14 Sep 2021

Dr Michael Mosley on Just One Thing

From Afternoons with Jesse Mulligan, 3:10 pm on 14 September 2021

Sometimes it takes just one simple thing to improve your health, says broadcaster Dr Michael Mosley.

In fact, he has a new podcast dedicated to the subject of small things you can do to boost your health and happiness called Just One Thing.

A brisk walk is good starting place, he told Jesse Mulligan.

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Photo: bbc.co.uk

"We know that if you can pace it up a bit, you get much more benefit from going for a walk, you get your heart rate up and ideally, you should be aiming for something like 100 to 115 steps per minute, and you can count them obviously.

"But if you listen to music, particularly something with a beat, which is going to drive you along at around 105-110 paces a minute, then that's even better."

While the 10,000 steps a day rule has slightly dubious origins, he says it's not a bad rule of thumb.

"That was based actually on a Japanese manufacturer of pedometers back during the Tokyo Olympics, I think it was 1964. And they were trying to flog a pedometer.

"And the Japanese symbol for 10,000 steps was a man walking, so they kind of rather arbitrarily chose that number. And I think it's actually not a bad number to aim at.

"The evidence seems to be that if you can get anywhere between 7000 steps plus, then that is hugely beneficial. But it's also the quality of the steps."

Again, they should be brisk steps, he says.

"Obviously, walking is good. But if you can put in a bit of brisk walking, that's even better.

"Another way of doing it, if you can manage three 10-minute chunks a day, walking briskly, that's also a good thing to do."

If it's good for your heart, it's good for the brain too, he says.

"Your brain loves a good supply of nutrient-rich blood. And so, anything which gets your body and your heart pumping, anything which is good for your heart is going to be good for your brain as well."

An early morning walk seems to work best, Mosley says.

"We know that if you go out first thing in the morning, you're exposed to different frequency of light, it resets your internal clock. And that means hopefully you'll sleep better."

And being outside is doubly beneficial, the Japanese have a term 'forest bathing', he says.

"We know that trees give off an aroma of chemicals, which help to bolster your immune system.

"And so, if you spend time in green spaces, that seems to be good for your mental and your physical health."

But you need to spend about 90 minutes a week in green spaces to see benefits, Mosley says.

"I'm not personally that crazy about gyms. I would much rather be outdoor doing my cycling, or running or walking than on a treadmill in a gym somewhere."

There is good evidence too that fermented foods are your friend.

"Yoghurts, which have been enhanced with bacteria or whatever, the evidence for them is not great, it has to be said.

"But the advantage of fermented food, particularly if you make it yourself, is it is cultured in a very acidic environment. And that means there's a much better chance that when it goes through the acid bath of the stomach it will survive."

Research in the Republic of Ireland backs this up, he says.

"They got volunteers to eat a diet richer in fermented foods, and you collect poo samples, you can see changes in the microbiome, which have been brought about by fermented foods.

"And at the same time, you get them to record their anxiety and depression scores. And again, they've seen in as little as three to four weeks, some quite marked improvements in those scores, and particularly bringing more fibre, that seems to be beneficial."

The fibre and fermented combo seems to be key, Dr Moseley says.

"Because the fibre acts like a fertiliser to the microbes. And what the fermented foods do is they actually contain living bacteria.

"If you imagine your gut microbiome, the bacteria that lives down in your gut, if you think of them as a like a lawn or a forest, what you're doing is pouring down fertiliser in the form of fibre, but at the same time, you're seeding the gut with a fresh supply of probiotics of living bacteria."

Cold showers are another topic of his podcast.

"The good news is you don't have to stay in there very long. The evidence suggest that you do get some benefit from around 45 seconds. But that can be quite a long, 45 seconds, certainly the first time you do.

"So I do suggest perhaps you start 15 seconds, 30 seconds, 45 seconds."

And make like a stork, he says, for a neglected exercise and one that is a strong predictor of future health.

"One of the better ways of improving your balance is by standing on one leg. And actually, this is also quite predictive of your future health."

A study in the British Medical Journal tested 50 year olds standing on one leg, Mosely says.

"They asked them to stand on one leg, first with their eyes open, and then with their eyes closed.

"The average 50-year-old should manage about 30 seconds or more, with your eyes open. And with your eyes closed, you're doing quite well, if you can manage about 10 seconds, if you're under 50, you should manage 10 seconds."

Standing on one leg with your eyes closed emerged was a strong predictor of future health outcomes, he says.

"They came back to them 10-15 years later, and whether they had heart disease, cancer, you name it, this ability to balance seemed to be the best predictor of future health."

Try it while brushing your teeth, he says, on one leg then the other.

"I would recommend if you try doing this have something to grab, because it's surprising how quickly your balance goes. But I do my two-minute brushing my teeth and I stand on one leg for 30 seconds and then switch over sides."

A more philosophical habit is to count your blessings, he says.

"The idea of counting your blessings is a very ancient one, most of the great religions suggested it, particularly to contemplate your day."

One simple way to do that is to reflect on three good things that happened, he says.

"It's a part of a sort of movement known as positive psychology. And, yeah, it sounds incredibly simple and trivial. But it's surprisingly effective. Yeah, I'm a fan."

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