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The Science of Play

Updated: Mar 1, 2020

Could play be good for body, mind and soul? What if the real golden ticket to good health were fun and games? A growing number of studies suggest that this is true.

What is play and why should we do it?

Play can be defined as "pleasurable and apparently purposeless behavior". Dr. Stuart Brown, the author and founder of the National Institute for Play, writes that "nothing lights up the brain quite like play. The truth is that play seems to be one of the most advanced methods nature has invented to allow a complex brain to create itself." Three-dimensional play fires up the cerebellum, creates impulses in the frontal lobe, which is the executive portion of the brain, and helps contextual memory be developed.

Play improves memory and stimulates the growth of the cerebral cortex and cerebellum

Landmark research done in the 1960s by Marian Diamond at UC-Berkley points to the essential role of play in brain development. Dr. Diamond found that the test subjects that were raised in an environment rich in stimulation and play actually developed bigger brains than those who remained solitary with little or no stimulation.

Play is also tied to the cerebellum. This part of the brain lies in back of and below the main hemispheres and contains more neurons than the entire rest of the brain. The cerebellum, once thought to be primarily involved in coordination and motor function, is now thought to be responsible for key cognitive functions such as attention, language processing, sensing musical rhythm and more.

Play & exploration trigger the production of BDNF

After bouts of rough-and-tumble play, rats show increased levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in their brains. BDNF, which is like Miracle-Gro®for the brain, is essential for the growth and maintenance of brain cells.

Play is FUN and it may appear purposeless, but it's not without purpose. Play prepares us for the unexpected. It gives us practice in reacting to an ever-changing environment. It makes us more fearless! Play also helps us learn to socialize successfully.

The research shows that we're designed to play through our entire lifetime. Life can be our playground. Let's get out and play!

"We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing" - George Bernard Shaw



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