The problem with getting older is that we are more likely to climb into a nice deep rut and refuse to budge. We say things like ‘that’s just not my kind of thing’ or ‘I could never do that’ or ‘that’s just the way I am’ to excuse the fact that we’ve closed our minds to the possibility of change. It’s an aspect of ageing that I can feel creeping into my thoughts and it’s one that I dislike intensely. Why? Because I’ve never had much time for ‘stick in the muds’ so I really don’t want to become one myself.

So, what to do? Well, how about changing ‘just one thing’ which might possibly make an elephant sized difference to your health, well-being or happiness?

My starting point is a series of 15 minute programmes led by Dr. Michael Mosely on the radio. As with everything he does, his ten suggestions are evidence based so there is science to back the claims that these ten small changes can have a big effect. Some will appeal more than others, but that’s ok because on the principle that you ‘just do one thing’ then you can choose which might help you most. After Moseley’s list of ten, I have also included some of the changes I have made since I turned 70 which I think have made a considerable difference to my life.

1. Take An Early Morning Walk

There’s two benefits of this: well-being and improved sleep. The suggestion is to go for a brisk walk daily within two hours of getting up - it doesn’t have to be super early if (like me) you rarely rise with the lark. Brisk walking (slightly out of breath but still able to talk to a companion) is good for heart health and the quality of early morning light appears to wake you and reset your body clock so that both your melatonin and serotonin levels are stimulated which induces sleep at bedtime and raises mood, especially in winter months.

2. Learn a New Skill

Three main benefits: mental health, mental agility, reduced stress. So this is all about challenging the brain to learn something like dancing, computer skills, drawing or a language (the very best option) in order to create new neural pathways and stimulate the release of dopamine, nature’s antidepressant.  We used to believe ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’ but you can, and if you do then the old dog will be happier and mentally healthier!

3. Eat Some Bacteria

Sounds disgusting but the benefits are considerable for bolstering your immune system, reducing gut inflammation, improving mood and sleep. We’re talking about probiotics in the form of fermented foods like kefir, sauerkraut, kombucha and kimchi. These foods have been shown to enhance your gut microbiome which is a bit like a complex rainforest. So to have a healthy gut you need to eat a diet of wholegrains (for fibre), lots of vegetables and two or three portions of fermented foods daily.

4. Count Your Blessings

Best for lowering your blood pressure, making you happier and managing pain in chronic health conditions. Every day before sleep, just keep a ‘gratitude journal’ beside your bed and jot down three things that you are grateful for that day. Research shows that this can rewire the brain by replacing negative thoughts and feelings with something more positive and upbeat which can affect you in a number of good ways. Not only can it reduce stress it can also help you to make healthier lifestyle choices around food and exercise because you are feeling better about yourself.

5. Go Into Green Spaces

Good for your heart and boosting your immune system. The Japanese even have a phrase for it ‘Forest Bathing’ which simply means being in a natural environment and really sensing everything around you - sounds, sights, smells. This is not about activity but the opposite. It’s about stillness and attention whilst truly experiencing the green space around you. It has an impact on the immune system by both calming and strengthening it and reduces cortisol levels in the brain, therefore reducing stress.

6. Take a Cold Shower

This is all about regularly putting your body under a small amount of physical stress causing hyperventilation, increased heart rate and the release of adrenalin in order that your body gradually adapts and mutes the stress response. Best way is to start with just 30 seconds and slowly increase it to between one and two minutes. Done regularly this will help to keep colds and flu at bay (and Covid?), lower stress levels and boost your immune system.

7. Have A Hot Bath

If that last one sounds too much like a 1950s boarding school then this one will appeal much more! A hot bath taken one to two hours before bed has been shown to lower blood pressure, stimulate your metabolism (so you actually burn more calories whilst doing it) and aids sleep. The effects can be that it takes 30% less time to fall asleep, and you will then sleep more deeply and feel better the next day. Why? Because cooling after the heat of the bath stimulates the release of the sleep hormone melatonin with all the benefits described.

