Research Says Nostalgia Has Health Benefits — Here's How To Make Memories Heal You
Memories are a powerful thing. While they can be triggered by something simple, like a smell, a song, or a snack, they can magically transport you. One second, you're sniffing a vanilla-scented candle; the next, you're a child, holding your mom's hand, with her favorite vanilla-scented lotion wafting into your nose. A sip of coffee you accidentally over-sweetened reminds you of your first cup of coffee in high school, and how it made you feel like an adult... even though it was 80 percent cream and sugar at the time. Nostalgia can do more than just give you warm, fuzzy feelings — it can also benefit your health, says science. In fact, researchers say staying calm, energetic, and healthy is as easy as tapping into the healing power of nostalgia. Keep reading to learn how reveling in your past can improve your present.
To Boost Slimming: Take a Brain Break
Remember the childhood fun of stretching out in the grass and gazing up at the sky, searching for shapes in the clouds? Taking a break each day for that type of guilt-free R&R (whether you study clouds, color, craft, or just nap), reduces stress, which may help you slim faster, suggests a study in Obesity Reviews. Even brief moments of calm signal your nervous system to switch off its production of metabolism-slowing stress hormones.
To Regain Self-Control: Re-Read Your Favorite Fictional Book
Or re-watch a beloved TV series. Can’t decide whether to start a new book or show or cozy up with one you’ve enjoyed before? If you’re feeling distracted or restless, reaching for the old favorite may help you feel more self-control, says a study in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science. That’s because getting lost in a familiar setting with characters you already love and a plot line you already know allows you to fully relax and feel confident, without worrying about what's going to happen next.
To Feel Energized: See an Old Friend
Regularly enjoying a chat or coffee date with old friends may lessen tiredness, University of Michigan scientists say in Gerontology and Geriatric Medicine. They explain that connecting with people who bring you joy is associated with reduced loneliness, which can cause fatigue and depression. Interacting with friends can make your brain release dopamine, which helps you feel energized.
To Induce Sleep Faster: Eat a Small Treat
Doughnuts, macaroni and cheese, chocolate chip cookies… whatever classic treat still makes your mouth water — savor some (in moderation!) a few hours before lights-out. Doing so could help you drift off faster, research suggests: An article in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition notes that simple carbohydrates prompt the release of the calming, sleep-deepening hormone serotonin.
To Relax Your Mind for Bed Time: Wrap Yourself In a Familiar Comforter
Spending a little time each evening wrapped up tightly in a cozy blanket does more than help you relax and unwind: It can warm you from the inside out, gently lulling you to sleep, says sleep consultant Alanna McGinn. She explains that our childhood association with being wrapped in blankets signals to our brains that it's time to sleep, and the pressure and warmth help your brain release sleep-inducing hormones.
To Strengthen Your Immune System: Play a Fun Game
Playing lighthearted, childhood board games like Monopoly, Chutes and Ladders, or Trouble (or even hosting a weekly game night) is fun and stress-relieving. And regularly avoiding stress may keep colds and viruses at bay, say researchers with the Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Sciences journal. They explain that continuous stress can damage the body's immune response. So play another round of UNO for your health!
To Ease Aches: Listen To Your Favorite Oldies
Remember the thrill of hearing your favorite song on the radio? Hearing a song you associate with past happy times can transport you to another place and potentially aid in pain tolerance, says 2020 research from Frontiers in Psychology. Scientists explain that engaging in nostalgia by reflecting on positive past memories may reduce the severity of pain. Nostalgia activates the thalamus, which is linked to pain reception.
To Keep Back Pain At Bay: Get Moving
Lower back pain is common among a large population of adults, says a 2016 study from Healthcare journal. But this study also says that aerobic exercise may help reduce the stiffness that causes back pain. To work the nostalgia angle, play some hopscotch, grab some friends and jump ropes for double-dutch, or see how long you can hula-hoop. Your back will thank you!
To Feel A Sense of Purpose: Play With A Childhood Toy
Nostalgia can induce feelings of purpose, says research in scientific journal Memory. So, dust off your old slinky or Rubik's cube. Focusing on the look and feel of a toy that brings back happy memories may boost self-esteem, mood, and a sense of social connectedness, explain the researchers.
This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.
A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman's World.