Ready, Set, Summer! 5 Healthy Goals to Add to Your Warm Weather Bucket List

Article posted in: Lifestyle
Bucket list

Want to make this the most positive summer you’ve ever experienced? Do something from your bucket list that you’ve never done before.

Your brain loves novelty.  Even if you’re a little afraid of venturing outside your comfort zone, your brain lights up—literally, on a high-tech brain scan—when exposed to images you haven’t seen before and novel experiences, according to a study by three European researchers.

Specifically, it’s the part of your brain known as the “pleasure” or “reward” center. When stimulated, this area will release a chemical called dopamine, which may both make you feel good and motivate you to seek a reward. Novelty seeking as a personality trait is linked to health and happiness, according to research by psychiatrist C. Robert Cloninger of Washington University in St. Louis.

So bring out that dusty old bucket list you have, and pick a few things you’ve always wanted to do and get started. Looking for ideas? Consider these:

1. Put some fun into your fitness routine.

There’s something about routines that become, well, routine (read: Boring). If you’ve been dragging yourself to exercise class, consider changing it up. Take a barre class (no tutus required) that may get you closer to that ballerina body. If you loved Zumba, take it to the pool. Look for water Zumba classes where you can splash to the salsa beat. Get outdoors by planning weekend nature hikes at your closest parks or bike rides that end at a lake or river where you can cool down after all your efforts. Bonus for doing any aerobic exercise: A bigger brain. A study from the University of Pittsburgh found that people who walked for 40 minutes, three days a week grew their hippocampus, the part of the brain that controls memory, learning and emotion.

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2. Do something challenging.

For some people that may mean bucket list goals like paragliding, bungee jumping or ziplining through the Costa Rican jungle. You might settle for swimming with dolphins, petting a snake at your local nature center, or traveling alone to someplace you’ve always wanted to go. However you define adventure, add one to your summer to-do bucket list. It could change your life—in a good way. For example, one 2016 study found that people who were involved in outdoor and adventure programs felt more confident, happier, had less stress, and a greater sense of well-being.

3. Fulfill a goal.

Give yourself the summer to get closer to something you’ve always wanted to accomplish. Say you’ve always wanted to turn your basement into a craft room or man cave but right now it looks like something from an episode of “Hoarders.” You don’t have to do it in a weekend. Create a plan to do an hour of work a day through the summer. Or maybe you’ve always wanted to take part in a race. Find a cause you support that has a walk or run fundraiser attached and focus your summer fitness efforts on getting in shape for a 3K, 5K or 10K or even a 3-day. Recipe for success: Write down or share your goals. A study from Dominican University found that people who put their goals in writing accomplished far more than those who didn’t. A second study from the same researcher found that 70 percent of those who sent weekly updates to a friend either accomplished their goals or were halfway there, compared to 35 percent who kept everything to themselves.

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4. Try out a new hobby.

You may think that exercise is the only activity that has health benefits. You couldn’t be more wrong. Any leisure activity, whether it’s knitting, painting, gardening or riding your Harley can reduce stress and lower your blood pressure on the spot. And, according to a 2015 study by researchers at the University of California in Merced, Syracuse and Penn State universities, the effects can last for hours after you’ve put down your knitting, paintbrush and parked your Harley. Hobbies that engage you and bring you joy can take you away from the pressures of your day-to-day life and help relieve boredom, which can lead to all kinds of unhealthy behaviors (like eating!).

5. Learn something new.

Take a course that lets you get the most out of that digital camera you have. Get some new strings for that guitar and find a good teacher. Take a healthy cooking class so you’ll be making tastier Flex meals for yourself and your family. Finally learn to speak French. There are countless brain benefits to becoming a student again. Learning and playing an instrument, which involves complex physical and mental processes, results in more gray matter in the brain—in other words, a more powerful brain, according to one study.

Other research found that learning a new language, even when you’re older, may help stave off Alzheimer’s disease.

Learning something new is like aerobics for the brain.