The Big Benefits of Playing

December 4, 2023

Keley Smith-Keller

Remember chasing a ball around the yard as a kid? How about swinging on a swing to see how high you
could fly on that particular day? 

Did you know there are big mental health benefits in playing, even as an adult? It’s true. 

First, let’s define play. It doesn’t have to be the play of your childhood. Play can be defined simply as
engaging in activity for pure enjoyment and recreation. 

During one of his TED talks, Peter Gray, research professor of psychology at Boston College, said, “from a biological evolutionary perspective, play is nature’s means of ensuring that young mammals, including young human beings, acquire the skills that they need to acquire to develop successfully into adulthood.” And more research is revealing that the benefits of play for adults are plentiful: 

  • It’s good for your stress levels. Play can trigger the release of endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals.
  • It improves your brain function. Playing games that challenge the brain – such as chess and puzzles – can help prevent memory problems and improve brain function. This can also help ward off depression.
  • It stimulates your mind and boosts activity. And, it makes you more productive.
  • It improves your relationships. Laughing and having fun with others can foster empathy, compassion, trust and intimacy.

So, here are some ideas for you: pick a hobby and make time for it – even if just for an hour a week; do something fun with others; play games – with or without a game board; visit a park and get out in nature; and be present in the world, by taking a moment or two to appreciate the beauty around you. 

Curious to learn more? See Peter Gray’s Ted Talk at



To make an appointment with Dr. Keley Smith-Keller, campus counselor – contact her at keley.smith-

In addition, all Mount Marty University students now have access to free tele-counseling, crisis consultation and life coaching through the Virtual Care Group: