Why do we think play ends in childhood? Besides being the bee's knees, play also causes the release of dopamine and opioids in the brain, activating reward pathways and feelings of comfort. Dopamine receptor sites are dense in the limbic system, the emotional center, of the brain. Play also increases attention and the integration of information.
How you can use this information to enhance your cognitive performance:
SCHEDULE PLAY BEFORE, OR INTERWEAVE IT INTO AN EVENT THAT REQUIRES MEMORY ENHANCEMENT.
Go rock climbing before you study for an exam
Play kickball before you try to learn a new language
Go surfing during the lunch break of a conference to retain more information
Freestyle rap at the next party you attend...(don't worry, laughing is also a way to improve overall health and immunity).
Fathers who play with their children for 30+ minutes experience declines in both cortisol as well as prolactin levels in a time dependent manner. Cortisol is a steroid hormone that is elevated in times of stress in order to raise blood sugar release and prepare the body for a state of "fight or flight". If cortisol levels are high then lowering these levels can help spare lean body mass, improve memory, prevent cognitive decline and improve the digestion and absorption of nutrients (1). How to use this knowledge to improve your health:
PLAY WITH YOUR CHILDREN AFTER WORK TO DECREASE STRESS, IMPROVE SLEEP, AND OPTIMIZE BODY COMPOSITION.
Another study examined how brain chemistry changes in relation to emotional state. Whether a musician plays happy or sad music dictates the degree to which creative centers of the brain are activated.
POSITIVE EMOTIONS ENHANCE THE DEGREE OF CREATIVE "FLOW".
It should be noted that there are still positive effects that come with playing sad music, these effects are more consistent with "conscious restraint" (self-discipline and control) (3).
LEFT VS RIGHT BRAIN
Now that you are probably all jacked up discussing brain regions let's take a look at the preferential activation of the right hemisphere of the brain during creative experience!!!! Activation of the right hemisphere of the brain is crucial in modern day life where most of us fill our days with predominantly left brain activities (analytical thought, logic, reasoning, spelling, reading, language ect). What fires up the right brain? Creativity, decision making, intuition, insight, imagination ect)... If you struggle with decision making then your right brain might need a little work out. So get creative and activate the right hemisphere to attain balance and enhance brain performance.
Activation of the right brain may promote weight-loss. Obese people tend to have a distorted awareness of their bodies as well as a lack of motivation for movement. Body image as well as motivation for physical activity are mainly right brain activities (4). Therefore,
CREATIVITY MAY HELP TO IMPROVE BODY AWARENESS AND MOTIVATION FOR ACTIVITY=WEIGHT LOSS (5).
Moral of the story: bring back your inner child. Get out your Gryffindor robe, wand, invisibility cloak, walkie-talkies, fanny packs.... OK, maybe my childhood was a little different than most. Art, music, playful activity (surfing, climbing), and playing with your children will work as well.
Gettler, Lee T., et al. "Short-term changes in fathers' hormones during father–child play: impacts of paternal attitudes and experience." Hormones and behavior 60.5 (2011): 599-606.
Dimkov, Petar. "Dopaminergic Neurotransmission and Creativity."
McPherson, Malinda J., et al. "Emotional intent modulates the neural substrates of creativity: an fMRI study of emotionally targeted improvisation in Jazz musicians." Scientific reports 6 (2016): 18460.
Alonso-Alonso, Miguel, and Alvaro Pascual-Leone. "The right brain hypothesis for obesity." Jama 297.16 (2007): 1819-1822.
My brain-I reserve the right to be incorrect.