At various points in my life I have found it very useful to have help or guidance in the form of a ‘guru’. My definition of this would be a person who can teach me something which will enhance my life in some way. That person will therefore have some knowledge or expertise to impart and will be, according to the Sanskrit word ‘guru’ (adjective) “worthy of respect”. Various gurus have come into my life, usually via self-help books, at times when I felt lost and directionless. In 1994 after several challenging life events, I attended a four day course called ‘Turning Point’ in Dublin which was immensely insightful and helpful at a very low point for me. It had the added bonus of my making a lifelong close Irish friend who was also a participant.
If I am a happier person now, it dates from that long weekend nearly thirty years ago and the amazing kindness, care and understanding I received from the course leader and the supportive team around him. It was a true turning point in my life.
So I am a great believer in the value of finding the right person at the right time to guide you to a better future. As I move further into old age, my needs are much more temporal than spiritual, and are very decidedly corporeal in that I want my brain and body to keep going for as long as possible. To this end, I currently have two ‘gurus’, my lovely personal trainer Lindsay, and Dr. Michael Mosley whose sage advice around health and wellbeing I have followed for some time. The reason I rate Mosely so highly is that he is a medically qualified doctor and he believes in a scientific, evidence-based approach.
I particularly like Mosley’s ‘Just One Thing’ series on Radio 4. The broadcasts are only 15 minutes long and there are 10 excellent mini suggestions in each series. I have incorporated a great many of these 40 past ideas into my everyday life because they are sensible, easy to do, require almost no investment of extra money and only a little of time. Many require dietary adjustments but as I love beetroot (good for the blood) and mangoes (get rid of wrinkles), oily fish and colourful vegetables (too many benefits to mention), these changes have brought little hardship. I had been struggling with ‘fermented foods to improve the gut biome’ but have, with perseverance, come to tolerate kefir as a substitute for yoghurt over the past few weeks.
The fifth series of Just One Thing has just landed so I thought I’d share his latest ideas:
Listen to Music
This is mindful music listening for 10-15 minutes a day (not just having music playing in the background). The research shows that this eases pain, boosts the brain and can increase endurance by 15%. Listening to music opens up your blood vessels leading to better cardio-vascular health and postoperative patients needed 18% less morphine when they listened to music. It also enriches the brain - musical children score better in cognitive function tests. In future I intend to put music on when I am on my exercise bike!
Aim for 20-30 minutes of continuous movement in the water, three times a week for most benefit. Best exercise for arthritis sufferers as it is gentle on joints. It also boosts the brain thanks to the increased blood flow due to your horizontal body position whilst swimming. A study of 40,000 men aged between 20-90 years of age in New Zealand showed a lower mortality rate in swimmers than runners or walkers. Ageing causes stiffness to the arteries, swimming has been shown to lessen this. And finally, working against the water gives you an excellent all-over workout.
Raw tomatoes are full of Vitamin C, potassium and folates. Cooking them dramatically increases the amount of lycopene that the body can absorb from the tomatoes. This provides protection from cancer and promotes healthy skin. Ideal amount would be to eat tomato juice, tomato puree, tomato sauce, ketchup or whole tomatoes cooked in a little olive oil, at least 5 times a week.
Have a Laugh
Not much to laugh about at the moment, but a good belly laugh can be the best medicine. It can both reduce pain and lower your stress levels. Research on two groups showed the effect of laughter. One group watched ‘Saving Private Ryan’ and within 15 minutes the stress of watching it caused their blood vessels to constrict. The other group watched something amusing which caused their blood vessels to open and, within minutes, endorphins were released and blood pressure decreased. The positive effect from watching a humorous film also lasted for up to 24 hours.
Have a Cup of Tea
This is not only a great way to relax, but new research shows that there are things in tea itself which can lower stress, improve memory and reduce the risk of bone fractures - and those benefits come with 2 cups or more of tea daily. It was thought that the benefits were more about lifestyle factors than the actual tea that you are drinking (ie you sit and relax whilst drinking the tea) but research shows theanine in tea is responsible for the health benefits.
