Playtime Improves Your Health—At Any Age

5540953Growing up typically means trading jungle gyms for treadmills, crayons for keyboards and tiddlywinks for taxes. But it doesn’t have to mean all work, no play.

Taking time to play keeps adults young at heart in more ways than one. Research increasingly suggests child-like pursuits—from coloring to checkers—protect against serious adult diseases. These include anxiety disorders, obesity, heart disease and dementia. Here’s how to reap the rewards of recreation, at any age.

Color In—or Out of—the Lines

The latest coloring books aren’t just for kids. Use colored pencils, crayons or fine-tipped markers to shade in designs like butterflies and tranquil landscapes. Beyond the fun involved in creative expression, coloring intricate designs called mandalas might even ward off anxiety. That’s according to a study in Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association.

Hoop It Up

Hula-hooping gained ground as a child’s toy in the 1950s. Decades later, there are compelling reasons for adults to pick them back up. An American Council on Exercise study found spinning one around your hips revs up your heart rate and burns about 210 calories in 30 minutes. In other words, it’s as good of a workout as step aerobics, kickboxing or boot-camp classes.

Hit the Playground

Try a fitness class that transports you out of the gym and right back to recess. By having fun and competing in games like hot potato and relay races, you’ll burn calories, distract yourself from discomfort and boost production of brain chemicals that improve cognitive function. Not into group exercise? Head to the park and use equipment like monkey bars and park benches to build strength and agility.

Roll the Dice

From bingo to bridge, board and parlor games offer more than a good time. Playing them can also shore up your cognitive reserves, stores of brainpower that ward off signs of dementia. In fact, older adults who more often played cards, chess and other games had 15 percent lower odds of developing dementia over a 20-year period, found a recent French study in the journal BMJ Open. They also had lower rates of depression than those who tended to sit out.