Play isn’t just for kids – it’s one of the most effective ways we can craft healthy habits, happier lives, and productive workplaces.

Darryl Edwards is proof of that. Darryl is The Fitness Explorer – an international speaker, coach, nutritionist, author, and health commentator. But Darryl wasn’t always the picture of health – his journey to whole-health wellbeing started in the early 2000s when he was told he was on a crash course to major health conditions and a potential early death.

Since then, he’s learned how important play is in creating a healthy mind and body. Darryl was kind enough to join me to discuss some of the things he’s learned, so that we can pass them on to you.

Why we need to start sooner rather than later

Darryl only came to his realisation about the importance of mental and physical wellbeing when he received some startling news in an annual health check.

“I got told that I wasn’t well. I had pre-diabetes, one step away from Type 2, chronic hypertension, elevated risk of cardiovascular disease, a really poor cholesterol profile.”

But illnesses like this don’t appear out of nowhere. The truth is Darryl’s lifestyle had been slowly creating these conditions over the course of years.

“We feel bulletproof for a significant amount of time while these conditions are slowly creeping up. In my 20s, I partied hard and worked long hours…It meant sleep deprivation, it meant eating on the go, it meant that time in the gym was an impediment. We could lose millions of pounds with me not sitting at my desk.”

“I put my health and being to one side because I didn’t feel the impact of those things. I felt fine on a few hours sleep and drinking Red Bull for breakfast.”

Self-development is a long-game, though, and Darryl realises now that we have to get started before we are forced to start. It’s why he’s so passionate about spreading his message of wellbeing.

Starting is the hardest part, but it doesn’t have to be huge

“There are ways you can very quickly start on this path of improving your health,” believes Darryl.

And none of them require you to “live like a monk or a nun” – which is welcome news.

The best way to start, according to Darryl, is by “taking a small step down a path that feels sustainable to you, that you can maintain… Once you do that, the scope of that change may widen to incorporate other areas.”

But making significant changes to the way you live your life and treat yourself isn’t a quick fix or an overnight project.

“There is no silver bullet, there is no one thing that will make all the difference,” explained Darryl.

“The cumulative effect of improving your diet a bit, getting more physical activity in, thinking about your sleep quality, reducing unnecessary stress… You add all those things together and it’s like compound interest.”

But it all starts with one small step in the right direction. Don’t try and get started on perfecting every facet of your wellbeing at once – that’s a recipe for burnout and a feeling of failure.

At the other end of the spectrum, Darryl “would definitely guard against trying to focus on perfecting one thing,” like 30-day cleanses or other short-term, intensive programmes.

Starting small means starting smart and sustainably – ticking off small wins as you go along and setting sensible goals.

Where does play come into this?

Before we go into why play is crucial, I think it’s important to use this moment to share a brilliant explanation Darryl gave:

“Play is not a subservient of work. It isn’t superfluous, it isn’t something that should be sought out as an exception to getting the serious work out the way.”

Play is not something that is reserved for children on their lunch breaks at school.

“As adults, we assume play is fun,” Darryl said as he explored this misunderstanding. “That is not the entirety of play – that’s the smallest fraction of play that exists for children when they are given the option to free play.”

“When you free play, you seek out challenge, difficulty, and what is going to be really risky. You calculate risk because there’s a significant reward if you achieve that objective. You’re not seeking out the easy stuff to do, you’re seeking out the things you may have never done. You’re working out ‘I wonder what will happen if I do x or y’.”

Clearly, the power of play extends far beyond just having fun.

“Play should be elevated in far more areas of our lives. It can help improve performance, it can foster creativity, it can increase and improve human social connection, and build teamwork.”

“All the things we are trying to achieve professionally as individuals and collectives benefit far more from a play-based state to delivering those objectives than we do a hard-working state.”

And play is a great addition to our physical activity regimen, too.

“We have higher levels of positive hormones through play. If you’re doing the same activity but doing it in a playful way, you get even more of that feelgood factor. If you’re doing it with other humans, these levels increase even more.”

That means the physical activity we do in a play-state is ‘stickier’. We’re more likely to do it again and make it a sustained effort.

Those small steps referenced earlier are extended when we take them with playfulness.

Why Darryl believes we should all play more

If it wasn’t clear why play is so important at the start of this post, it should be now.

Darryl’s passion for play, and the science that backs up his belief, are abundant. I think he summed it up best when he said:

“If we have a play-based mindset, we remove barriers. We remove boundaries. We become more open to ideas. We are not thinking about what we can’t do, we are thinking about what we can do, so there are more opportunities.”

If you’d like to learn more about Darryl, check out his website Primal Play.

I highly recommend watching Darryl’s Tedx Talk. It’s one of the most powerful talks I’ve ever listened to!

If you want to learn more from Darryl, you can also grab a copy of his fantastic book, Animal Moves.

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The Scale Without Burnout podcast is for business owners who want to learn how to devote equal time to their business, body, relationships & mindset to bring their life into balance.Get weekly tips and feel empowered with Business Psychologist and host Andrew Sillitoe

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