Play isn’t some trivial, dumb thing that’s just for kids. Play should be as important to you as eating greens or drinking water.
Not only does pleasurable play grow new brain connections for happier moods and better memory, play also sets off a cascade of body-positive effects that help keep you slim and vital.
Play helps us learn how to be friends when we start listening to other kids’ desires in a game, and adopting the “yes and” style of improv play, weaving ideas into structures and building cooperation.
I don’t just encourage you to get out and play (or get in the bedroom and fool around) just because it’s a lot more fun than dragging your butt to the gym in another self-punishment workout (though it totally is).
Physical play and physical pleasure help our brains stay healthier as we age, and balances our hormones. Play keeps our neural pathways open and running smoothly, and keeps the brain “young.”
What’s crazy is how adults, especially women, have been convinced that denying, restricting, and punishing ourselves is the way to get what we want.
Science has shown that restricting, depriving, counting calories and being hyper-vigilant about food and eating has put us into a constant state of stress called “fight or flight” mode.
And when you’re in this state, your body makes more cortisol and releases more insulin. And that insulin “tells”your body not to use fat as a source of energy. Instead it says, “Hold onto that fat. We may need it later.”
So the more your body is in a stressed-out state rather than a fun, playful one, the more you encourage a biochemical state inside yourself that makes you pack on the pounds. Which is why the old way most of us were taught to lose weight is totally false.
But you know what puts an end your body’s stress state?
Here’s a list of 4 Neurochemicals of Play & Pleasure that also lead to joyful weight loss:
1. Dopamine: Everything you do or eat for pleasure produces dopamine surges in your brain. From setting and achieving goals to mind-blowing sex to holding hands or hugging, this key player in the reward system of your brain is where we get that feeling of pleasure.
2. Endocannabinoids: Possibly the cause for “runner’s high,”these self-produced cannabis chemicals are created by your brain and are called the “bliss molecules,” which make movement fun, keeping us coming back for more.
3. Oxytocin: “The bonding molecule”is produced from skin-to-skin contact, making love, affection, and intimacy. Playing and commiserating with a friend also releases oxytocin and bonds us with friends and lovers. It also, funnily enough, bonds us to our dogs, so cuddling and playing with your dog makes them into a loved, lifelong partner. But you dog lovers knew that already.
4. Endorphins: These tiny molecules are basically self-produced morphine or opiates that have pain-killing properties. They’re generally released during strenuous physical play, sex and orgasm. (On a side note, there are certain acupuncture and acupressure points that also trigger production of endorphins, which is probably why my post-knee surgery recovery went so well—I can’t handle pain medications well, but I did go to my acupuncturist a few times a week. Thanks Dr. Wu!)
So this all goes to show that you can act your way into a happy, natural high—and natural weight loss—without punishing yourself.
Do you know what makes you light up? Have you asked yourself what’s fun for you lately? Have you seriously thought about what makes you laugh and shine in your body?
Most of us weren’t trained by our parents to look for the fun, or taught the importance of play, or made to believe that our joys and pleasures were valuable. Did any teacher or parent ask you: What makes you feel whole and alive?
Most of us are trained to see play and pleasure as a treat that you can have after you’ve perfected your work or done all your chores. I invite you to view play and fun as a biological necessity. I ask you to ponder that play and fun are the only paths to real health. And I’ll meet you on the playground!