SOUND MIND, SOUND BODY: Play time a vital part of life for us all

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In today's goal-oriented society, the notion of play can seem a frivolous pursuit for those past elementary school age.

Physical activity is often perceived as athletics, formal exercise classes or "working out." But, experts agree, play can and should be embraced by family members of all ages and the best part is it doesn't have to cost you a dime, just a little time out of your day.

Over scheduling, multiple demands, increased commitments can add to the stress and sense of being overwhelmed in our daily lives. Families can become so programmed to think in terms of achievements such as earning more money, making a select soccer or swim team, getting good grades, that the thought of taking time to "play" can seem impossible. Instead of embracing play as a vital part of family life, it is sometimes viewed as a non-productive "waste" of time. But nothing could be further from the truth.

Families can develop stronger bonds when they share common experiences. Physical activity is a positive experience that families can share as they improve their overall health. Kids and parents who play in a physically active way are healthier and happier. Studies suggest playing, just for the sake of movement, enjoyment and interaction, boosts self-esteem, builds healthy relationships and contributes to physical health and well-being.

In conjunction with Healthy Family Home, the YMCA of Walla Walla offers helpful tips to make play part of every day and an important component of healthy families.

First, grown-ups must embrace the health and well-being benefits of play, which include increased energy levels; improved sleep patterns; better concentration at work or school; family connectedness; improved self-esteem, and stronger, healthier bodies.

Play should become a focus of family life. Much like fruits and vegetables are an everyday necessity for a healthy diet, play should become a necessity for a healthy family. Often we view play as candy or ice cream; a treat to be enjoyed only occasionally.

How can busy families put more play in their days?

Spend at least 20 minutes doing something physically active as a family, ideally outdoors. Play fetch with the dog, a game of tag before dinner, play in the leaves or build a snowman, take a family bike ride or simply take a walk together around the block.

Schedule family time by putting play on the weekly schedule, just like soccer games and piano practice. Block out time for a trip to the park, neighborhood playground or a family trip to the pool. Shoot hoops, jump rope, play hopscotch in the driveway.

Count each effort no matter how large or small. Take quick breaks in-between chores, meal preparation, and homework to dance or run around the house. Create a play jar allowing each family member to put in desired fun activities for weekends or other days off.

YMCA of the USA and Eli Lilly and Co. have partnered to create Healthy Family Home to leverage two of the most powerful forces in health today -- the family home and the proven impact of small, sustained changes.

Healthy Family Home provides tools and support for families who are ready to take a positive step in living a healthier, happier life. For more information and free resources for families go to www.healthyfamilyhome.org or contact the Walla Walla YMCA.

Randy Grant is executive director of the Walla Walla YMCA.

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