DR. MICHAEL MOSLEY: My five steps to shrink your waistline and help you live longer – including one that started as a seduction technique…

Nordic walking uses many more muscle groups than regular walking, so it's good for you

I recently celebrated my 67th birthday, which gave me the usual pause for thought. I like to think I’m aging well, but there’s plenty of room for improvement.

But change is hard and at my age it can be quite intimidating.

That’s one of the main reasons I enjoy creating (and testing) ideas featured in my podcast, Just One Thing, where I look at a simple change you can easily make in your life that will make a number of brings surprising benefits.

Here are five of my favorite adaptations from the new series. . .

Get started with Nordic walking

Nordic walking uses many more muscle groups than regular walking, so it's good for you

Nordic walking uses many more muscle groups than regular walking, so it’s good for you

Finland not only has some of the happiest people in the world (the country ranked first for the seventh year in a row in the recent World Happiness Report), but also some of the healthiest.

This could be partly because the Finns are pioneers in the field of Nordic walking. This involves walking using sticks to propel yourself forward, and it has many health benefits.

For example, in a 2019 study in the journal Clinical Interventions in Aging, a group of people over 60 were assigned to do Nordic walking or regular walking for three hours a week.

At the end of the six months, the Nordic walkers were not only significantly stronger, but their stomachs had also shrunk by an average of 6 cm, twice as much as the regular walking group. This is probably because Nordic walking uses many more muscle groups.

I’ve just returned from a walk around the Lake District, poles in hand, so I can testify that it’s good training. You can find Nordic walking groups online that you can join.

Add flaxseed to the diet

Research found that those who followed a diet enriched with flaxseed had a significant drop in blood pressure

Research found that those who followed a diet enriched with flaxseed had a significant drop in blood pressure

I wasn’t a big fan of flaxseed before, but it turns out to be a nutritional powerhouse, packed with fiber, protein and alpha-linolenic acid, a fatty acid that’s good for heart health.

As a result, eating it can be an effective way to lower high blood pressure, something I learned from Grant Pierce, professor of physiology at the University of Manitoba in Canada.

For a 2013 study, he took 110 people with high blood pressure and had them eat foods enriched with three tablespoons of ground flaxseed (muffins, cookies, cereal) or similar foods without flaxseed.

At the end of the six months, the flaxseed group had a significant drop in blood pressure, big enough, he said, to halve the risk of heart attack or stroke.

Professor Pierce told me you don’t need to eat three tablespoons of flaxseed a day to see the benefits, but he does recommend using it in baking or adding it to yogurt or smoothies – something I do now.

Help other people

A study found that those who volunteer regularly are significantly healthier and happier

A study found that those who volunteer regularly are significantly healthier and happier

We know that helping other people can benefit those on the receiving end – but volunteer work, such as participating in a community group, also benefits the volunteer.

This is because it gives you a purpose in life, which increases self-esteem. It also helps you stay physically and mentally active, while simultaneously releasing care-related hormones such as oxytocin.

These in turn can help reduce stress and chronic inflammation.

And it helps you feel happy, as shown in a 2017 study in PLOS One. Based on data from 40,000 people, it was found that those who volunteer regularly are significantly healthier and happier; the equivalent, the researchers said, of being five years younger.

I know firsthand how good volunteering can make you feel: two years ago we volunteered to let a family of Ukrainians (a mother and her three children) live with us, and it was a joy.

Play an instrument

Piano and percussion players experienced significant improvements in their working memory

Piano and percussion players experienced significant improvements in their working memory

I’ve never been remotely musical (although I do enjoy singing out loud), but it’s never too late to learn, and there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that learning to play an instrument is good for the brain.

In a 2019 study published in the journal Frontiers, researchers at Florida University asked a group of older adults to play the piano or drums or simply listen to music.

The instrument groups received lessons and had to practice about 30 minutes a day for four months. By the end, the piano and percussion players experienced significant improvements in their working memory, that is, their ability to remember something and then use it.

This is something we normally lose with age.

I decided to learn to play the keyboard so I can practice wearing headphones so I don’t disturb others.

Read poetry out loud

Reading poetry automatically slows your breathing and helps relieve stress

Reading poetry automatically slows your breathing and helps relieve stress

Learning poems—and then reciting them out loud—was a seduction skill I tried as a teenager with limited results.

But according to Dietrich von Bonin, a leading art therapist in Switzerland, I should have persevered, because while it’s not a great seduction technique, it is a great way to reduce stress.

That’s not just because of the power of the words, but if you read a poem that has a rhythm (like Shakespeare’s sonnet, Shall I Liken You to a Summer’s Day), it automatically slows your breathing.

This in turn activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which slows your heart, reduces stress and makes you feel calm. Give it a try – I did – you might even enjoy it.

Just One Thing, Thursdays at 9.45am on BBC Radio 4 or tune in on BBC Sounds.

Research shows that we eat more when we watch TV. I once conducted an experiment where a guy ate over 1,000 calories of chips without apparently noticing.

But research from Ghent University in Belgium shows that this isn’t just because we’re distracted: when you eat in front of the TV, you don’t get as much pleasure from eating as when you eat at the table and enjoy it, so you eat more. compensate.

Large families are good for the brain

We have four children, which seems like a lot these days, and it’s certainly higher than the UK average of 1.7. But new research suggests that having all those children is actually good for our brains.

Researchers from Yale University analyzed brain scans of more than 37,000 people in the UK Biobank database (which collects health data from half a million people).

They found that people with more children had a younger pattern of brain activity than people with fewer children, or who had no children. Or, as they put it: having more children leads to ‘long-term neuroprotection’.

The researchers think this is because our brains are strengthened by the constant demands of raising children. Or maybe it’s because parents with many children tend to be more socially and physically active, which helps preserve the brain.

Whatever the reason, it’s good to know that all those sleepless nights were worth it.

Exercise turns you into a fat-burning machine

I loved watching the TV series Wife Swap, where a wife (or a husband) swapped places with a completely different family for two weeks. This concept still has great curiosity value, and I was struck by a study from the University of Aberdeen in which male athletes swapped their training regimes for couch potatoes.

The athletes, who exercised nine and a half hours per week, did nothing for four weeks, while the couch potatoes were expected to do at least five hours of endurance training (such as cycling) per week. The results – published last week in Nature Communications – were dramatic. After two months, the athletes had gained 1.1kg and lost strength and fitness, while the couch potatoes lost 2.6kg and became fitter, stronger, had lower blood pressure, and improved cholesterol and blood sugar levels.

What surprised the researchers most was the impact on the way the participants’ bodies handled saturated fat, the type found in meat and dairy.

Previously, athletes used saturated fats for fuel, while couch potatoes stored them as body fat. But after the experiment, they too turned into fat-burning machines. Another good reason to get on your bike.

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