10 things you did as a kid that you should start doing again

Playing and being creative shouldn't stop when you grow up.

  • Growing up doesn't mean your life has to be all about work.
  • Studies have shown that playing and being creative has numerous health benefits for adults of all ages.
  • Simple exercises like drawing, finishing a puzzle, or taking breaks outdoors can have a positive impact on your life.

Peter Pan had the right idea: growing up is overrated. As adults we often forget to stop and have fun in between paying bills and being productive members of society. We're often stressed about our lives and the world around us, and after a while that mental anguish starts to take a toll on our bodies. There have been countless studies on the power of play and of mental and physical exercise. Here are some "childish" activities you should be doing to strengthen your mind, distract you from work, and keep you feeling young at heart.

1. Building LEGO kits is good for the mind.

With popular shows like LEGO Masters and films including "Beyond the Brick: A LEGO Brickumentary," it's clear that building with plastic bricks is not just a kids' sport. The popular interlocking pieces have been used in the past to reduce anxiety and stress, to inspire and promote creativity in the workplace, and to improve dexterity and coordination for patients with dementia. LEGO building is also a just fun way to spend a few hours alone or with family and friends!

2. Get back into jumping rope.

In addition to being a great tool for calorie-burning cardio workouts, jump ropes help with coordination, can be more efficient for heart health than jogging, improve bone density, and decrease the risk of foot and ankle injuries. When shopping for one, make sure the handles are comfortable and that the length is adjustable (or specific to your height).

3. Draw for fun.

Researchers, teachers, and artists are starting to realize that drawing is more than an art form. Studies have shown that doodling increases memory and helps with focus, while more involved drawing exercises enhance one's understanding of concepts and objects. With this How-To book, you'll be upgrading those stick figures and reaping the benefits that drawing has to offer in no time.

4. Eat lunch outside for a change.

According to the New York Times, 62 percent of professionals say they spend their lunch break eating at their desk. Taking a break away from a work environment gives you the chance to do just that: take a break. Sometimes a short walk and some fresh air is exactly what you need to feel creative and energized to make it through the day. Plastic bags are bad for the environment, and paper bags will make you look like a 3rd grader, but this lightweight neoprene bag is perfect for transporting for homemade meals to a park bench or somewhere your computer isn't. The bag keeps cold things cold and warm things warm for up to 4 hours, stores flat, is BPA free, and is also machine washable.

5. Get back into video games.

More than 164 million Americans play video games on their phones, computers, or gaming consoles. Hundreds of millions more dabble in gaming around the world. In addition to being a fun leisure activity, video games have been shown to have benefits for players of all ages. From increased gray matter in the hippocampus of people between the ages of 55 and 75, to improved performance on recognition memory tasks and a boost in keyboard proficiency, the diversity in video games today has created a vast library of useful tools that anyone can take advantage of.

A recent obsession among gamers is Animal Crossing: New Horizons for the Nintendo Switch. Build a community, collect materials, hang with cute creatures...this game has it all.

6. Finish a big, difficult jigsaw puzzle.

A 2018 study published in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience found that solving jigsaw puzzles "strongly engages multiple cognitive abilities," and that when practiced long term is a "potential protective factor for cognitive aging." The options are nearly endless when it comes to themes, shapes, and the number of pieces in a given puzzle, but we think this round puzzle of the Moon is both challenging and beautiful. When you're done, you can glue it and hang it on a wall, or take it apart and start over again.

7. Go for more bike rides.

The benefits of cycling are almost too many to list, but here are a few according to Harvard Medical, Cycling Weekly, and Bicycling.com: save on carbon emissions, increase muscle strength and joint mobility, decrease stress and body fat, explore your surroundings in a new way, and save money on fuel costs and maintenance. Oh yeah, and it can be a lot of fun!

8. Fly a kite

It may seem like just another lazy day activity, but keeping that string and wind-catching material afloat can do a lot for your body and mind. According to Dr. Jeannie Kenkare of PhysicianOne Urgent Care, kite flying is great for eye stimulation, neck/shoulder exercise, stress relief, filling your lungs with fresh air, and reconnecting you with nature. This one is of a massive bird, because you also want to look cool doing it.

9. Keep a diary or journal.

Journaling (or mature diary keeping) is a great way to track the progress of life goals and daily moods, to manage stress and anxiety, and to generally be more reflective in order to gain new perspectives. Journaling also helps strengthen your organizational skills and can be used as a meditative practice.

10. Color inside (or outside) the lines.

Published in Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, a 2005 study involving 84 college students found that coloring a plaid form and complex geometric patterns (mandalas) reduced stress levels by inducing a "meditative state." The study also found that these exercises were more effective stress reducers than free-form coloring on a blank page. Coloring also benefits older adults by improving motor function and vision.

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The surprise reason sleep-deprivation kills lies in the gut

New research establishes an unexpected connection.

Reactive oxygen species (ROS) accumulate in the gut of sleep-deprived fruit flies, one (left), seven (center) and ten (right) days without sleep.

