Enjoying a vacation in your hometown can be fun and relaxing. Even better, it’s proven to lift spirits and bolster health.
Sharpen memory by putting up your feet.
Doing nothing more than lounging on a backyard chaise is a delightful way to unwind and melt away stress. An unexpected bonus: Just 10 minutes of relaxation sharpens your memory of anything new you learned that day by about 40 percent, according to researchers at the U.K.’s University of Edinburgh. That’s because simply resting without doing anything else gives your brain a time-out, helping it process and store new information into your long-term memory bank.
Or sip an iced latte! Cooling off with a delicious chilled, caffeinated drink improves memory for up to 24 hours, say Johns Hopkins University scientists. Credit goes to caffeine’s ability to block the buildup of the brain-slowing compound adenosine, keeping your memory centers working harder longer.
Boost happiness by being a tourist.
Now’s the time to play a round at your local mini golf range, visit your town’s historical museum or dine at a new neighborhood restaurant. A new experience lifts your mood the day you do it as well as the following day, according to new University of Miami research. Pleasurable activities that differ from your usual routine stimulate key areas of the brain that spur rewarding sensations that last and last.
Or try for the jackpot! Those who take fun risks — such as playing the slot machines or riding a roller coaster at a county fair — are happier than those who skip them, research in the Journal of the European Economic Association found. No wonder: Thrills send the feel-good brain chemical dopamine surging.
Ease discomfort with arts and crafts.
To avoid missing out on a single moment of fun on your days off because of joint aches, back pain or other discomfort, take time for your favorite arts and crafts. Doing so isn’t just enjoyable, it’s a powerful anesthetic. The proof: In a Cleveland Clinic study, folks in pain noticed their discomfort significantly lessened when they painted, beaded jewelry, created collages and did other art. The reason: Channeling your inner artist tamps down the production of pain-worsening hormones such as cortisol by giving you a creative outlet to express your emotions.
Or scroll through photos! Looking through some of your favorite photos from vacations you took with your loved ones is more than a nostalgia boost. It reduces pain 44 percent more than looking at photos of folks you don’t know as well, according to research in PLOS ONE. The sight of someone special to you activates reward centers in the brain that short-circuit pain signals.
Sleep soundly with a picnic in the park.
Grab some snacks and a blanket and make a beeline for the park. Relaxing in nature promotes deeper sleep. British scientists say 17 minutes surrounded by greenery spurs a 22 percent increase in activity in the parasympathetic nervous system (your “rest and digest” system), which helps you drift off easily and reach deeper, more restful stages of slumber.
Or take a spin! Moderate-intensity activity leads to nearly 20 more minutes of uninterrupted sleep at night, University of South Carolina scientists say. It increases the production of sleep-promoting serotonin, vital for quality shut-eye.
Speed slimming at the drive-in.
Blockbusters have finally returned to theaters! And simply watching a movie at a drive-in or indoor theater delivers a workout equivalent to a 40-minute walk and burns up to 200 calories, a new British study found. Large screens absorb you into the story line, which raises your heart rate, torching more calories during emotional scenes than when watching movies at home.
Or fly a kite! Your childhood hobbies remind you of your loved ones, upping the desire to choose healthy foods, a study in Appetite found.
A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.