The TV doctor explains the potentially big effects that one small good habit can have on your wellbeing.
Two years ago I started recording a podcast called Just One Thing for the BBC. The idea behind it was that, in each episode, I would introduce you to ‘just one thing’ you could do to improve your mental and/or physical health.
Each thing would often be unexpected, but would also be a quick and simple act that should be easy enough to turn into a habit. I’d talk to a leading scientist with knowledge of the thing we were covering and, of course, I also give the thing a go. So far, we’ve so far recorded over 40 episodes, but here are the top 10 things that have benefited me.
I start each day by doing push-ups and squats. Moving your body up and down against resistance builds body strength but also increases blood flow to the brain, which stimulates the release of a hormone that encourages the growth of new brain cells and connections.
The key is to start gradually and do them properly – you can find inspiration for strength exercises on the NHS website.
After my push-ups and squats I often have a cold shower and then try to fit in 10 minutes of mindfulness meditation. What you’re trying to do by being mindful is spend a short amount of time each day focusing your awareness on the present moment, rather than worrying about the past or making plans for the future.
You can join a course or try out an app.
Besides the health benefits of exercise, an early morning walk also provides you with more exposure to natural light, which will help reset your body clock and regulate your hunger, mood, body temperature and other important bodily processes. Plus, at other end of the day, you’ll be more ready to sleep.
In recent years there has been a surge of research into the gut microbiome – the billions of microbes that live in your gut and affect your physical and mental health.
Eating fermented foods, such as sauerkraut or kimchi, which are rich in the sorts of beneficial bacteria that can boost your microbiome, can lower stress levels and improve mood scores in just four weeks.
After breakfast, while I’m brushing my teeth, I practise balancing on one leg. Doing this helps my posture and should reduce my risk of a fall.
Falls are the second most common cause of accidental deaths, worldwide, after traffic accidents. Balance is something most of us take for granted, but it’s like muscle strength – use it or lose it!
This is one of my favourites because it’s simple, quick and completely life-changing. Just by changing how quickly and deeply you breathe, you can achieve amazing things: you can slow your heart rate, lower your blood pressure, reduce stress and combat anxiety.
Try a 4-2-4 pattern; breathe in through your nose to a count of four, hold for two, then out through your mouth to a count of four.
My family eats oily fish at least three times a week. As well as being tasty and wonderfully simple to prepare, oily fish is a really great source of protein and omega 3 fatty acids, which have been shown to be great for reducing chronic inflammation. And reduced chronic inflammation means a reduced risk of both heart disease and depression.
I live near easily accessible countryside, so I spend lots of time in nature. It’s great to just stop, look around, smell of the trees, hear the birds and appreciate the pattern of light passing through the leaves. Studies show that being in green spaces can help reduce stress and anxiety.
There’s lots of research showing benefits of learning new skills at any stage in life. Taking up video games, learning to dance or trying to paint are all very challenging, particularly when you’re my age (66), but it’s precisely because they are challenging that doing them has such a powerful effect on the brain.
I love reading so I don’t need any persuading that reading lots of fiction is good for empathy and social skills. Reading can help improve memory and protect against depression, particularly if you can turn it into more of a social exercise by joining a local book club (which I have).p>Check some Guinness world records of all time here: World Records. Do you have any question or feedback about the world record above? If so please let us know here: Contact Us