I believe we are born with an innate ability to be well. At various points throughout our childhood, we forget or lose these abilities. Some of it has to do with parents telling us to clean our plates. School certainly plays a role with all the sitting that’s involved from an early age. And our society as a whole makes it hard to maintain a lifestyle that is geared toward wellness.
As I was heading back to work after my daily nature walk on Friday, I decided to skip down a small hill. It felt good, and I knew it was good for my body — and soul. But if somebody saw me, they might have questioned my sanity (I am 39 years old after all).
I started to think about the things we do as children that are good for us that we stop doing when we get older. And thus this post was born. Here are 12 tips for health and wellness inspired by childhood:
1. Skip Down the Street
There is no way to skip and not feel happy. That is not a scientific fact, but more based on my own personal experience. If you are self-conscious, just suck it up and do it anyway. Maybe others will join you.
Or if you want to avoid weird stares, pick up a jump rope for more socially acceptable skipping. My friends and I jumped rope like it was nobody’s business when we were kids. It is truly fun exercise!
2. Go on a Play Date
When I was a kid, my life revolved around play dates. Even though I had several siblings to play with at home, I always liked hanging out with friends at their house (or at the pool or in the woods…).
Many adults are so busy that we don’t make time for play dates with friends or our significant other. I often run into people, and we chat and have a good time and end with a “we should get together sometime!” (But we never do.)
Having a close social network is one of the most important factors for wellness. This means making time for friends and loved ones.
3. Eat When You’re Hungry
We are born knowing when we are hungry and when we are satiated. It is a survival instinct. Babies cry when they’re hungry and gurgle/burp with satisfaction when they’ve had enough.
At some point during our childhood (especially if our parents or other caretakers are members of the “Clean Plate Club,” we forget how to listen to our body’s hunger and satiety cues. This is a huge problem, and something I am personally working on and will continue to talk about on this blog.
4. Take Naps
Research shows that naps are good for your health. Small children get it and nap happily (and sometimes not so happily) once or twice a day.
In fact, one of the Blue Zones (Ikaria, Greece) includes napping as one of the habits for longevity. They nap daily! I often nap on the weekends, but our daily lives here in the US are not set up for napping (imaging telling your boss that you’ll be unavailable from 3 – 3:30 pm for your afternoon nap).
Maybe our culture needs to change. Or maybe you just need to try to fit it in when you can. My guess is some napping is better than none.
5. Breathe with Your Belly
If I could give just one tip for health and wellness, it would be to breathe. Focusing on your breath and learning to breathe with your belly reduces stress, makes you feel grounded, and is just plain good for you.
Babies breathe into the lower part of their lungs, causing the belly to expand. This is another innate ability that most people lose along the way. You can easily test to see if you are belly breathing by putting a head on your belly and breathing in. Does you hand rise? If not, you should look into some breathing techniques. (It helps with singing too!)
6. Make New Friends
One thing that always fascinated my husband and me when our daughter was younger (and still, to a certain extent) was how easily she made friends.
We’d be hanging out at the playground — not talking to the other parents — and before we knew it, she would be chatting up a storm with another child. What if we made friends as easily? How would that impact our health?
7. Love a Puppy
Dogs are good for health and happiness. I think kids know this instinctively, which is why they ask for dogs. Our daughter begged us for a dog for years. We tried stuffed animals and robotic dogs; we even volunteered at the Humane Society for a couple of years. But eventually we broke down and bought Sophie, a boisterous and insanely smart Bichon Frisé.
She’s the best thing that ever happened to our family.
8. Gaze at the Stars
While reading Last Child in the Woods, I have come to appreciate the beauty of the night sky here in rural Iowa. We’ve got some seriously amazing star gazing opportunities here.
When I was a child, I didn’t think it was a waste of time to lie on my back and look up in the sky to try to pick out the various constellations such as the Big Dipper. And it’s still not a waste of time!
9. Read Before Bed
Maybe this was just a nerd thing, but I remember many an evening where my mom would come around for our prayers, turn out the lights, and as soon as I heard her descending down the stairs, I would turn on my reading lamp and read until I fell asleep.
Reading before bed (especially a good novel) is a great way to unwind after a stressful day. Therapists actually recommend this as a strategy for falling asleep. It works!
10. Go for a Nature Walk
We as a society do not spend enough time in nature. That’s a fact. Screen time has replaced time spent in the woods and fields. And it’s having a negative impact on all of us.
For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been walking in a wooded area during my lunch break, and it’s been fantastic. I’ve seen deer, squirrels, and lots of different birds. And I come back to work relaxed and ready for a few more hours in front of the computer. Try it!
11. Eat What Tastes Good
If you have children (or have cared for young children), you know that everybody’s taste buds are different. Bobby loves his peas, while Betsy spits them out. All food just doesn’t taste good to all people. Kids eat what tastes good (and spit out the rest).
I think there’s something to this. Don’t like kale? Don’t eat it! (Just don’t give up before trying a massaged kale salad.) There are plenty of other vegetables that can give you the same health benefits.
12. Take Time Off in the Summer!
School’s almost out. The weather is nice. And all of a sudden it feels just a little bit harder to go to work every day. In my home country of Sweden, people take up to five weeks of vacation at one time and head out to their cabin by the lake or sail along the coast for some serious r&r.
Turns out, when it comes to vacation, the U.S. stinks. I feel so lucky to work at a place that values vacation and provides a significant amount of it. But even if you only have two weeks, take it! Take it all at once and really be off. Off email and off the phone.
And maybe skip down the street, eat some good food, spend time with friends and family, gaze at the stars, read a good book, take naps with your puppy, and breathe!