To eat an elephant, cut it into bite-sized chunks. That’s how I feel about my own health, fitness and wellbeing. I am 74 years old, so a kind of creeping senescence is inevitable - right? Yes, and no. Yes, like everything on the planet, I am ageing, but the rate and effects of that ageing can be mitigated by the choices that I make every single day. Which is probably why I love the series ‘Just One Thing’ which Dr Michael Moseley researches and presents on Radio 4. Now on its third series, Moseley gives us ten bite-sized chunks of digestible information to help us make small adjustments to our everyday lives which can have an elephant-sized impact on our total wellbeing - mind, body and soul.
The suggestions are simple, inexpensive, easily incorporated into everyday life and are scientifically proven to have significant and lasting impact as long as they become life-long, habitual choices.
Here are Moseley’s latest 10 suggestions:
Take a Break
The importance of this has been mentioned in other series and relates to the hours without end that some people spend sitting down and working at screens, as I am doing right now. The suggestion is that you set a timer and take regular short breaks of at least ten minutes. Move around, allow your mind to wander, go outside into green space if possible and breathe deeply. Tested on surgeons during long and complex operations, the research showed that short breaks relieve stress, increase engagement and productivity and rest the eyes. The ‘mind wandering’ element is important during the break, allowing for greater creativity within both the conscious and unconscious mind.
Eat an Apple a Day
That Old Wives tale is true! In research, women over 70 who ate an apple a day reduced their risk of dying from both cardio-vascular disease and cancer by 35%. Why? Because apples eaten with their skins are packed with flavinoids, fibre, Vitamins C + E and potassium and therefore fight inflammation in the body whilst also increasing good gut bacteria. Top of the charts for most benefits are Pink Lady apples and cooked and uncooked are equally beneficial.
Read a Novel for 30 Minutes Daily
People who read every day live on average two years longer than those who don’t, and in a list of best ways to improve mental health, reading came out top. Why? Because building fictional worlds in our brain increases blood flow and activates areas of the brain as if we are actually experiencing those characters and places. Reading also builds vocabulary, increases empathy and promotes social skills. It forces our attention away from ourselves which can have a calming and meditative effect. I read every night for about 30 minutes when I get into bed. Moseley’s research didn’t mention the most important thing I get from my daily reading habit: Pure, unadulterated pleasure.
You could combine this with one of your short breaks of just ten to fifteen minutes. The word ‘meditation’ puts some people off because they think it's both difficult and a bit ‘woo-woo.’ In fact a guided meditation, of which there are many on YouTube, is just a way to pay attention to your breathing followed by mental imagery to allow you to deeply relax. The more you practise, the more benefits you will get, including a lowering of stress and anxiety levels, and it can also help with depression and insomnia. I have found mindful meditation a life-saver at times of acute anxiety and used it recently to prepare me for a dreaded visit to the dentist. The challenge is to retain focus, but if you find your mind is wandering off, just notice what's happening and bring your attention back to your breathing.
Why oily and not just fish? Because salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines and herrings are packed with omega 3 fatty acids which are essential to reduce chronic inflammation in the body to the benefit of our joints, muscles and brain. We should ideally eat 3 portions a week to see an improvement in working memory, planning, and ability to focus. Omega 3 also protects us from the effects of pollution and may prevent dementia. Inuit peoples have no significant cardio-vascular disease in their population despite eating a diet consisting of very high fat but also omega-3 rich seal meat and almost no vegetables. And don’t forget that tinned sardines are just as good as fresh, as are tinned tuna and pilchards.
Not one for me as I am sensitive to caffeine which brings on a migraine, but drinking 3-4 cups of coffee every day has been shown to increase alertness and improve mood. Drinking a cup of coffee one hour before exercise has been shown to enhance the physical effects of a workout. Every aspect of performance in sport and exercise is enhanced by caffeine including endurance, strength and brain function. Best avoided before bedtime as it interferes with adenosine levels which control drowsiness, and also best to keep it to a maximum of 4 cups a day for optimal benefits.
Ten to fifteen minutes of daily dancing has been shown to improve health markers more effectively over time than exercise in a gym. What I love about dancing is that you need no special equipment, you can do it at home and it’s fun. I have found a few good dance/exercise routines on YouTube which are great if you want a bit of guidance and structure. Dancing can boost your memory and mood, improve brain function and protect heart health. Posture and balance can also benefit as can muscle strength. If you are taking regular breaks - why not make one of them about moving enthusiastically to music?
