Netflix shows that inspire healthy habits


‘The Queen’s Gambit’ has caused chess to spike in popularity. (Netflix)

The various coronavirus lockdowns may have had one advantage at least – the opportunity to get stuck into some seriously binge-worthy boxsets.

In 2020, UK adults spent nearly a third of their waking hours watching TV or online videos.

Spending hours sitting on the sofa day after day, however, will do your health no favours. Nevertheless, taking inspiration from your favourite Netflix star could give your wellbeing an unexpected boost.

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Whether your evenings were taken up by the intellectual Queen’s Gambit, the saucy Bridgerton or the so-bad-it’s-good Emily in Paris, adopting the protagonists’ healthy habits may not be such a bad idea.

Watch: The Queen’s Gambit fuels chess boom

‘The Queen’s Gambit’

Inspired by a book of the same name, 62 million households reportedly tuned in to The Queen’s Gambit in its first 28 days, making it one of Netflix’s most popular series.

The show follows Beth Harmon, a troubled orphan turned chess prodigy as she rises through the pro-circuit. After the show aired, chess-related Google searches doubled, with “how to play chess” reaching a nine-year high. 

“Chess is a complex game that involves planning ahead and seeing problems from another’s point of view to anticipate your opponent’s moves,” Dr Sarah Brewer, medical director of Healthspan, told Yahoo UK. 

“Chess also involves focused attention, problem solving, memorising combinations of moves, and can improve recollection and pattern recognition. As a result, playing chess appears to improve cognitive performance and critical thinking skills.”

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In 2015, scientists from the Tehran University of Medical Sciences found professional chess players had significantly better “memory function” than members of the public, which was put down to “strengthening cognitive performances due to playing chess for a long time”.

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The “cognitive stimulating activity” could even ward off dementia. After analysing 21 studies, scientists from the University of Alicante found “chess could lead to prevention in non-diagnosed populations”, but stressed more research is required.

Perhaps surprisingly, playing chess may even make us more empathetic, due to “looking at the board from the opposing player’s point of view and trying to work out what they’ll do”, Dr Daniel Atkinson, GP clinical lead at Treated.com, told Yahoo UK.

“Interestingly, one study also found children who played chess had improved creative and divergent thinking, so there’s potentially also this side to the game that helps us think in innovative ways to get around problems,” he added.

Embroidery is on the rise thanks to ‘Bridgerton’. (Netflix)

‘Bridgerton’

More than 63 million households have followed the Bridgerton family, as its eight siblings look for love in London high society.

With the characters often seen stitching, searches for “embroidery” on the Hobbycraft website increased by 86% within the show’s first month.

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“Embroidery is a soothing activity that helps to lower stress hormone levels, and improve anxiety and stress,” said Dr Brewer. 

“As a restful, repetitive activity it can lower blood pressure, decrease heart rate and promote mindfulness.”

Mary, Queen of Scots reportedly found “great solace” embroidering in solitude while she dealt with what her doctors called “grief of the spleen”.

After World War I, embroidery was found to ease “melancholy” among shell-shocked soldiers. Actor and veteran Ernest Thesiger in particular became an “ardent embroiderer”, seeing it as a form of therapy.

“It stands to reason that, because embroidery is an artistic exercise where we can go at our own pace, it can be a relaxing exercise and help us unwind,” said Dr Atkinson. 

Like chess, however, the sedentary hobby could come with its own risks.

“It’s important to get up and walk around every so often if we’re at the task for several hours,” added Dr Atkinson.

In ‘Emily in Paris’, viewers watch as the glamorous protagonist tries to learn French. (Netflix)

‘Emily in Paris’

The Golden Globe nominated Emily in Paris follows a glamorous American as she tries to navigate living and working in the French capital, including learning the language.

“Learning a foreign language brings a number of cognitive benefits by improving verbal, spatial, long and short-term memory, enhancing creative thinking and problem solving skills,” said Dr Brewer. 

“It gives you better listening skills and empathy, and promotes multitasking. It also allows you to connect with and appreciate another culture.”

Dr Atkinson agreed, adding: “Being multilingual helps to use parts of the brain we wouldn’t use speaking just one language and there is some evidence that suggests it helps to prevent dementia or delay the onset of the disease by a few years. 

“Other obvious benefits of speaking a foreign language are it helps us to think on our feet, and increases confidence and self-esteem.”

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