly key to finding optimum health and wellness. Therefore, today I will discuss the importance of making play a priority, as well as some of the most beneficial ways to do so that I have learned through the Primal Blueprint Certification course.
Play is More Than Fun
It is no secret that play makes people feel good, as it undoubtedly is one of the greatest known stress relievers to this day. However, studies have shown that not only does it lighten one’s mood, but it also creates a better sense of humor, perceived quality and positive outlook on life, higher self competence, socializing skills, and competitive nature. Ultimately, play allows the brain to be shaped into a strong, organized system, with new connects and circuits being made, allowing it to function at maximum potential. Consequences of inadequate amounts of play can be seen clearly in both growing children and adults, as emotional, behavioral, intellectual, and social deficients inevitably occur. Overall, not getting enough play is very detrimental to the human body from the inside out, causing a noticeable decrease in one’s ability to thrive throughout life.
The Definition of Play
While the definition of play is rather vast, forms where one is excited and taking personal risks, not only causes a spike in adrenalin, but also brief, fight-or-flight reactions inside the body, which then leads an individual’s preconceived boundaries or limits of life to broaden. Spontaneous play allows one to “push the envelop,” take a break from day-to-day routines of life, and ultimately provide a fresh state of mind that allows one to increase in efficiency, fulfillment, and productivity back in usual circumstances. This is due to the fact that, when play becomes a moment of impulsive risk, the end result in one’s body is a higher level of consciousness and peak performance. However, not everything that humans have termed to be “play” is necessarily right, causing humans to suffer mentally and physically. A typical example of this would be play “dates,” where children are rushed too and from an activity, and thus not allowed anytime to be creative and grow mentally. On the other hand, true primal play is how it would have been hundreds of years ago, when technology and other industrialized aspects of life were not crowding one’s personal space. Overall, this classifies play as a time where one is spontaneous, not attached to the outcome of the events occurring, and is ultimately having fun, breaking free of routine responsibilities, and maybe even getting a little adrenalin rush in there for kicks. Play can be anything that brings mind-body awareness, is physically vigorous, strengthens the sense of community with others, distractions one from an illness, and overall calls on the various senses of our body; seeing, hearing, touching, motor planning, and emotion. This makes practically anything, from writing, taking photographs, doing arts and crafts, having a casual game of basketball, or creating recipes in the kitchen, to be suitable, and equally enjoyable classifications of play, depending on one’s interests. As noted above, play does not only have to be “down time,” as exciting, healthy thrills within one’s personal risk factor, are also incredibly beneficial as well.
Where to Play
As previously stated, though there are various suitable types of play that take place indoors, the environment that reigns far above all for this activity is nature. As human beings, the body was made to prefer the sounds, sensations, smells, and sights of being outside, causing the modernization of today’s world to dull the keen perceptions once present in all individuals. However, while the calamity of acute eyesight, touch, smell, and hearing may be rising in most individuals today, it is not something that cannot be reversed. This is due to the fact that playing in the outdoors can be very rewarding for not only one’s mental health, but also physical aspects.Studies done in Japan have shown that when people spent time in wooded settings, hormone and cellular responses became very active. Not only that, but the marker for stress, known as “salivary cortisol,” lowered an average of 13.4% after just 20 minutes, while blood pressure, fight-or-flight nervous system activity, and pulse rate also decreased. What is even more interesting, is that NK lymphocyte cells (i.e. “natural killers”) produced in great quantity, reducing the risk of infection and cancer growth for the long-term. That being said, if one is going to spend large amounts of time in the woods, it is important to wear tick protection and do a full-body check for them afterwards, as the effects of obtaining a tick born illness are equally life changing and threatening.
Another prime environment for play is on the water, as this allows one’s body to restore back to its original settings. Not only can simply floating cause one’s parasympathetic nervous system to activate and thus cause one to feel calm, but joints and muscles also benefit due to the water reducing one’s body weight a near 90%. However, being active in water-based sports, such as surfing, can also be relaxing to both the mind and body. Due to the close proximity to the water, surfing is used as therapy for marines suffering from PTSD, as it effectively allows their over-active fight-or-flight reactions and anxiety to be naturally relieved. Apart from the therapeutic effects of being on the water, research has shown that the immune system and muscle recovery highly benefits from quick, cold-water immersions, as it acts as a brief stress that has an overall positive effect on the body. When this happens, the adrenals release a momentary rise in the stress hormone cortisol (much like when one does a sprint session), causing beneficial effects to flood the body.
While being in the forest and on the water, are both great climates to play in, becoming “grounded” with the earth has also been shown to be extremely beneficial to the body and mind. It has been observed in various studies, that just 30 minutes of “earthing” (i.e. sitting, standing, walking across grass, sand, and (or) dirt), reduces inflammation, physical pain, and emotional stress, while also improving the state of individuals blood. Not only that but, research has shown evening stress levels to decrease, simultaneously enhancing ones night’s sleep through synchronization of the circadian rhythm. That being said, while being grounded may sound like an easy task, it easily taken away in today’s nation by the use of wearing shoes and having flooring made out of items such as wood. Therefore, making the effort to get outside and play, letting one’s feet touch the ground and come in contact with the electoral fields of the earth, can do the body surprisingly good.
Overall, all of the types of play mentioned above have one thing in common, they all take place outside, in nature. What is important about this is the presence of negative ions, which are otherwise known as molecules with more electrons then protons, and thus are very energizing to the human body all the way down to one’s cells. This increase in cell reactivity causes them to help increase oxygen to the brain, simultaneously decreasing tiredness and one’s rising attentiveness and focus. Though negative ions are in higher amounts than those that are positive all throughout nature, it is wherever wind, water, or solar radiation from the sun is present, that there is a notable increase. Examples of environments where there are literally thousands upon thousands of negative (yet positive for our bodies) ions include waterfalls or high, mountain-top areas, making activities such as skiing, snowboarding, or hiking to be very restoring to the body. This is a large comparison to that of a city or subdivision, which might only have less than a hundred, while indoor rooms, such as an office or hospital room, with no natural air flow have little to none at all. Overall, it is these negative ions present in nature that making being outside feel so great, while the positive ions that are produced from stagnant air, recirculation of indoor air, in enclosed places, as well as from electronics and power lines, to have a bad effect on the body. However, it is encouraging to note that spending enough time outside in negative ions can, and will, reduce and reverse the effects of positive ions (i.e. bone loss, insomnia, adrenal and body fatigue, dysfunctional immune system, mood disorders, brain and cardiovascular disfunction, electrolyte imbalances, systemic inflammation, and emotional disturbances).
Overall, one can never be too old to play, nor is there such thing not having enough time to do so. Regardless of the type, whether relaxing or exhilarating, play is essential to thriving in life, as it plays (no pun intended) a very important role in shaping one’s brain and physical body. How people grow up to think, act, and feel, all can be brought back to how much true play they received as a child, as well as the types they are continuing into their adult years. However, it is important to note that play is not a time to deliberately be stupid. Of course, things happen, and sometimes the results are not always what one expected. Yet this is the spontaneous, creative nature of play. The outcome is not always perfect, but this is just the thing that we as humans need, to learn, grow, and experience life.
Psalm 149:3 “Let them praise his name with dancing and make music to him with timbrel and harp.”