8. Stand On One Leg

Balance affects our whole body including core strength, posture and coordination. It also starts to decline in our 40s and 50s and we often don’t notice until we have an accident. According to the WHO falling over is the second commonest cause of accidental death worldwide. And it’s so easy to improve and maintain! Just stand on one leg every day when you clean your teeth. I have an electric toothbrush that shuts off after two minutes which is perfect to time myself standing for one minute on one leg and the second minute on the other. If you do this easily with your eyes open - time yourself with eyes closed. Scarily, the ability to maintain balance is a good indicator of how long you live.

9. Intelligent Exercise

This is the fact that resistance exercises (press-ups and squats) can benefit cognitive function by increasing blood flow to the brain. The good news is that you only need to do this for 3-5 minutes three times a week to get very real benefits. If you can’t do a full-body press up, start by standing and using the wall, or kneel and lower and raise your upper body by bending your arms. It’s the change in blood flow to the brain that is doing you good. So, along with your early morning very brisk walk just introduce some resistance exercises into your fitness regime and reap the cognitive benefits.

10. Take A Breath

This is one of the easiest ‘just one things’ that you can do and potentially one of the most beneficial. Breathing is more than gas exchange (oxygen for carbon dioxide). Benefits of deep breathing are lowered heart rate, blood pressure, stress and anxiety. It’s like a reset button for the brain with many positive physical effects. Simply focus your attention on your breathing and breathe in for a count of 4 and then out for a count of 6. You can do it anytime and anywhere and reap instant rewards, especially if you’re under pressure. Think of it as a mini-tranquiliser for the brain aiding decision making. Try it also to help with chronic pain or to get you back to sleep if you wake during the night.

My List of Just One Thing that’s had a huge impact on me since I turned 70:

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Me with my exercise bike and personal trainer Lindsay Burrows

1. Bought an exercise bike

I bought an exercise bike in 2017 which I use between 3-5 times a week for 30 minutes. I have really surprised myself that I have kept going with this as I did absolutely no aerobic exercise whatsoever before the age of 69.

2. Learnt how to operate a Smart TV

Sounds like nothing but I put up with the same basic TV for 10 years rather than have to get my head round operating a new one. I can now watch Netflix and BBC IPlayer on my TV instead of via a computer screen.

3. Worked with a Personal Trainer

I cannot overstate the resistance I had to this but can honestly say that the improvement to my strength, balance and flexibility is nothing short of miraculous.

If you’d like to see what Lindsay and I do in our weekly sessions (and join in) click this link: https://youtube.com/playlist?list=PLR8OlPIRimpZPa0oq1dqNAzRagrY02Ump 

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My change in diet has made a huge difference to my skin

If you’d like to see what Lindsay and I do in our weekly sessions (and join in) click this link: https://youtube.com/playlist?list=PLR8OlPIRimpZPa0oq1dqNAzRagrY02Ump 

4. Cut out bread entirely and cut down on sugar

The improvement to my skin is almost unbelievable. From red, flaky and with lumpy painful spots on my T zone (and chin), my skin is now clear, happy and blemish free.

5. Doing very complex jigsaw puzzles

A new hobby I started during the first lockdown, My latest was the night sky - 1500 hundred pieces, mostly black with constellations of stars - extremely mentally challenging, utterly absorbing and weirdly calming!

I love the idea of ‘just one thing’. Human beings are creatures of habit and age does seem to exacerbate the tendency to do the same old, same old. Moseley’s well researched suggestions are relatively easy to do because most cost nothing and need no special equipment and some, like standing on one leg and focussed breathing take very little time or effort to incorporate into your daily routine. All they require is an open mind and a desire to feel better - both physically and mentally. My changes came at a point when I needed to take some control over my body (which was slowly falling apart), and my mind after the initial thought ‘that’s not my kind of thing.’ All five changes have given me considerable benefits as well as a great deal of pleasure.

So, which ‘just one thing’ will you do?

Tricia x

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