Want to boost your memory, sleep more soundly and stick to a healthy diet? Step back in time to revisit some of your favourite childhood habits. Ready, steady, go…
Summer offers us all a chance to behave like a child again – whether it’s playing frisbee with friends in the park, splashing around in the sea or eating ice cream. And three-quarters of us agree that doing something we used to enjoy in childhood makes us feel happier, according to a recent survey by leading supplement brand Healthspan. But the health benefits of these nostalgic activities go far beyond the obvious mood lift. In fact, finding your inner child can pay dividends for your mental and physical wellbeing. ‘Embracing the carefree nature of childhood is certainly good for our health,’ says psychologist Dr Meg Arroll.
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‘Taking time out of our busy, grown-up schedules to try a few “kidult” activities conjures up feelings of nostalgia, which can protect against depression and loneliness. Immersive pastimes, such as board games or arts and crafts, help melt away thoughts of the daily grind and take you back to a happy-go-lucky time.’ And – whisper it – even some of those little habits that were once frowned upon by your parents and teachers can actually prove hugely beneficial. Read on for some childish inspiration…
1. READ A BEDTIME STORY
Scrolling through Twitter just before lights-out won’t lull you into peaceful slumber – but revisiting your favourite children’s books just might. Around half of UK adults say they feel happier, warm and comfortable after reading a story from childhood, according to a recent study by sleep technology brand Simba. ‘Re-reading these books reminds us of an earlier brain-encoded bedtime habit,’ explains psychologist Hope Bastine. ‘Entering into a literary world focuses the mind and distracts us from daily stresses, releasing muscular heart tension and lowering your breathing rate to encourage restful sleep.’ Digging out your old copy of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe can fire up the imagination, too – helping you feel more creative and inspired the following day.
2. DO SOME DOODLING
Need to pay attention? Contrary to what your teachers told you at school, a spot of apparently mindless doodling could help you do just that, say researchers at Plymouth University. Volunteers were asked to listen to a phone call and later recall a list of names and places. Those who had doodled during the call performed 29 per cent better than those who simply sat and listened. The reason? The act of doodling helped people to focus by preventing them from daydreaming and zoning out completely from the main task. So don’t feel guilty about scribbling in the margins next time you’re in a meeting.
3. CLIMB A TREE
As well as the obvious physical benefits, tree climbing can improve your working memory – that’s the ability to keep several new things in mind while performing complex tasks. In a University of North Florida study, people who spent two hours climbing trees found their working memory capacity had increased by 50 per cent immediately afterwards. ‘By taking a break to do activities that are unpredictable and require us to consciously adapt our movements, we can boost our working memory to perform better in the classroom and boardroom,’ says Dr Ross Alloway, who co-led the research. Prefer a safer alternative to trees? Try some indoor climbing. Find your nearest climbing wall at thebmc.co.uk.
4. GIGGLE WITH YOUR FRIENDS
You don’t need us to tell you why having a laugh with your nearest and dearest is an excellent way to quash anxiety and lift your mood. But laughter has plenty of physical benefits, too. An example? A good old belly-laugh gives the body a ‘mini aerobic workout’ and can burn off 100 calories in an hour, according to research by neuroscientist Dr Helen Pilcher. Laughter can also significantly improve pain tolerance – particularly if you’re chuckling along with other people, say Oxford University researchers. It’s thought this may be because laughing boosts the production of feel-good endorphins that in turn dampen the body’s response to pain. Nothing to laugh about? Switch on a comedy film or TV show or try some laughter yoga, visit laughterassociation. co.uk to find your nearest venue.
5. GO BACK TO THE PLAYGROUND
If you’re stuck in a workout rut, it’s well worth rediscovering some of those games you used to play in the school playground (with the possible exception of kiss chase, of course). Skipping, for instance, will give you a speedy full-body workout, improving muscle tone, balance and flexibility. Or hula-hooping is a great, fun way to work your cor e muscles – particularly your abs – and boosts strength and coordination. If you live in London, you could try a Hula Fit class (hulafit.com); mor e ar e planned across the UK.
Were you always being told to sit still and stop fidgeting as a child? It turns out you wer e right and your parents wer e wrong! That’ s according to a University of Missouri study that found a little fidgeting – simply moving your legs around while seated – is enough to help combat the heartthreatening reduced blood flow and artery function associated with long periods of sitting. So if you’r e obliged to stay seated for any length of time at work or while travelling, it pays to keep fidgeting, no matter how much it annoys everyone around you. Tr y some toe taps, leg raises and glute squeezes.
7. PLA Y A BOARD GAME
There’ s been a wealth of research into the health benefits of playing boar d games and the results show that playing games with family and friends helps us feel mor e socially connected and can improve problem-solving and memory skills. What’ s more, digging out a favourite childhood game can lift the spirits as nostalgia kicks in. One study from China even found that reminiscing can help us feel warmer on cold days. So if you’r e feeling chilly next winter, try dusting off the Hungry Hippos befor e you tur n up the thermostat!
8. STOP THE ICE-CREAM VAN
Remember when you simply responded to your natural hunger pangs and ate whatever you fancied without worrying about calories, sugar content or additives? Maybe it wasn’ t such a bad thing after all. ‘There’ s definitely a benefit to “eating like a child” from time to time,’ says Dr Arroll. ‘One of the main reasons why eating plans fail over the long term is that people feel a sense of acute deprivation. This just isn’ t realistic or healthy to maintain, as these feelings can bubble over and affect different areas, such as relationships, family life and work. By allowing some treats in an otherwise healthy diet, our relationship with food will be mor e balanced. So yes, have that ice cream, slice of cake or Findus crispy pancake – and properly enjoy it!
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