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9 energizing ideas that can put a spring in your step

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It's almost spring. It's time to reawaken from our winter slumber, break out of our shells and get happy.

Liven up your body and mind with these creative and science-backed ways to boost confidence, joy and add movement to your life.

Put a spring in your step

Make your daily walks whimsical

Make your daily walks unpredictable and surprising by adding a creative challenge, says Elizabeth Lyons of the University of Texas Medical Branch.

As part of her research, she created a Facebook page to help motivate older women in Galveston, Texas, to go for daily walks. To keep the participants on their toes, she posts fun challenges on the page. For example, she asks the women to take a photo of something on their walk that looks like a book cover — or mark off as many different kinds of trees as possible from a checklist she shares in advance.

Recreate this sense of whimsy in your own exercise routine. Take photos of at least five different flowers on your neighborhood walk. Ride your bike from one friend's house to another. Beat your personal record to the peak of a hill.

Punctuate your day with short bursts of movement

Loretta DiPietro, an exercise research scientist at the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University, says that just moving "helps to clear fat and sugar out of blood."

Try three 10-minute bouts of exercise scattered throughout the day — for instance, walking up the stairs or around the block.

Studies show these shorter bursts of exercise can give you similar heart health benefits as one longer stint, and can keep you from gaining weight. In other words, you're getting fitter with every 10-minute bout. And eventually, you can build up to working out in much longer stretches.

Pick up the pace

Make your daily walks do more for your health by increasing the intensity, says DiPietro. Turn on some music — the beat can prompt you to walk faster. Or try engaging more muscles by adding some stairs in and swinging your arms.

Get happy

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Make your wishes come true with WOOP

Reach your dreams this spring by following WOOP, a science-based mental strategy developed by Gabriele Oettingen, a social scientist and author of the book Rethinking Positive Thinking: Inside the New Science of Motivation. The acronym stands for "wish, outcome, obstacles, plan."

First think about a wish you have, let's say you want to learn Italian. Then think about the outcome of that wish. If you learned Italian, you could show off your new skills on a trip to Rome.

That's where positive thinking normally stops, but WOOP tells us to go a little further. What are the practical and personal obstacles to learning Italian? Having to pay for a class? Setting aside free time to study? Lastly, make a plan to help you overcome those challenges. Instead of going to a formal class that meets a couple of nights a week, maybe you can download a language app you can use on your own time. Apply the WOOP framework to any goal and see where it gets you.

Pay a 'gratitude visit'

Evidence suggests that if you express gratitude to the people you care about, you can improve those relationships, says Laurie Santos, host of The Happiness Labpodcast. "Often, researchers have subjects do what's called a 'gratitude visit.' They ask subjects to scribble down a few things they're really grateful for about a person they haven't thanked. Then, they have them meet in person and read the letter."

In practice, the people who receive these letters often report it's one of the best moments in their life, says Santos. "But what's more amazing is that these letters not only help the person that receives the gratitude — they also help the person who expresses the gratitude."

Do something kind for someone else

Doing a good deed can remind you that you have the power and ability to make things better — for yourself and others. "You can live by your values even if so much is out of your control," says Jenny Taitz, a clinical psychologist and the author of Stress Resets: How to Soothe Your Body and Mind in Minutes.

These kind acts don't have to be time-consuming, she adds. They can be small, positive actions you can do in a pinch: Send a friend a greeting card out of the blue. Be extra kind to your neighbors. Find a volunteer opportunity that resonates with you and commit to it.

These acts may even offer positive benefits to your health. One 800-person study of older adults found that those who did good deeds, like helping family members with errands or providing childcare, had a lower chance of dying from stress-related causes.

Boost confidence

Take an improv class

Improv can help you practice self-love, build confidence and achieve self-actualization, says Clay Drinko, author of Play Your Way Sane: 120 Improv-Inspired Exercises to Help You Calm Down, Stop Spiraling and Embrace Uncertainty.

In fact, there are several mental health benefits of performing this art. According to a 2020 study published in Thinking Skills and Creativity, researchers found that doing just 20 minutes of improv can increase creativity, well-being and our ability to tolerate uncertainty. Another study from 2019 found that doing improv was associated with reductions in social anxiety in adolescents.

Talk to yourself the way you'd talk to a friend

When we beat ourselves up over mistakes, disparage our own appearance or talk ourselves out of great ideas, we're not giving ourselves the grace and care that we would give others, says Joy Harden Bradford, an Atlanta-based clinical psychologist and the host and founder of the podcast Therapy for Black Girls. Try practicing self-compassion and replacing that negative inner voice with a kinder one.

When you realize you're talking down to yourself, ask yourself: "Would I say this to my best friend?" Then remind yourself of who you really are. Try to remember that we all make mistakes and you are a delight to be around.

Surround yourself with people who love you

If we're "grounded in the fact that we're unconditionally worthy," says clinical psychologist Adia Gooden, then we're less likely to take offense when "somebody doesn't treat us that way."

To strengthen our feelings of self-worth, Gooden suggests "spending time around people who remind us that we are deserving of care and respect, like close friends and family members who lift you up.

The digital story was written by Malaka Gharib and edited by Clare Marie Schneider. The visual editor is Beck Harlan. We'd love to hear from you. Leave us a voicemail at 202-216-9823, or email us at LifeKit@npr.org.

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Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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[Copyright 2024 NPR]