How to Reduce the Strain on the NHS: Promoting Health and Wellbeing through Play
Why play could be the silver bullet for the NHS
As we peer into the future of the NHS on this milestone birthday, one thing becomes abundantly clear: the role of play in shaping the health and well-being of the UK population is more vital than ever before and maybe the most cost-effective initiative to give the country back its health and wellbeing.
Whilst the benefits won’t be immediate, they will be cumulative meaning that by taking a more preventative, playful approach to our health, we can future-proof the NHS.
Play and Mental Wellbeing
Play serves as a powerful tool to enhance emotional resilience, improve cognitive abilities, and foster positive mental states. Engaging in play activities allows individuals to disconnect from the pressures of everyday life, promoting stress relief and a sense of joy.
From childhood through adulthood, play can mitigate the impact of mental health issues. For children, unstructured play enables them to explore their emotions, build social connections, and develop problem-solving skills. Adults, too, benefit from play, as it encourages creativity, reduces anxiety, and enhances overall happiness.
Play and Physical Health
The UK is grappling with a growing epidemic of sedentary lifestyles and associated health conditions, the UK population is 20% less active than in the 1960s and if this current trend continues, the population will be 35% less active by 2030.
Play offers a gateway to combat this issue by promoting physical activity in an enjoyable and accessible manner. Encouraging active play from an early age can instil healthy habits that persist into adulthood, reducing the risk of chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular problems.
Play promotes motor skills development, coordination, and balance. It fosters a love for movement, allowing individuals to explore their physical capabilities while reaping the benefits of exercise. By integrating play into daily routines, we can create a healthier and more active nation.
Economic Benefits of a Preventative Approach to Health
Investing in play as a preventative approach to health is not only socially responsible but economically sound. By prioritising play in early years, we can lay the foundation for healthier individuals who require fewer interventions later in life.
Additionally, play contributes to the development of essential life skills such as problem-solving, teamwork, and creativity. These skills are transferable to the workplace, leading to a more skilled and productive workforce, more agency for individuals and less time off work due to physical and mental health issues.
Creating an Enabling Environment for Play
To harness play’s full potential for the future health of the UK, we must create an enabling environment that supports and encourages play at all stages of life. This includes incorporating play into educational curricula, allocating dedicated play spaces in communities, and fostering a cultural shift that recognises the importance of play in personal development.
Collaboration among policymakers, health professionals, teachers, and parents is vital to drive change. Initiatives that promote play as an integral part of daily life, such as public awareness campaigns and funding for play-based interventions, can transform our society and build a healthier, happier nation.
In envisioning the future health of the UK, it is imperative to recognise the transformative power of play. By harnessing the benefits of play in fostering mental well-being, physical health, and economic prosperity, we can shape a brighter future for generations to come. Let us champion play as a fundamental right, unlocking its potential to improve lives, strengthen communities, build a resilient and thriving nation and reduce the burden on that most precious of public services, the NHS.