Take a Nap
And if you are worn out with all that dancing, then perhaps you could try a short nap to refresh you, especially if you are somewhat sleep deprived. If you suffer from a post-lunch slump in alertness and energy, then a ‘power nap’ lasting from 5-20 minutes (or up to 90 minutes if you feel like it), can have a significant impact on your health and wellbeing. Recent research shows that having a nap once or twice a week gives you a 48% lower risk of heart attack or stroke. The ideal is to reach the second stage of sleep which will benefit alertness, memory and motor skills. You may even attain REM sleep which stimulates creativity. Sleeping effectively gives us a whole system reset which calms both body and mind. And we can get those benefits in a 20-30 minute nap as long as we actually fall asleep.
This is slightly odd and counter-intuitive. Research shows that running downhill has more physical benefits than running uphill, and if people go upstairs in a lift and walk down, they get more health benefits than walking up stairs and coming down in a lift. When doing bicep curls against resistance (with a weight), it’s the uncurling that does you the most good, rather than the curl up. And a good ‘eccentric exercise’ would be ‘sit to stand’ where you repeatedly take 2-3 seconds to sit down into a chair and then stand up quickly. So the part of the exercise that feels the easiest actually benefits you most because you are lengthening your muscles under resistance. As we age we get weaker but research shows that eccentric exercise is by far the most effective way to build strength and flexibility in an older muscle. It’s good for bone density too!
I love beetroot with goat’s cheese and my daily diet for summer lunches invariably includes this winning combination of flavours. Just have to remember that I’ve eaten it when I go to the loo, as I once came close to calling 999 when I thought I was bleeding internally. Beetroot really is a superfood which can reduce blood pressure, protect against colon cancer and boost exercise performance. It’s naturally rich in nitrates which the bacteria in our mouths turns into nitrites. This is then converted by our bodies into nitric oxide giving a boost to blood flow (with viagra-like effects, tell your husband!). The result is improved brain function in older people with improved decision making and a reduction in inflammation throughout the body. You just need to eat 2-3 medium-sized fresh beetroot a day or drink shots of beetroot juice. Yummy!
When I saw Dr. Moseley’s latest advice for ten relatively small adjustments in order to get significant health benefits, I was delighted to find that I am already doing at least six of them, and I have now added an apple as part of my lunch every day. I just checked the suggestions from the first two series (see my blogs here: Just One Thingand here: Just One Thing Part Two) and there are several that have been easily incorporated into my daily life. For instance, I am drinking more water, regularly practising deep breathing exercises and standing on one leg whilst cleaning my teeth. I tried fermented food in the form of kefir but that one didn’t appeal much, and I’ve also eschewed cold showers and very early morning walks because they both feel more like punishment than pleasure.
Years ago I ran a slimming club. Sometimes a member would join who was seriously overweight. She’d look very daunted by her target weight until I asked her if she could lose 2lbs by the following week. We all know that we should eat less red meat, control our alcohol intake, exercise regularly and deal with any stress that we are experiencing. That may feel like several mountains to climb, so decide which area of your life you’d like to improve and choose just one (or maybe two) things that might make a difference and commit to incorporating it into your daily life.
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I think the trick to staying younger than you are is to think of yourself as 45years old and forget your actual age! I am 89 but still in my 40s. I would never "face the world" without a little make up and I never ever regard myself as a pensioner. The joints may be creaky and I need a stick to keep my balance outside but I am often told I look younger than my age. If you think young, you stay young in my opinion!
Thanks for a broad array of actionable tips including those from relaxers, like singing. I'm laughing a bit over the idea of going from zero beets to 3 a day. Also musing that if they cut a risk by 40-some percent that risk must be rather small to start with, which is reassuring... Otherwise non-beet eaters would be falling over dead every 2 days...????
Dear Tricia, I thoroughly enjoy your columns. I often don’t appreciate articles or columns written about senior issues but yours are very relatable. You’re a clear writer and your words are so often true. Composing your columns must take a great deal of extra time and effort. If you ever wonder if it’s worth the time - please know it is! Your words are appreciated across the Atlantic! I’m a 61 yo Pediatric Emergency physician and professor working full time in Rochester New York. Ordering a bit of eyeshadow and seeing it arrive in my mail in the fun shiny silver envelope was a spark of joy that got me through a rough patch during the pandemic. Your columns on being a mother and grandmother are wonderful. Thank you for your excellent products and thoughts on aging gracefully ! With warm regards, Colleen
Fabulous blog Tricia thank you so much. It's amazing how a few things can change our lives for the better. I do most of them like you already but will make a real effort to do some more. Having had gut problems for the last year I will be trying to add beetroot, a true favourite of mine back into my diet. Goats cheese and beetroot sounds like a great lunch! Thank you for your inspiration, Llf skincare and make up and of course our Super Troupers!!
Thank you so much for passing on Dr Moseley's tips. I would guess that even those who thought they 'knew it all" learnt something. I hope that 'Thinking Yourself stronger " will improve my golf handicap and the Eccentric Exercise was fascinating. Felicity Furber