Image source: Vaccaro et al, 2020/Harvard Medical School
Surprising Science
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  • When the buildup is neutralized, a normal lifespan is restored.

We don't have to tell you what it feels like when you don't get enough sleep. A night or two of that can be miserable; long-term sleeplessness is out-and-out debilitating. Though we know from personal experience that we need sleep — our cognitive, metabolic, cardiovascular, and immune functioning depend on it — a lack of it does more than just make you feel like you want to die. It can actually kill you, according to study of rats published in 1989. But why?

A new study answers that question, and in an unexpected way. It appears that the sleeplessness/death connection has nothing to do with the brain or nervous system as many have assumed — it happens in your gut. Equally amazing, the study's authors were able to reverse the ill effects with antioxidants.

The study, from researchers at Harvard Medical School (HMS), is published in the journal Cell.

An unexpected culprit

The new research examines the mechanisms at play in sleep-deprived fruit flies and in mice — long-term sleep-deprivation experiments with humans are considered ethically iffy.

What the scientists found is that death from sleep deprivation is always preceded by a buildup of Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) in the gut. These are not, as their name implies, living organisms. ROS are reactive molecules that are part of the immune system's response to invading microbes, and recent research suggests they're paradoxically key players in normal cell signal transduction and cell cycling as well. However, having an excess of ROS leads to oxidative stress, which is linked to "macromolecular damage and is implicated in various disease states such as atherosclerosis, diabetes, cancer, neurodegeneration, and aging." To prevent this, cellular defenses typically maintain a balance between ROS production and removal.

"We took an unbiased approach and searched throughout the body for indicators of damage from sleep deprivation," says senior study author Dragana Rogulja, admitting, "We were surprised to find it was the gut that plays a key role in causing death." The accumulation occurred in both sleep-deprived fruit flies and mice.

"Even more surprising," Rogulja recalls, "we found that premature death could be prevented. Each morning, we would all gather around to look at the flies, with disbelief to be honest. What we saw is that every time we could neutralize ROS in the gut, we could rescue the flies." Fruit flies given any of 11 antioxidant compounds — including melatonin, lipoic acid and NAD — that neutralize ROS buildups remained active and lived a normal length of time in spite of sleep deprivation. (The researchers note that these antioxidants did not extend the lifespans of non-sleep deprived control subjects.)

fly with thought bubble that says "What? I'm awake!"

Image source: Tomasz Klejdysz/Shutterstock/Big Think

The experiments

The study's tests were managed by co-first authors Alexandra Vaccaro and Yosef Kaplan Dor, both research fellows at HMS.

You may wonder how you compel a fruit fly to sleep, or for that matter, how you keep one awake. The researchers ascertained that fruit flies doze off in response to being shaken, and thus were the control subjects induced to snooze in their individual, warmed tubes. Each subject occupied its own 29 °C (84F) tube.

For their sleepless cohort, fruit flies were genetically manipulated to express a heat-sensitive protein in specific neurons. These neurons are known to suppress sleep, and did so — the fruit flies' activity levels, or lack thereof, were tracked using infrared beams.

Starting at Day 10 of sleep deprivation, fruit flies began dying, with all of them dead by Day 20. Control flies lived up to 40 days.

The scientists sought out markers that would indicate cell damage in their sleepless subjects. They saw no difference in brain tissue and elsewhere between the well-rested and sleep-deprived fruit flies, with the exception of one fruit fly.

However, in the guts of sleep-deprived fruit flies was a massive accumulation of ROS, which peaked around Day 10. Says Vaccaro, "We found that sleep-deprived flies were dying at the same pace, every time, and when we looked at markers of cell damage and death, the one tissue that really stood out was the gut." She adds, "I remember when we did the first experiment, you could immediately tell under the microscope that there was a striking difference. That almost never happens in lab research."

The experiments were repeated with mice who were gently kept awake for five days. Again, ROS built up over time in their small and large intestines but nowhere else.

As noted above, the administering of antioxidants alleviated the effect of the ROS buildup. In addition, flies that were modified to overproduce gut antioxidant enzymes were found to be immune to the damaging effects of sleep deprivation.

The research leaves some important questions unanswered. Says Kaplan Dor, "We still don't know why sleep loss causes ROS accumulation in the gut, and why this is lethal." He hypothesizes, "Sleep deprivation could directly affect the gut, but the trigger may also originate in the brain. Similarly, death could be due to damage in the gut or because high levels of ROS have systemic effects, or some combination of these."

The HMS researchers are now investigating the chemical pathways by which sleep-deprivation triggers the ROS buildup, and the means by which the ROS wreak cell havoc.

"We need to understand the biology of how sleep deprivation damages the body so that we can find ways to prevent this harm," says Rogulja.

Referring to the value of this study to humans, she notes,"So many of us are chronically sleep deprived. Even if we know staying up late every night is bad, we still do it. We believe we've identified a central issue that, when eliminated, allows for survival without sleep, at least in fruit flies."

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