Six smart reasons to act like a toddler

Following your toddler's lead now and then might be good for your brain.
Following your toddler's lead now and then might be good for your brain.  Photo: Roberto Westbrook

It's hard to imagine what you can learn from a two-year-old who's just lost it over a broken biscuit. But when it comes to brain health, they might just be onto something.

More and more, researchers are finding ways in which a child-like attitude could help keep our minds sharper in our 20s, 30s and beyond. Here are a six habits you can steal from your little one - and why they might be good for you as a grown-up, too.

1. Ask endless questions

'How are babies made?', 'Why is grandma so old?', 'Do crabs have eyebrows?'. Children's curiosity is unstoppable - and rekindling this is increasingly recognised as being great for adults, too.

According to the Your Brain Matters Campaign, how much you stimulate your brain throughout life - whether that's through work, social life or studies - has a big impact on your memory and thinking skills as you age. So, you could choose to learn a language or take up an out-there sport like caving. It's all about challenging yourself to something truly new.

2. Climb something

Researchers from the University of North Florida asked adult volunteers to climb trees, run barefoot and do other tasks that involved being aware of their body and environment. After two hours, they found participants had boosted their working memory - the type we need to make snappy decisions - by 50 per cent.

"By taking a break to do activities that are unpredictable and require us to consciously adapt our movements, we can boost our working memory to perform better," the study's authors wrote.

3. Throw a tantrum

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You know the scene: you're at the park and your child transforms into a screaming, kicking, red-faced devil because, well, you wouldn't let them peel their own banana. Or eat a stick. Then, just as suddenly, they're calm and content again.

We adults aren't quite so good at releasing stress, but we should be, because stress harms our sleep, memory and ability to make good decisions.

If throwing yourself to the ground feels undignified, try this mini-tantrum from yoga teacher trainer Jane Collins. Breathe out quickly through closed lips, letting them flutter like a horse snorting. "It's great for relaxing the face, and releasing tension," she says.  

4. Run around outside

How exercise benefits your brain is a hot topic, and there are many reasons why scientists think physical and mental fitness go hand in hand.

First, there's the extra blood flow. Second, exercise boosts 'happy' hormones and lowers levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Third, regular exercise helps prevent diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and stroke - all of which can harm your head long-term. While any activity is beneficial, do it at the playground for an even bigger lift, say researchers in the UK.

As little as five minutes exercising in a green space can improve mood, they found.

5. Obey bedtime

Four out of 10 adults don't get enough sleep, according to a report by the Royal Society for Public Health, and that's linked to depression, anxiety and impaired concentration and memory.

Going to bed at the same time each day - yep, like when you were a kid - is one of the most important habits to help you get your recommended seven to nine hours.

6. Get dancing

Got zero rhythm? That never stopped your toddler, and it shouldn't stop you. In 2003, a landmark dementia study in the New England Journal of Medicine found older adults who often danced socially had a 75 per cent lower risk of dementia than those who never danced.

Of course, there are other important steps we should all take too, like eating healthily, not smoking, looking after our hearts and not drinking too much - and sadly, none are guaranteed to work. But grab hands with your little groover, crank up the living room speaker and at least you'll have a giggle trying.