Researchers from Ulster’s School of Psychology surveyed over 500 young adults about their experiences for play during childhood.
The types of play were categorised into four distinct areas including active, creative, technology and playing alone.
The study revealed adults who had engaged in more active play as children had better health and engaged in more regular exercise as adults, while those reporting restrictions on play were more likely to be overweight and have less healthy lifestyles.
Also adults who had engaged in more creative play when they were children were more likely to have a healthy diet and active lifestyle in later life.
Dr Tony Cassidy, who led the research team, said the study indicates children’s play patterns may have far reaching implications for establishing healthy habits in adulthood.
"Having the freedom and opportunity to play is important for all aspects of child development and is a right that is often overlooked. It is something most children want to do, and do naturally, but its importance is not always recognised by adults, particularly policy makers,” he said.
“For all sorts of reasons our society has restricted child play and to remove restrictions and reverse a potentially damaging trend requires a change in attitudes across adult society”.