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The Many Health Benefits of Trying New Things

There's a lot of comfort in routine: waking up to your favorite cup of coffee every a.m., slipping off your bra at the end of the workday, doing the same before-bed yoga moves to unwind before dozing off to dreamland. (And some routines—like these trainers' morning routines—can be the secret to success.)

But just imagine—like the main character in some Netflix sitcom you just binged—that today was on repeat for the rest of your life. Doing the same thing day in, day out would get old, and really freaking fast. Variety, truly, is the spice of life. (Which is exactly why I refuse to commit to one workout program.)

But avoiding repetition isn't the only reason you should break the mold and do something different. There are serious benefits to tackling something totally new and scary. That's why this month of Shape's #MyPersonalBest campaign is dedicated to trying new things—from a new workout to a tricky yoga inversion or a different kind of healthy diet.

As an Instagram quote I double tapped once said, "If it doesn't challenge you, it doesn't change you." And if you've done it a million times before, it probably isn't a challenge. Here, three reasons you should challenge and change yourself by adding something new to your health and fitness routine—whether that's every month, every week, or every damn day.

 

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1. Your body—and brain—will be better off because of it.

Humans are pretty cool. When you scrape your knee, little magic cells come and repair your skin. When you try to run and it feels like death, your body literally learns how to be more efficient so you can make it farther next time. When you're hot, you leak water (sweat) to cool down. And when you're cold, you shiver to keep warm. Basically, we're really good at learning and adapting.

What that means, however, is if you do the exact same workout forever, your body's going to get bored. You stop forcing it to make changes and keep up to meet a new demand. (See: When You Need to Switch Up Your Workout Routine) That's why running plans force you to go farther, weight lifting programs call for higher reps and more weight, and boxing classes put together even trickier combinations. Once you learn 2 + 2 = 4, it's not going to do you any good to keep learning 2 + 2 = 4.

But even better than just doing more of what you already do? Try something different, like a cross-training workout that perfectly pairs up with what you already do. You'll work your muscles in a new way—increasing your overall fitness level in a way that more miles or more weight simply won't.

And really, when you switch up your routine, your brain benefits too. When you start a new workout, the improvements you see in the first four to six weeks are actually mainly neurological. Your brain is learning how to most efficiently recruit your muscles to complete the moves, as we reported in Is It Bad to Do the Same Workout Every Day? A better body and sharper mind, just from trying a new workout? Yes, please.

 

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2. It literally slows down time.

Hate how your weekends blow by? Feel like you blinked, and summer was suddenly over? The secret to making life feel less like a three-second GIF on an endless loop and more like a 12-hour Game of Thrones marathon is, yep, doing new things.

When you experience something novel, it seems to have lasted longer, according to neuroscientist David Eagleman, Ph.D., who has extensively studied the effects of our brain's perception of time, as reported by NY Mag.

"Time is this rubbery thing...it stretches out when you really turn your brain resources on, and when you say, 'Oh, I got this, everything is as expected,' it shrinks up," said Eagleman to the New Yorker in a profile in 2011.

To make those precious few hours pre- and post-work seem longer than enough time to scarf down breakfast and brush your teeth, do something new. Meditate, try a new workout studio, flip on a different morning show, play some new music. To extend your weekend hours, venture to a new hiking spot, take a different long-run route, or find a new healthy restaurant. Just do something—anything—you've never done before.

 

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3. You'll gain a sense of accomplishment, confidence, and all-around badassery.

Remember the last time you ran a number of miles you never imagined you could? Or lifted more pounds than ever before? You probably got a surge of your usual workout endorphins and then some.

Staring something new and scary right in the eyeballs and then crushing it requires courage, for sure. But doing it—despite fear—will teach you to overcome those iffy feelings again next time (whether it's a tough workout, meeting with your boss, or meet-the-parents sitch) and build your confidence for next time. The more things you try and do, the more capable you feel. The more capable you feel, the less stuff will scare you. And being scared of nothing? That makes you a complete badass. And who doesn't want to feel like a badass?

So go try that dance cardio class that you're nervous about because you think it'll make you look uncoordinated. Instead of thinking, "How will I run those 5 miles?" just run them. Instead of assuming you'll never be a "handstand person," just try going upside down.

Guaranteed even if you fail (like this time I face planted, hard, while mountain biking for the first time), you'll still come away from it feeling like a total boss, and maybe with a new skill under your belt.

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