Who Wants to Play?

April Benetollo, CEO Momentum

Jenny Golden is the founder of MyPRISM. Jenny is a Natural Health Practitioner and Behavior Analyst. She has designed MyPRISM to guide others toward a sense of flourishing, and has been doing so with the Momentum Team!  Recently Jenny took our team to the playground. I asked her to take our lesson and modify it into a blog post we could share. Enjoy! 

Play is often seen as something that is only for children or something that is frivolous and unnecessary. However, play is an essential part of our health and wellbeing, no matter what age we are. Researcher Johan Huizinga defined play as “Play is a free activity standing quite consciously outside ‘ordinary’ life as being ‘not serious,’ but at the same time absorbing the player intensely and utterly. It is an activity connected with no material interest, and no profit can be gained by it. It proceeds within its own proper boundaries of time and space according to fixed rules and in an orderly manner.  In this blog, we will explore the importance of play in health, and how it fits into the PRISM model of health and radiance.

Most of us have not been engaging in the types and quantities of play as we did as children.  In order to get back to our play roots and benefit from this fundamental category of health, we will dig into what play looks and feels like as a reorientation to this concept.  

According to Dr. Stuart Brown, who founded the National Institute of Play, the following are the seven properties of play:

  • Apparently purposeless: Play is done for its own sake, not for any external goal or reward.
  • Voluntary nature: It is a freely chosen activity, not forced or required.
  • Inherent attraction: Play is enjoyable and intrinsically rewarding.
  • Freedom from time: It can happen for as long or as short a time as the player desires.
  • Diminished self-consciousness: During play, we are less concerned with how we appear.
  • Improvisational potential: Play can be creative and spontaneous, with the player making up or changing the rules as they go.
  • Continuation of desire: It is a pursuit of something we enjoy and desire, and we feel we do not want it to end.  

Andrea McCaskey, Statewide Director of Programs Momentum

There are many benefits to play that make it an important part of our health and wellbeing. Play increases PERMA, a model of well being that has been studied to increase human flourishing.  PERMA stands for positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning, and accomplishment. It lowers stress, speeds up learning, increases social wellbeing, and heals emotional wounds.

In the PRISM model of health and radiance, play is one of five fundamental pillars. It falls under the “P” pillar, which stands for play. The other pillars are:

“R” stands for Relate:  connecting with others and ourselves in meaningful and fulfilling ways. 

“I” stands for Illuminate:  lowering and managing our everyday stress burden. 

“S” stands for sustain:  consuming foods, beverages, supplements and medicines that fuel us to live our best and brightest lives.  “M” stands for mend:  repairing our bodies physically and emotionally.


Play is intricately involved in all of these areas of health.

Playing to relate can increase emotional intelligence, refine skills such as boundaries, communication, body language, cooperation with others. 

Playing to illuminate can lower cortisol and increase norepinephrine, connect parts of the brain associated with learning and acquisition of new habits, enhance meditation and mindfulness, and increase BDNF (Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor)in the dorsal lateral prefrontal cortex where decisions are made.  BDNF promotes the survival of nerve cells (neurons) by playing a role in the growth, maturation (differentiation), and maintenance of these cells

Playing to sustain can increase enjoyment of healthy foods, slow eating for better digestion, and increase excitement about consuming healthy foods. 

Playing to mend can increase BDNF in the amygdala where trauma, hurt, and fear reside, help us process difficult emotions, protect the brain and increase deep sleep.  

Knowing the elements of play is important in recognizing when we are in a state of play. Dr. Scott Eberle describes the elements of play to include:

  • Anticipation
  • Surprise
  • Pleasure
  • Understanding
  • Strength
  • Poise
  • Grace
  • Contentment

There are many different play personalities, and everyone may have a combination of them. They include artist/creators, jokers, collectors, kinesthetics, storytellers, explorers, competitors, and directors.

Mindy Santo, Mentor Coordinator Momentum

If you are looking to begin playing, there are a few tips to get started.

  1. Observe play experts, both children and adults, who embody a playful lifestyle. 
  2. Learn about the benefits of play.  Many research studies have been conducted on the importance and benefits of play.  The National Institute of Play offers many resources and education for anyone looking to learn more about play.  
  3. Set play goals.  Even small amounts of time getting into a playful mindset can have a big impact on health outcomes and flourishing.  Set strategic times and ways that you will engage in play on a daily basis.
  4. Engage others in your play.  Building a community of playing can help you have accountability as well as increased motivation and fun when you are beginning your play journey.  
  5. Have fun discovering your own play style.  Playing again can feel a bit awkward at first.  Try a variety of ways to play to discover the right one that works for you. 
  6. Remember that play gets better and better the more you do it.  The more we build these skills, the more we will enjoy the increases in feel good neurotransmitters that are increased in a state of play.  

It’s time to bring back the joy and freedom of play into our lives. Don’t let the responsibilities of adulthood make you forget the importance of play. Playing is not only fun and exciting, but it’s also essential for our health and well-being. It helps to reduce stress, improve cognitive function, and boost our mood. So, let’s make time to get outside and play like we did when we were kids. Whether it’s with friends, family, or even on our own, let’s embrace the power of play and rediscover the joy of being carefree and playful. Let’s make it a priority to get moving, have fun, and improve our overall health and well-being. So, what are you waiting for? Let’s get out there and play!

Contributed by Jenny Golden, Founder
February 28, 2023

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