Dr. Michael Mosley reveals small tweaks to transform your health


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Feeling better about yourself, getting more up and going — even being healthier — doesn’t have to involve upending your daily routine.


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Here, in the final part of his engaging series, Dr. Michael Mosley reveals simpler, science-based modifications to your daily habits that will change your life.

Dance for five to ten minutes every day

I’m not one of the world’s most natural moving personalities, but I do enjoy the occasional evening of salsa with my wife, Claire. And if you also want to counteract some movements, you’ll be happy to hear that dancing has been shown to be more effective at improving your muscles, balance, and brain health than traditional fitness exercises.

Dancing vigorously can elevate your heart rate to over 140 beats per minute, and provide you with a great mix of low-intensity and high-intensity bouts of exercise in the process.

It can relieve depression, reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, enhance memory, and prevent dementia.

Brain imaging studies reveal that it can increase the size of the hippocampus (a region of the brain that deals with spatial memory) and improve white matter (the number of neurons) in areas associated with memory and processing speed.

The great thing about reading novels is that it works as a “whole brain” exercise. When researchers at Stanford University scanned people’s brains while they were reading Jane Austen, they found a significant increase in blood flow through the entire brain.

Apparently, we’re all (even me!) natural-born dancers. Humans are the only species with a definite ear-to-leg connection, which means we are forced to adjust the rhythm of our movements, says Dr. Julia Christensen of the Max Planck Institute in Germany, a former dancer who retrained as a neuroscientist.

The key to benefiting from dancing, she told me, is relaxation. So just have fun and dance like no one is watching (maybe they aren’t).

And if you can, dance with the others. The bonding it involves has a stronger stress-reducing effect. Dancing enthusiastically with others may help us manage pain, because it stimulates the release of endorphins – powerful hormones that, in addition to relieving pain, can stimulate positive emotions.

Devote 20 minutes to new skills every day

I recently tried oil painting. This was the first time I had ever painted anything since I was a kid, and the first time with oils. When the model came and covered herself in a chair, she was horrified. I had no idea where to start.

The art teacher taught us the basics and then left us to follow her for a few hours. I was surprised how busy she was. I mistook the bar’s hands, and her feet ended up as ugly pink dots, but I was happy with the end result.

Doing new activities like this is very challenging, especially when you are my age (65); But this is precisely the reason for its powerful effect on brain aging.

Attempting to acquire new skills later in life may mean that you are generating new brain cells, according to Alan Gow, professor of psychology at Heriot-Watt University.

The process of approaching something new, especially in a group, can change the way you think and feel. If the skill is challenging enough, your brain will have to forge new paths and develop new connections, thus enhancing your brain power.

Professor Zhao’s studies suggest that after three months of working on a new skill, people show improvements in thinking skills – specifically in the areas of the brain most affected by aging.

“Processing and thinking speeds tend to be among the first areas of brain function to begin to deteriorate with age, but we believe it is these areas in particular that benefit the most from learning a new skill,” he explains.

“This can reflect the feeling of ‘sluggishness’ you get with age, and if you continue to master the skill, this benefit may extend to other thinking skills and improve memory as well.”

As Professor Gao says, “It’s never too late to try new things, and the longer you stay on them, the more benefits you will accrue over time.” He adds that people who maintain their skills “generally live longer and healthier lives – so it makes sense that they embrace the opportunity to improve”.

One of the best things you can do for your brain is to learn a new language, because matching sounds, words, concepts, grammar, and socialization enhances blood flow and connections across the entire brain. It can even improve intelligence. But for maximum benefit, you need to train for five hours a week.

Soak in a hot bath before bed

A relaxing hot bath is one of those rare pleasures in life that not only feels good but is also good for you, as it lowers blood sugar levels and lowers the risk of heart disease.

Taking a hot shower an hour and a half before bedtime can help you fall asleep faster and improve the quality of your sleep.

When you have a hot bath, your core body temperature rises. But when you get out and start to calm down, you get the sleep-inducing benefits.

“When your core temperature drops, it mimics the onset of sleep, stimulating the release of the sleep hormone melatonin, and sending a strong signal that it is time for bed,” says Jason Ellis, director of the Northumbria Sleep Center.

A relaxing hot bath is one of the rare pleasures in life that not only feels good, but is also good for you, lowers blood sugar levels and lowers the risk of heart disease.

A relaxing hot bath is one of the rare pleasures in life that not only feels good, but is also good for you, lowers blood sugar levels and lowers the risk of heart disease.

Count what you are blessed with

Last thing at night, write down three things you are grateful for. There is strong science that getting used to feeling grateful regularly can make you feel happier, lower blood pressure, improve sleep, relieve pain, and even rejuvenate your brain.

“Think of three things you can be grateful for that day,” recommends Fuschia Sirois, a professor of psychology at Durham University who specializes in investigating gratitude and its role in health.

“Maybe someone behaved kindly towards you, or you were able to go outside and enjoy the fresh air.” The goal is to develop what she calls a “gratitude mindset.”

“Gratitude opens your perspective, and allows you to appreciate the positive instead of focusing on your fears,” she says. “It reduces stress by helping us see things from outside the narrow vision we adopt when our fight and flight mechanisms are activated.”

In her studies, patients with chronic health conditions who spent three weeks counting their blessings reported significantly less pain, as well as better sleep, than those in the control group.

There is strong science that getting used to feeling grateful regularly can make you feel happier, lower blood pressure, improve sleep, relieve pain, and even rejuvenate your brain.

There is strong science that getting used to feeling grateful regularly can make you feel happier, lower blood pressure, improve sleep, relieve pain, and even rejuvenate your brain.

Read fairy tales for half an hour a day

I love reading – since childhood. I was often seen walking down the street, reading while trying to avoid fellow pedestrians and lampposts.

These days, I snatch my reading moments when I can, but I’m also a member of a book club, and I don’t need any convincing that reading novels is good for empathy and social skills. Nor can it help improve memory and protect against depression.

The great thing about reading novels is that it works as a “whole brain” exercise. When researchers at Stanford University scanned people’s brains while they were reading Jane Austen, they found a significant increase in blood flow through the entire brain.

This is because when we immerse ourselves in a good book, our brains are busy imagining the described settings, sounds, smells, and tastes, and this activates many different areas of the brain that process these experiences in real life. Words like “lavender,” “cinnamon,” and “soap,” for example, will elicit a response not only in the language-processing areas of our brains, but also in areas dedicated to dealing with smells.

Dr. Raymond Marr, a neuroscientist at the University of York, says reading fiction can enhance empathy and interpersonal skills, because the parts of the brain we use to understand stories overlap with those we use to understand others. “Reading helps our brains get better at creating accurate models of real people and predicting what they might think, feel, or do,” he told me.

Studies show that reading is also one of the best ways to escape the stresses of modern life.

“Anxiety is about focusing our attention inward, but reading forces our focus on the words and the story, and that can get us out of our heads and help us relax,” Dr. Marr says.

Research from Yale University found that those who read for 30 minutes a day lived, on average, 23 months longer than those who didn’t read.

Excerpted from Just One Thing: How Simple Changes Can Change Your Life by Dr. Michael Mosley, £16.99, Published by Short Books.

© Dr Michael Mosley 2022. To order a copy for £13.99 (valid until 15/11/22; UK P&P free on orders over £20), visit mailshop.co.uk/books Or call 020 3176 2937.

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