25 Nov 2022

Dr Michael Mosley: Just One Thing

From Nine To Noon, 10:05 am on 25 November 2022

Stand on one leg, take a cold shower, go for an early morning walk and embrace eating beetroot, says popular health writer Michael Mosley.

He chats to Susie Ferguson about the scientifically sound advice in Just One Thing - How Simple Changes Can Transform Your Life.

In it, Mosley suggests some transformative daily habits to help deal with a range of health issues, from weight loss to improving mood.

Michael Mosley

Photo: Hachette

There's now considerable science behind the benefits of a cold shower, he tells Nine to Noon.

“There was a study done in Holland, where they got about 5,000 people either to do either a warm shower or a warm shower followed by a cold shower only for about 40 seconds.

“And then they followed them up over the subsequent winter and they found those who'd had the cold shower were much less prone to getting colds and taking time off work.

“And there's been another study even more recently where they looked at the mental health benefits. In this case, it was looking at swimming.”

If a cold dip isn’t your thing, Mosley says even a 40-second blast of cold water in the shower will be beneficial.

“When I spoke to my expert, he said the main thing is you have to stay in long enough to control your breathing because the first thing that happens is that you will start to hyperventilate or scream if you're not used to it.

“So I would only recommend you start with a little blast for like 10 seconds and get out, but it builds up over time, you really don't need to do more than 30 or 40 seconds.”

Balancing on one leg is something to incorporate into any part of your day, Mosley says. He does it while brushing his teeth.

“There's a lot of research that shows that peoples’ balance is deteriorating because they spend so much time on their bottoms.”

Balance is a predictor of a person's health in later life, he says.

“There was actually a study done, published in the British Medical Journal, they took a whole bunch of 50-year-olds and they measured lots of things about them, including their ability to stand on one leg with the eyes open and eyes closed.

“And then they came back and looked at the same people a decade later. And what they found was the single best predictor of life expectancy, amongst the people who were still alive and hadn't died of cancer or died of heart disease - was their ability to stand on one leg.

“So, it seems it's a very powerful predictive value. But also it has a very powerful practical value. Because it means you're less likely to fall over and you're more likely to keep going.”

Balancing on one leg is an ability that improves the more you do it, Mosley says.

“Since I started talking about this, I've done quite a few radio interviews with people who say I could only manage 20-25 seconds. Now I can do you know, several minutes at a time.”

Aim for 30 seconds with both eyes open and 10 seconds with both eyes closed, he says, and build from there.

We shouldn’t overlook the benefits of exercise that lengthens your muscles, known as eccentric exercise.

“When you’re walking up a hill then you're using mainly concentric, you're shortening the muscles, when you go down the hill it's eccentric, they’re lengthening, it's like when you do a squat, you go down, that's eccentric, concentric is up.”

Perhaps counterintuitively, eccentric exercise is more beneficial, Mosley says.

"They did a study in Perth, Western Australia, where they got a group of overweight people and they took them to a 12-storey building and asked them to either walk up and then take the lift down, or to take the lift up and walk down.

“And they had to do that three times a week for about eight weeks.

“And what they discovered is the group walking down, they got the most benefit. They actually burned more calories. They saw greater strength in the bones and their muscles got stronger.”

When it comes to foods Mosley swears by the benefits of beetroot.

“If you're at all sporty. You may have heard about beetroot and beetroot shots.

“This is based on research done at the University of Exeter, where they had been looking at the impact of beetroot and the way that it works is that beetroot contains lots of nitrates, which lead to vasodilation [aka blood vessels opening]. Basically, the bacteria in your mouth and your gut convert [the nitrrates] into something called nitric oxide which causes the blood vessels to expand ... and that improves your ability to exercise.

“The Romans believed the beetroot was an aphrodisiac. And it may be that beetroot actually is because it has the same mechanism of action as Viagra.”

Chocolate, too, has health benefits.

“We're talking about 60 to 70 percent cacao because cacao is a wonderful substance. It obviously was originally a plant.

“So you're getting flavonoids and other wonderful antioxidants and things that come with the cacao.

“And we also know that the certain ingredients in the cacao go down and they boost your microbiome and gut bacteria and they in turn cause your vessels to dilate, a bit like the beetroot.

“There is evidence that eating modest amounts of dark chocolate can lower blood pressure and things like that.”

Michael Mosley’s upcoming speaking tour A Life Changing Experience is at the Opera House in Wellington on March 14 2023 and Auckland's Civic Theatre March 15 2023. Tickets are available from Ticketmaster.