As a kid, the start of the school year was always about fresh beginnings. There were spotless bright backpacks, cute new crushes, and crisp sheets of loose leaf paper. For me, there were also bold back-to-school goals: slow dance with a boy, nab a speaking role in the musical, and dress to impress, to name a few of my middle school pursuits. (Photographic evidence of overalls and turtlenecks suggests that not all goals were met.)
But the intent was on target.
Back-to-school season marks an ideal time to give yourself a clean slate and set goals—even if you’re only a student at heart. With summer travel plans winding down, backyard barbeques (and all the burger-eating and beer-drinking they entail) squelched by cooling weather, and lax work hours replaced by renewed routines, fall begs to be acknowledged by adults with the same commitment to change that the new school year brings for kids.
So this September, channel your inner student. Here are three healthy habits—throwbacks to your pre-pubescent years—that are worth reviving as an adult. Sharpen your pencil, open that wide-ruled notebook, and commit to a healthy year ahead. Class is now in session.
1. Take Recess
In grade school, middle school, and high school, there was recess, gym class, and sports teams. In college, most of us had to schlep around campus to get from class to class.
In adult life, there’s your bum, on a chair, for hours on end. We sit on public transport, then we sit at the office, then after work we sit at the bar or in front of the TV. Not only is this a recipe for turning your muscles to mush, it could be cutting years off your life: A study published last year in JAMA Internal Medicine suggests that the more hours you sit, the more likely you are to die early—even if you hit the gym before saddling up to your desk. So unless you’re a construction worker, an acrobat, or a pedicab driver, it’s important to find other ways to sit less on the job.
One fun remedy? Adult recess. Think back to your favorite part about recess as a kid. Was it the fierce competition of the kickball game? Try joining—or initiating—a workplace competition logging number of steps taken each day. If you’re the only one who’s game, try competing with yourself using a free app such as RunKeeper or an online tool such as stickK.com. Were you the kid who loved the feeling of freedom while riding high on the swing? Schedule times throughout the day to walk around the block and take in the fresh air and sunshine. Maybe even set an alarm—when the “bell” rings, you know it’s time to get up and move.
You don’t even have to take a break from work to get off your rear. I’ve cleared off a chest-level bookshelf in my office where I can work on my laptop while standing. As I type this, I’m standing at a bar, despite being surrounded by empty stools. Dorky? Sure, but that’s nothing new (see: overalls).
2. Obey Your Bedtime
No kid has ever liked being forced to go to bed early, but think about it now: Doesn’t hitting the hay before 10 PM sound dreamy? And going to bed early is more than a luxury: Skimping on a full night’s sleep can be as dangerous as being drunk behind the wheel, with drowsy drivers causing at least 100,000 car crashes and 1,550 deaths each year, according to the National Sleep Foundation. A lack of sleep can also explain embarrassing memory lapses, such as forgetting an important business partner’s name, and can account for dulled emotional responses, such as making a careless comment to your boss.
To re-familiarize yourself with the phrase “lights out,” set a non-negotiable bedtime for the next work week—ideally one that gives you at least eight hours of shut-eye. You can even set up a reward system: rather than a sticker chart, think a Starbucks cappuccino in the morning if you succeed and a cup of crappy office coffee if you fail. When the week’s up, you may like feeling rested (and hate potted coffee) so much that the new routine will stick. Eventually, you may not need the caffeine at all.
Of course, just like the exceptions granted during childhood—on holidays or, in my house, when Duke was playing basketball—a strict bedtime in adulthood isn’t always realistic, nor does it correspond with a healthy social life. But knowing when to call it a night and saving the late nights for truly special occasions will keep your mind sharp and your body happy.
3. Make New Friends
“Will you be my best friend?” The question that was totally flattering in grade school won’t fly in grad school, let alone after. But the bold drive to make new connections shouldn’t get old. After all, a strong social network has been linked to a hearty immune system, an impressive tolerance for pain, and even a longer lifespan.
Whether health is the end goal or an added bonus to a wider professional network, now’s time to get past any school-kid shyness and connect. Sign up for a monthly networking event, invite someone you admire to coffee (think of it as a career-oriented “play date”), or get involved with that new bocce league after work.
Not sure how to start the conversation with your bud-to-be? A simple compliment (“You totally owned that spin class!”) plus an invite (“I’m gonna grab some fro-yo on my way out, care to join?”) can work wonders. The same tactic can work in the office—just replace “spin class” with “presentation.” As Rachel Bertsche, who documented her quest to find a new best friend in the book MWF seeking BFF told me, “No one really wants to do the work [to connect with people], but if you’re willing to, you’ll be received positively.” She went as far as to give a friendly waitress her number—and wasn’t turned down. “Everybody likes being liked,” Bertsche said. As the kids say, duh.
You may no longer don overalls or carry a Trapper Keeper, but being an adult doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom. Revive these childish habits and you’ll be three steps closer to a glowing report card from your doctor—and that’s the kind of A+ that never gets old.
Photo of kids at school courtesy of Shutterstock.
Anna Medaris Miller is the associate editor of Monitor on Psychology and gradPSYCH magazines in Washington, D.C., where she's also been published in The Washington Post and US News & World Report. She is a novice triathlete, passionate University of Michigan alumna, and graduate of American University's Interactive Journalism master’s program. As someone who doesn't let even the smallest of "holidays" go un-celebrated, she's been called “a weird-stuff-o-meter” and takes it as a compliment. Follow her @AnnaMedaris.More from this Author