Breathe Through Your Nose
There are some surprising benefits to this practice. Breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth, increases oxygen uptake, keeps gums healthy, helps fight off infection and enhances memory. Why? Nasal cavities produce nitric oxide, a gas which dilates blood vessels and reduces blood pressure. The effect is to sterilise nasal sinuses (the nitric oxide attacks the bacteria), and when the n.o. hits the blood vessels in the lungs, it increases blood flow by 25%, helping to stave off infection. Just become aware of your breathing and introduce this practice from time to time. And if you hum for just 5-10 seconds you ventilate your nasal sinuses and rid them of bacteria.
In Pilates deep muscle tissue is activated. As it is both low impact and low intensity, Pilates is an excellent form of exercise for everyone, including pregnant women, those suffering from arthritis or the elderly. The emphasis in Pilates is on the breath and strengthening deep core muscles. Movements are small and deceptively easy but, done properly, the effect is to increase strength, flexibility, improve balance and relieve lower back pain. Studies show that just an hour a week of Pilates shows significant physical improvement after 10 weeks of practice. It has also been shown to increase the speed of runners and the overall performance of tennis players.
Maybe not when you go shopping, but the benefits of this are clear. It can improve your balance, boost your brain and help with weight loss as it uses 30% more calories than forward motion. It can also help with those twinges in your lower back and knees. This is also an ancient practice which originated in China where there is a saying that 100 steps backward are worth 1000 steps forward. The reason it is beneficial is in the way it activates different muscle groups, stretches the calf muscles and reduces stress on the back. Aim for 15 minutes a day (either outside or at home with obstacles cleared) for 5 days a week. Studies show that in 4 weeks stability and balance had improved. However, start slowly and build up gradually.
Heat up Some Pasta
If you cook, cool and reheat carbohydrates like potatoes, pasta and rice, the resistance starch produced reduces the amount of carbohydrate. Consuming more resistance starch has been shown to reduce body fat, lower inflammation markers and increase good gut bacteria. Studies show that consuming 30g of resistance starch daily for 10 years reduced the chance of developing cancer of the pancreas and cancer of the oesophagus by 50%.
Embrace the Rain
Lots of opportunities at the moment to boost your mood and immune system with a walk in, or immediately after a rain shower. New research shows that rain cleanses the air of harmful pollutants. This fresher air is very much better for your lungs - so don’t forget to breathe deeply whilst walking in the rain. Also, intense rainfall releases negative ions into the atmosphere. In studies into people with Seasonal Affective Disorder it was shown that exposure to high density negative ions lifts mood more quickly than exposure to bright lights or taking an active anti-depressant. So, if you feel really down in the wintertime - wrap up well in your wet weather gear and go for a nice brisk walk in the rain.
I have been sitting at my table typing this whilst breathing in through my nose and out through my mouth. Very soon I will eat my lunch which will include beetroot (JOT season 3) and kefir (JOT season 1). Later Lindsay will come and we’ll no doubt incorporate some Pilates into our session and I will lift some weights (JOT season 4). This evening I will use the recipe book Mosley has written in collaboration with his wife* to make myself a delicious roasted vegetable, and goat’s cheese wholewheat pasta dish which contains cooked tomatoes. I might even cook the pasta ahead of time and add it to the dish before serving, as I have just learned about resistance starch.
Michael Mosley launched ‘Just One Thing’ in March 2021 and all five seasons are still available on BBC Sounds. Staying fit and healthy as we get older is a bit like eating an elephant (not, I hasten to add one of his 50 suggestions). It’s a massive task which requires daily effort. But broken down into these easily digestible bite-sized chunks makes it seem perfectly feasible and eminently doable. Mosley’s suggestions have definitely changed the choices that I make and I hope that he keeps the ideas coming. He’s my guru of choice and I need his intelligent and thoughtful suggestions to help me to get fit, stay well and feel optimistic about the future.
*My go-to recipe book for most of my meals: The Fast 800 Recipe Book: Low-carb, Mediterranean style recipes by Dr Clare Bailey and Justine Pattison
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