27/09/2016 12:51 PM AEST | Updated 27/09/2016 12:51 PM AEST

Why Child's Play Is Good For Adults

For ages 5 and over the hill.

Research has linked playing puzzles with improved cognitive functioning and potentially slowing down the onset of dementia in the elderly.
Andrew Bret Wallis
Research has linked playing puzzles with improved cognitive functioning and potentially slowing down the onset of dementia in the elderly.

In today's busy and technologically driven society, it can be hard to unwind and relax. Yet, the continuing popularity of adult coloring books has shown that by doing something traditionally associated with children, we can truly switch off.

Adult colouring books are now commonplace in many households throughout Australia, and it's not hard to understand why. Research has found there are multiple health benefits to be gained from colouring in. However, the most prevalent benefit links colouring in with lowered stress and anxiety levels.

So in what other ways can we benefit from child's play? And what sorts of play, games or activities are most beneficial?

"Children are very much in the moment. They don't sit around ruminating about the past and worrying about the future like us adults," says health psychologist Marny Lishman.

"They can concentrate on the now and fully engage with what they're doing in a mindful way, which is very good for them and can be good for us adults."

Lishman notes that another thing that children do in play is to use their imagination to explore and push their boundaries.

"Adults stop doing this early on in adulthood because of negative experiences," she said. "But we need to keep doing it because it helps us learn, which is good for our brain, and leads to personal growth. So, no matter what your age, use it or lose it!"

Here are five ways to keep in touch with your inner child.

1) Lego

Many parents will associate Lego with hours of construction and painful interactions with feet. However, as an adult, Lego may be able to offer us more than that. According to Lego's StackIt website, Lego can be just as beneficial to adults in fostering creativity and learning as it is for kids.

Linking emotional and mental health benefits to Lego, the manufacturer also explains how building can help you perform complex tasks with ease and even improve areas of the brain associated with motor skills and problem solving.

Additionally it can help improve patience and perseverance.

2) Jigsaw puzzles

Jigsaw puzzles are nothing new but, with the exception of parents, the chances are that most adults haven't done one for many years. However, with multiple benefits to be had, it might be time to start putting those pieces in place. According to The Great British Puzzle Company, doing puzzles is valuable for the improvement of problem solving, fine motor development, hand and eye coordination, and even self-esteem.

Research has also linked playing puzzles with improved cognitive functioning and potentially slowing down the onset of dementia in the elderly.

3) Keeping a diary

There are many of us who can recall religiously writing in a diary as a teen. In it we expressed our deepest thoughts, fears and joys, and guarded those secrets like no other.

But it seems that this long forgotten habit may be one we should revisit. Research published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology suggests that by writing down our feelings we increase our ability to move on from negative events.

Subsequently, this helps free up our cognitive resources so we can focus on more positive activities, which also helps us to effectively deal with stress.

4) Playing video games

Whilst video games for children generally get a bad rap, recent research has found that there are some benefits to be had from playing them.

Researchers found that playing video games could improve children's mental health, as well as cognitive and social skills. And it seems it's much the same when it comes to adults.

But the benefits for adults don't stop there. In fact, in the book 'Your Career Game', experts discuss how certain Xbox games like 'Modern Warfare 2' can teach players skills that are transferable to the workplace. By learning strategies in an interactive and competitive way, employees can get ahead in the workplace, whilst job seekers get an edge in their search.

5) Crafting

It may feel like an age since you got out the glue gun, glitter and stickers. And it may well be something that you don't want to do again. However, crafting as an adult can come in different shapes and forms and is proving to be another great way to alleviate mental health issues.

For example, a survey carried out by a UK knitting therapist found that from over 3,500 knitters, more than half felt happier after knitting, and also reported reduced anxiety and stress.

Similarly, another study published in Art Therapy found that stress levels were reduced when participants made collages from magazine pages, made clay sculptures or simply drew with markers.

If continued, the effects of crafting could also be beneficial in the longer term.

A 2011 study published in The Journal of Neuropsychiatry found that crafting, as well as playing games and reading books, could reduce the chances of developing mild cognitive impairment by 30-50 percent.


Jo Hartley is a freelance writer for Open Colleges.