7 Habits with Surprising Mind and Body Benefits
Which of these you’ve been neglecting?
Daily behaviour can draw the line between ageing with a healthy body and mind or not.
As you go about your daily duties, you perform — intentionally or unintentionally — a plethora of actions. Among these everyday activities, seven hold tremendous power over your mental and physical health. And the good news is, they require little to no effort from you. By knowing their actual benefits, you can:
Motivate yourself to practice those you’ve been neglecting.
Do the ones you’ve been doing with added intention and purpose.
Here are seven behaviours that, if you turn into daily habits, can lead to life-changing results.
Smooth pursuit is an eye movement that, alas, many of us seldom do. That’s because from the moment we wake up until sleep, our eye movements are mostly saccadic (sudden jumps from one target to the next). Smooth pursuits, however, require fixating on a slowly moving target.
Doing smooth pursuit is easy. Simply fix your gaze on a target (the tip of your finger or a pen). Then without moving your head, track the target while slowly moving your hand from left to right, up to down, or trace the infinity sign.
Smooth pursuit is important because it engages and strengthens eye muscles known as the extraocular muscles. Even bodybuilders tend to neglect (or forget) to train their extraocular muscles. Yet, exercising these muscles can be remarkably helpful in relieving eye fatigue, strain, and dry eye syndromes.
In a study, participants suffering eye fatigue performed smooth pursuit for three minutes a day, five days a week. After six weeks, their eye fatigue scores were down a staggering 40%. In contrast, their colleagues who didn’t partake in training (but were monitored for comparison) saw their condition worsen. Their eye fatigue scores were 15% higher.
2 — Awe
Have you ever been halted in your tracks by a stunning view or a wonderful piece of art, music, or monument? How did that make you feel?
Psychologists define awe as a feeling you get when confronted with something vast, unusual, or mysterious — a place or an object that transcends your everyday’s routine.
We are awe-hungry more than ever before. According to Paul Piff — a pioneer in awe studies — a lack of awesome moments makes people joyless and less connected to others.
Awe stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, reducing your stress levels up to several weeks after an awesome experience. Among positive emotions, such as love, happiness, and curiosity, awe is the strongest modulator of cytokines — a protein that promotes inflammatory diseases.
Gazing up tall forest trees makes people more likely to help someone who stumbled nearby. When asked to remember a happy memory or a fantastic experience, people recalling fantastic moments were more willing to volunteer for charity than the rest.
If you’ve become suddenly aware of your awe-hunger, worry not. It’s easier than you think to get your daily fix of awe, even with a packed schedule.
Watching videos of earth, animals, and landscapes can induce a strong feeling of awe. A stroll in the park, watching an artistic performance, or a trip to the museum can do the trick. Stargazing and watching sunsets are also great ways to lose yourself. Awe is to be found in everydays’ moments.
3 — Closing Eyes
Notice how people tend to close their eyes when recalling details or to focus their thoughts. According to science, briefly closing your eyes on purpose is probably the simplest productivity hack there is.
Your brain is like a machine with limited energy. Vision, it turns out, sucks a lot of that energy. That’s why the moment you close your eyes, you free up a significant amount of brainpower. And when this happens, your brain works harder to retrieve details, imagine creative ideas, or find answers to challenging problems.
People taking creativity tests with eyes shut scored twice as much as those who kept their eyes open. When you close your eyes, you grasp more auditory information. This can be helpful especially if you’re listening to podcasts or audiobooks. Studies have shown that closing your eyes after learning new things helps you memorise and consolidate knowledge even better.
If you never close your eyes at work, you might be missing some great ideas that only sprang to mind when your eyes are shut. So next time you’re struggling with a problem, pushing past a creative block, or wanting to learn faster, simply close your eyes and let your brain power up.
If you think you’re too old to play, think again. According to behavioural psychologist Stuart L. Brown, play is as important for adults as for children.
People who engaged in play are happier, more curious, and more energised. “Without play, adults can feel down, exhausted, or burn out without knowing exactly why,” says Marc Bekoff, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Colorado Boulder.
But, what kind of play are we talking about? The kind that is fun, carries no material gain, is safe, and has no time pressure. That’s the kind of play that is so crucial to mental well-being.
According to Brown, “the opposite of play isn’t work; it’s depression.” He suggests three simple ways to get more play into your life:
Body play: dancing, tobogganing, playing an instrument.
