“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” – Albert Einstein
We are creatures of habit – some more stuck in their ways, than others. For example, if you have a walking or running routine, how often do you change your route, or vary your pace, or periodically stop to do calisthenics? How about the food you eat, or the people you encounter (or don’t) or your entertainment choices (music, TV, books, etc.), and especially the movements of your body and environments you expose yourself to? When you reflect on it, are you repeating the same routines day after day, while spending most hours sitting in a temperature controlled environment? If so, it’s time to get up off the couch and spice up your life! Your body and brain will thank you for it.
If you haven’t seen the movie Groundhog Day, I highly recommend it. Not just for it’s entertainment value, but also for it’s social commentary on American culture. It’s about a disgruntled, self-centered TV weatherman named Phil, who wakes up one morning and experiences déjà vu of his uneventful previous day. Phil gradually realizes that he is trapped in a nightmarish time loop of his mundane life that no one else is aware of. Each morning he wakes up to the same day, same time, same music, and same monotonous work routine that eventually leads to his depression and suicidal thoughts. With help from his colleague and love interest Rita, Phil realizes that unless he makes meaningful changes in his life he will be stuck in a perpetual rut. Phil finally decides to change himself for the better; “he saves people from deadly accidents and misfortunes, he learns to play the piano, sculpt ice, and speak French”. What Phil finally realizes is that in order to be happy one needs to find meaning in their life by helping others and engaging in new experiences.
When it comes to aging well and improving the quality of your life, what often gets overlooked is the health benefits of adding variety and new experiences in your daily life. Whether that’s the food you eat, the exposure to a range of outdoor temperatures and environments, variations of movements and exercises, and different social encounters. When we stretch the dynamic range of daily life experiences by emphasizing “variance over fixed habits”, we become happier, healthier and more resilient!
As humans, it’s in our DNA to seek out new experiences – just observe any curious child learning new skills through play and exploration. As we grow older, it’s common to become less flexible and stuck in our ways. Research shows that an uneventful, sedentary lifestyle accelerates aging and puts you at risk for cognitive decline. Neurologist, Dr. Philippe Douyon, says that our adult brains benefit from novelty and new experiences. If you’re retired he insists that we should be “constantly evolving, learning new skills, interacting with different people, learning new languages, traveling the world, having new experiences”. If we continue with our sedentary habits we harm our neurological potential, putting us at risk for neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s.
The movie Ground Hog Day is especially relevant in light of the pandemic. During lockdown we found ourselves in the biggest rut of all, stuck inside our homes unable to visit family or friends, or go to our favorite restaurants or attend concerts and sporting events. Today, COVID safety restrictions have mostly been lifted but many of us are still experiencing the anxiety and uncertainty of the pandemic, fearful of adventuring outside our comfort zone. If you’re that person, don’t let it stop you from adding variety to your life. If you feel it’s not safe to travel to a new country, drive to destinations that pique your interests for adventure. If you don’t feel comfortable going out into a crowded restaurant, invite friends over for dinner and pick out a recipe you’ve never tried before. Similarity, if your gym or group fitness class doesn’t feel safe, go for a walk, hike or bike ride with a friend. While doing so, get off the beaten path and explore new terrain and neighborhoods. Whatever you do, make sure your pursuing new experiences that you find enjoyable.
At the end of the movie when Phil wakes up he realizes “something is different”. It’s finally the day after Groundhog Day, and he is not alone but snuggling next to Rita. When Rita asks Phil if the feeling of something different is good or bad, Phil responds, “anything different is good!”