Love to get out and try all of those beloved cool-weather favorite pastimes in autumn? Great news: All of those popular fall activities are study-proven to keep you happy and protect your health!
Fall asleep faster with a nature walk.
If your idea of a perfect autumn day means apple picking, hiking, or biking, you’re in luck: Enjoying active fun of any intensity helps you fall asleep an impressive 50 percent more quickly than on days when you’re less active, according to research out of China. Investigators explain that simply moving your body releases anxiety, temporarily elevates your core body temperature and helps tire you out—all important for going out like a light!
Or inhale the scent of cedar: Place a sprig of cedar by your bedside, and you’ll nod off up to 39 percent faster, Japanese researchers report. Experts say that aromatic compounds in the evergreen dial down activity in your sympathetic nervous system (responsible for your body’s “fight or flight” response) so you can quickly relax and doze off.
Boost joy with Grandma’s pie.
Now that the cooler weather is here, it’s a great time to start heating up your oven with fall treats like your mom’s apple pie or grandpop’s chili. Not only does whipping up family recipes give you delicious foods, you also get an instant spike in positivity that continues through the following day, reveals a study from New Zealand. Why? Channeling creativity through baking and cooking gives you an opportunity to express yourself, share your “art” with others and experience a “flow state” where you become fully engrossed in an activity you find pleasurable, all of which help give life more meaning.
Or start your Christmas list: Pondering which gifts you’d like to get your loved ones for the holidays gives you a 34 percent bigger increase in joy than buying something for yourself, shows a new study from the University of Missouri-Columbia. Knowing you’ll be making friends and family happy increases how close you feel to them, sending joy soaring.
Sharpen your memory at a pumpkin patch.
Fall just doesn’t feel complete without a trip to a nearby farm for picking the perfect pumpkin. And here’s another feel-good reason to go: Visiting a farm significantly improves short-term memory, helping you recall details you recently learned. University of Michigan researchers chalk it up to the way nature scenes, such as fields of pumpkins, clear racing thoughts and worries in a way similar to meditation, reviving your brain so it works more efficiently.
Or hit the road: Getting away to go antiquing or sample apple cider donuts increases your attention span by up to 25 percent for as much as a week, shows a study from Australia. Mini trips distract you from your to-do list, giving your mind a refreshing break.
Dodge colds with mulled wine.
Sipping mulled wine (red wine sweetened with apple cider, orange peel and spices) fends off fall ills. Wine’s phenolics bolster your defenses to better attack germs. Unwrap a piece of Halloween candy while you sip, and you’ll up your protection even more. UCLA scientists say 4 ounces of wine and 2 ounces of dark chocolate (which tamps down immunity-hampering inflammation) daily cuts your risk of colds and flu up to 58 percent.
Or play bridge: This classic card game requires memory, planning ahead and critical thinking. All of these stimulate an area of the brain that, when activated, causes the body to churn out more virus-killing T cells, University of California scientists say.
Lower stress with a campfire.
Light up your fireplace or backyard fire pit, and you’ll feel tension melt away in seconds. Japanese scientists say observing flickering flames spurs the release of 10 times more relaxing alpha brain waves for women than men. Researchers suspect we’re hardwired to find fires more calming because we’ve long associated them with comforting warmth and food.
And look up: Peering at the night sky cuts stress 35 percent. Chinese scientists say the awe-inspiring vastness of the twinkling sky makes life’s daily hassles seem smaller and less bothersome.
Now get out there and enjoy those fall activities — and their health benefits!
A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.