Object play: use your hands to create something you enjoy. Draw random things, sculpt, or play with blocks.
Social play: from engaging in small talk to making a camping tent with friends to verbal jousting.
If you’re still unsure how to play, try remembering what you liked doing as a child, then turn that into an activity that fits your current circumstances. Doing things that are fun or sometimes silly is so beneficial to your mental health.
5 — Getting Sunlight
Getting daily sunlight has tremendous health benefits.
Sunlight boosts the release of serotonin, a hormone that uplifts the mood and makes you feel happy. There is no better source of vitamin D than sunlight. And if you suffer a vitamin D deficiency, your bones, teeth and muscles are set for an early decline.
Although excessive sunlight contributes to skin cancers, moderate sunlight lower the risk of certain types of cancer, such as colon, ovarian, and prostate cancer, as well as Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Not getting enough sunlight deprives your eyes of violet light critical to their functioning, putting you at higher risk of becoming shortsighted. No wonder children who spent at least 11 hours per week outdoors slowed the progression of myopia by more than 50%.
When you soak in sunlight first thing in the morning, your body clock (known as the circadian rhythm) signals it’s time to wake up. And when the sun is down and night comes, your body clock signals it’s time to sleep. So getting sunlight early in the morning is crucial to both a day full of energy and a good night’s sleep.
How much sunlight you need depends on the weather conditions. If it’s a bright day, get 30 to 40 minutes of daily exposure to sunlight. If clouds entirely cover the sun, your daily exposure should be longer (from 60 to 90 minutes a day).
6 — Time in Green
Viewing green spaces, trees, plants, or spending time in nature has remarkable benefits on the mind and body.
Researchers monitored the effects of time spent in city parks on young adults and seniors. Participants made regular trips to a public park in spring and summer. Surrounded by cherry blossoms, green grass, and ponds, they sat calmly and absorbed the beautiful scenery for 10 to 15 minutes a day. All the while, scientists monitored several of their body functions. The results of the experiments were no less than incredible. Participants start having:
Lower blood pressure.
Lower levels of anxiety, depression, and anger.
Lower heart rates.
An increased positive mood.
“The results of this study suggest that viewing urban parks results in physiological and psychological relaxation,” conclude the authors of one of the studies.
Whether young or old, spending time in public parks or urban greens lower your stress and anxiety, uplifts your mood, and make you healthier.
7 — Fasting
Autophagy is a process by which the body eliminate toxic waste that accumulates in cells.
Think of your body as a neighbourhood and autophagy as a waste disposal company. Without disposing of waste, the whole community will drown in filth. Autophagy is one of the body’s most vital processes.
If you eat every couple of hours, you’re not allowing autophagy to run its entire course. As a result, toxic waste keeps accumulating in your cells, and this can lead to disastrous health risks. Enters intermittent fasting.
Autophagy begins when glucose and insulin levels drop considerably, and your body digested all you’ve eaten. That’s why going without food for 14 to 16 hours is key.
One of these best ways to practice intermittent fasting is the 16/8 system. For instance, you eat between noon and 8 pm, then fast until the next day at noon. Repeat. A similar method is the 14/10 system. An example would be to eat from 8 am to 6 pm, then fast until the next day at 8 am. Repeat.
If you go with the 16/8 or the 14/10 system, you may want to start your 16 or 14 hours fast as close to bedtime as possible, as sleeping most of these hours makes fasting easy. Some apps can even help you practice the fasting technique you’re most comfortable with.
The science is clear: the small habits we engage in unintentionally can have a massive impact on the well-being of our bodies and minds.
Spend more time in green spaces. And get your daily dose of sunlight (especially in the morning).
Training your body but neglecting your eye muscles is a mistake. Take a minute or two a day to do some eye movement exercises. They are known to slow the decline of eyesight and keep your vision sharp.
Try to remember when was the last time you played for fun or experienced an awesome moment. Can you think of simple ways to repeat these experiences?
If taking a short break from work, close your eyes for a few minutes. Vision takes so much of your brainpower. With your eyes shut, your best ideas might come rushing at you.
Eating whenever you feel hungry — snacking now and then — shortens your lifespan. Practising 16/8 or 14/10 intermittent fasting can help you live healthier and longer.
As casual as they seem, these seven daily habits can help you age with a healthy body and mind.
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