Embrace a youthful outlook on life and knock years off your perceived age, whichever stage you’re at
Some people just ooze youth and vitality and it has nothing to do with the way they look. As children, we’re born with a sense of freedom and fun; a carefree attitude that makes us unafraid to explore and try new things. As we grow older, that childish curiosity somehow seems to filter away from us, replaced with ‘grown up’ worries and responsibilities. But what if we could hold onto that childlike verve into our dotage? Here are some tips for stealing back your younger mindset now.
People often say that the brain is a muscle, and that it benefits from exercise, just like our bodies do. Although it isn’t a muscle, it does, nevertheless, grow in its own way with the right sort of exercise, and can atrophy if underused. “Our brains consume huge amounts of energy,” says education and revision expert Murray Morrison (tassomai.com), “so, if we’re not making good use of them, our bodies will divert precious energy elsewhere.” On the bright side, the brain has an incredible ability to ‘rewire’ itself. “You don’t have to apply to university,” adds Dr Elena Touroni, a consultant psychologist and co-founder of thechelseapsychologyclinic com, “but instead, commit to learning a new skill or subject. Being interested in something new reinvigorates your curiosity, which is great for your mind. You could learn how to play an instrument, speak a new language, take up knitting, enrol in a first-aid course, or join a sports team – there are countless new skills we can master. Not all new skills are going to be easy to learn, but that’s a good thing. The more challenging it is for you, the better it is for your brain.”
The quickest way to get ourselves into our child space is to play. “Imagine you are talking to yourself as a small child,” says medicinal herbalist, Pamela Spence, “ask yourself what you really want to do today. Do you want to go and get an ice cream? Ride a bike? Colour in? Sometimes I like to go to a playground when it’s quiet or bounce on the trampoline in the garden. Children don’t think twice about expressing their needs but as adults we become tied up in what we should do and what is appropriate for our age. Ask your child self what she most wants to do today and listen for the answer. Then build her trust in you by doing it. The more your practise this, the more she will speak up – and the more fun you’ll have together.”
In the same way exercise increases the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the muscles in our bodies, it also increases the flow of blood to our brain. What’s more, there is a proven correlation between cardiovascular fitness and mental health. In particular, aerobic exercises, such as jogging, swimming, cycling, walking, gardening, and dancing, have all been proven to reduce anxiety and depression. “What’s good for the body really is good for the brain,” says fitness expert Vicki Anstey. “And in older populations (especially women), exercise has been proven to counteract some of the inevitable biological wear and tear that can lead to a decline in cognitive function and even dementia.”
Did you know that, on average, children smile about 400 times a day? (Compared to the measly 20 times a day once we grow up.) There are many excellent reasons to take our cue from the young and smile more. Smiling makes us feel better; the act of smiling sends neuronal signals to our brain, stimulating our reward mechanism. Studies also found that smiling leads to a reduction in the stress-induced hormones that negatively affect our mental and physical health, giving you a double-whammy of anti-ageing benefits. But best of all, smiling is contagious. “The more you smile, the more you naturally smile as an unconscious response,” says founder of Talented Ladies Club, Hanna Martin. “And the friendlier and more approachable you look (thanks to smiling), the more other people will respond to you in kind. People will be instinctively warmer and friendlier, further boosting your feelings of happiness and wellbeing.”
Research shows that people who are more sociable, whether that be joining a sports group, a book club or a choir, are healthier than solitary people are when they age. “Life is too short,” says Elena, “so get out there and socialise. Putting aside at least one day a week to meet with friends and catch up is great for the mind. Studies show that the more socialable person is, the less cognitive decline they’ll experience as they get older.”
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