5 Ways to Integrate Play into Your Corporate Wellness Program

5 Ways to Integrate Play into Your Corporate Wellness Program

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As a kid, those words were the signal to run like the wind, as your friends scattered across the playground, clambering up the monkey bars and dancing just out of your reach.

At no point during this activity did you stop and wonder how many calories you had burned.

Play can be transformative, making almost any activity more enjoyable and helping the time pass much more quickly. And if you want your corporate wellness program (and your wellness challenge ideas) to be more enjoyable for employees, why not incorporate a sense of play into it?

Why Include Play in Your Corporate Wellness Program?

Sadly, many people think that focusing on wellness is anything but fun. And it’s no surprise, really. We’re inundated with images and depictions of people “taking care of their health” by running nowhere on a treadmill while staring at a news channel, cutting entire food groups out of their diet, and swallowing enough horse pill-sized vitamins to sink a ship.

Because of this, when employees are asked about corporate wellness programs, the first thought popping into their heads is probably not, “Oh, this is going to be fun!” Instead, they’re thinking of dull noontime walks around a sidewalk-free industrial park after eating a joyless salad.

Incorporating play into your wellness challenges, however, turns these expectations on their head and makes your corporate wellness program much more effective. Here’s why:

Play Reduces Stress

Play has been shown to help your body release endorphins, the same chemical responsible for “runner’s high”. In addition, because play requires focus, it can help take the mind off stressful situations, helping reduce the amount of stress hormones flooding the body.

Play Boosts Creativity

Ever wrestle with a problem for hours, only for the perfect solution to pop into your head while you’re focusing on something else? Focusing on enjoyable activities like play fires up the creative parts of your brain while also giving your brain a rest from your dilemma.

Play Improves Relationships

“Play helps us connect with other people,” Dr. Bowen White, founding member of the National Institute for Play, told CNN. “It makes us open in a way that allows those people to feel, ‘Maybe this is a safe person to be with and maybe even fun to be around.’” To improve team bonding, nothing works faster than actually having fun together.

Play Stimulates the Mind

In addition to making people more creative, play makes them smarter. A landmark neuroscience study by Marian Diamond and her colleagues showed that rats raised in exciting, toy-filled colonies developed thicker cerebral cortices than rats raised joylessly and alone. In a similar study much later, rats raised in more playful environments were able to find their way through mazes more quickly.

A team full of more creative, less stressed, more engaged employees who are better thinkers?

Yes, please.

How to Integrate Play into Your Corporate Wellness Program

So, how do you make your corporate wellness program more playful, more effective, and more engaging? A key is to remember that there are different types of play that people enjoy. Stuart Brown, MD, author of Play, identifies five play archetypes:

Rough-and-Tumble Play: Tug-of-war, kickball, dodgeball, tag, or any type of play that is highly active and often competitive.

Ritual Play: Board games or sports (like croquet) that have set rules and structures.

Imaginative Play: Coloring, painting, making crafts, doing improv, or telling stories.

Body Play: Hiking, riding a roller coaster, surfing, and other activities where you challenge gravity or other forces of nature.

Object Play: Playing with LEGO blocks or puzzles, building a couch cushion fort or snow fort, or making paper airplanes; anything that involves manipulating or building objects.

Offering a wide variety of play-based wellness challenges ensures there’s something for everybody to enjoy.

Integrating multiple play archetypes into your corporate wellness program is crucial. After all, some employees may dread the idea of a weekly dodgeball game, while others might relish it. Offering a wide variety of play-based wellness challenges ensures there’s something for everybody to enjoy.

Here are five of our own corporate wellness challenges that apply the principles of play in different ways:

Team Player

 

Team Player

Play on a sports team. Whether it’s a local softball league, a paintball team, or a Saturday-morning bowling group, playing team sports can improve wellness, teamwork, determination, and resiliency.

Colorful Life

 

Colorful Life

Color for 100 minutes. Adult coloring books have made a big splash, but the intricate designs can create a lot of pressure to make things “perfect”. Offer a wide variety of coloring books, from mandalas to Mickey Mouse, along with plenty of crayons and colored pencils, to encourage employees to spend time in imaginative play.

Game Night

 

Game Night

Play group games. Once a month, why not extend lunch break and have a gaming tournament? Bring in a variety of games from cribbage, to Settlers of Catan, to Scrabble, and let employees gravitate to the type of game they enjoy most. Add in some healthy snacks and offer prizes for Best Sportsmanship, Best Victory Dance, and Most Creative Interpretation of the Rules.

Tight Rope

 

Tight Rope

Practice balancing. Balance is incredibly important for wellness, so consider balance-boosting wellness activities like yoga or tai chi. You can add even more fun to this form of body play with impromptu competitions to see who can stand on one leg the longest.

Green Thumb

 

Green Thumb

Grow a plant or garden. If your office has access to a sunny outdoor patch (or a rooftop), plant a vegetable garden. Designing and planning the garden sparks creativity and problem solving, while tending the garden gets the body moving. And if the challenge goes well, your team reaps the benefits of having delicious, fresh produce to snack on!


There are countless ways to integrate play into your corporate wellness program. Get your wellness committee and staff to channel their inner six-year-olds and think of some fun wellness challenge ideas. Whether it’s a dancing activity using a video game console, a morning bike ride (complete with handlebar streamers), or making funny animals out of modeling clay, re-discovering the joy of pure play can rejuvenate your corporate wellness program and your employees.

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