If the only place you move your body is in a gym, it’s time to loosen up. Spontaneous activity for its own sake – also known as ‘locomotor play’ – is vital for your physical health and wellbeing. This sort of childish play can even help you live longer, with a UK study revealing people who feel younger than their age have reduced mortality rates.
Try: Move your body in a way that makes you feel alive, whether that’s handstands and cartwheels, a freestyle dance, or a backyard game of frisbee.
Last year, as we rediscovered the joys of coloured pencils, adult colouring-in books soared to the top of bestseller lists around the world. But the therapeutic benefits of colouring-in have been documented since the early 20th century, when psychiatrist Carl Jung prescribed the activity to his patients. More recently, neuroscientific research has revealed colouring-in has neural benefits similar to meditation. When you colour-in, your brain forms therapeutic alpha waves, which reduce adrenaline and boost the feel good hormone dopamine.
Try: Colouring-in during your work breaks. A US study reveals employees who participate in activities like colouring-in report better performance. Some big corporations have already introduced the practice to encourage creative thinking and lower employees’ stress levels.
When you daydream, chances are you’re used to snapping back to reality. But letting your mind wander can stimulate it and generate creativity, says Rosa Bologna, director of The Academy of Art & Play Therapy in Sydney. And forming imaginary scenarios is linked with improved memory.
Try: Finding a quiet place, then thinking of a situation that troubles you. Bologna says acting out conversations in your head can help you find creative solutions to problems. The same applies to visualising your ideal job or relationship. Create a vision board to start the process.
“Origami is yoga for the mind,” explains Samuel Tsang, author of The Book of Mindful Origami. “It’s a form of mindful meditation that can help you unwind and de-stress, as well as improve your concentration, memory, hand-eye coordination and spatial awareness.” It all comes down to creating something real and tangible, while training your brain to learn a new skill.
Try: Maximising the meditation benefits by folding paper in a quiet, calm space. Look for books like Step-by-Step Zen Doodle Origami or The Book of Mindful Origami, which come with detailed instructions for folding and tear-out origami papers.
Believe it or not, even video games have their place. Who knew Candy Crush could be good for your health? Despite getting a bad rap, studies consistently show video games can be a powerful mood lifter, and can even improve memory and motivation. “If you’re feeling stressed out or overloaded, video games can be a great way to let off steam,” says Dr Daniel Johnson, a games expert from the Queensland University of Technology.
Try: Downloading a mobile-friendly game. Women over 30 are mobile video games’ biggest users, so you’ll be in good company. Give your grey cells a workout with ‘brain trainer’ app Lumosity, or challenge a friend to a play-off in Words With Friends.
You don’t need to pick up a recorder again, but learning an instrument is a great way to keep you sharp as you age, says cognitive neuroscientist Jessica Grahn, who studies the effect of music on the mind. Studies show picking up an instrument can increase feelings of wellbeing, which leads to greater self-confidence, and has a positive flow-on effect to healthy eating and exercising. It can also make you smarter, improving memory and verbal fluency.
Try: Getting individual lessons with a teacher in your area, or using online resources like YouTube. Better yet, recruit some band-mates if you already know the basics. “Group music-making facilitates social bonds and builds friendships,” explains Grahn.
Yes, even good old-fashioned playdough can offer you stress-busting benefits, both thanks to the act of pounding it out and getting creative by making shapes.
Try: Finding a recipe online and making your own aromatherapy playdough by infusing it with essential oils. Then stash it in a drawer at home or work. When the urge strikes, give it a sniff and squeeze, and feel your stress melt away.