Think lit­tle

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…

Health & Fitness - - Contents - WORDS: Jane Mur­phy

How em­brac­ing your in­ner child can boost mind, body and soul. Go on, climb that tree!

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. ‘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...


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.


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.


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


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. to find your near­est venue.


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 core mus­cles – par­tic­u­larly your abs – and boosts strength and co­or­di­na­tion. If you live in Lon­don, you could try a Hula Fit class (hu­; more are planned across the UK.


Were you al­ways be­ing told to sit still and stop fid­get­ing as a child? It turns out you were right and your par­ents were 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’re 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. Try some toe taps, leg raises and glute squeezes.


There’s been a wealth of re­search into the health ben­e­fits of play­ing board games and the results show that play­ing games with fam­ily and friends helps us feel more 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’re feel­ing chilly next win­ter, try dust­ing off the Hun­gry Hip­pos be­fore you turn up the ther­mo­stat!


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 more bal­anced. So yes, have that ice cream, slice of cake or Fin­dus crispy pan­cake – and prop­erly en­joy it!’

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