Do you like to drink tea or take a walk in the rain? Did you know that walking backwards can improve your memory or that stopping breathing through your mouth is good for your oral health?
This may seem like a bad combination of the ‘pina colada song’, but these are actually all topics (and more) that I’m covering in my new podcast series, Just One Thing (launching next week). .
As a reminder, in each episode of this series I take a closer look at a different “thing,” something simple that could improve your physical and mental well-being in surprising ways. Here’s a preview of what I discovered…
Have a cup of tea
We have become a nation of coffee drinkers, a recent survey found, with more Brits now drinking coffee than tea.
But has the pendulum swung too far? Is it time to start drinking more tea?
The most popular tea in the UK is “black” tea, which comes from Camellia sinensis, an evergreen shrub native to East Asia. The leaves are exposed to air to darken, which, among other things, increases their caffeine content.
They are also packed with plant compounds called polyphenols that have multiple health benefits, including being good for our bones.
The most popular tea in the UK is “black” tea, which comes from Camellia sinensis, an evergreen shrub native to East Asia (File Image)
A study in Australia, which followed more than 1,000 women over 75 for more than ten years, showed that those who drank more than three cups of tea a day were 30 percent less likely to suffer a fracture due to osteoporosis, compared to those who drank one cup or less per week. (I’m particularly interested in this, as I have a family history of osteoporosis.)
On top of that, you won’t be surprised to know that drinking tea is a great way to relax. But not, as might be expected, simply until the ritual; You stop working, put the kettle on and maybe chat.
In fact, there is a substance in tea, L-theanine, that studies show increases the activity of alpha brain waves, which are associated with calmness and creativity.
And after a cup of tea, why not put on your walking shoes and go for a stroll? Backward. This may seem eccentric, but it is a technique that has been used in physical therapy for decades to rehabilitate lower leg injuries.
It can improve gait, balance and mobility, plus a study conducted by the University of Roehampton in 2018 showed that walking backwards can sharpen memory.
The scientists behind this experiment believe that when you physically walk backwards, this helps you mentally “go back,” retrieving memories of something you did before. So if you’re wondering where you put those keys, maybe a quick walk back will refresh your memory.
When I first heard this, I was intrigued that something so simple and, frankly, strange could have such an effect.
It can be done on a treadmill, but with care you can do it safely in your own home or outdoors.
If you feel like giving it a try, start slowly, taking a few steps, and then work your way up. Try it with a partner: the idea is that you are facing each other, holding hands, so while you walk backwards they walk forward. Then you exchange.
0r when it rains
If walking backwards isn’t your thing, take a conventional walk, but in the rain.
For starters, if you’re looking for fresh air, there’s no better time to go for a walk than a rainy day, because rain improves air quality.
A recent study in Japan found that when rain falls, the droplets attract and carry away tens of thousands of air polluting particles. These particles, which are generated by traffic, are very harmful because they are small enough to penetrate deep into our lungs when we inhale them.
And then there’s that wonderful earthy smell right after it rains.
To start, if you are looking for fresh air, there is no better time to go for a walk than a rainy day, because the rain improves air quality (File image)
It has a great name: petrichor, from the Greek word ‘petra’, which means stone, and ‘ichor’, the fluid that in Greek mythology flowed through the veins of the immortals. That earthy smell is produced when water hits dusty or clay soils, releasing small air bubbles that perfume the air.
The main component of petrichor is a chemical called geosmin, which is produced by soil bacteria. There is evidence that inhaling geosmin can make us feel good.
In a 2022 study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, researchers asked 30 adults to handle soil that contained geosmin and soil that did not.
After just five minutes of exposure to geosmin, volunteers had higher levels of serotonin, a mood-enhancing chemical, in their blood and reduced levels of C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation that is linked to depression (although it is not yet known why this happens). clear).
Try breathing through your nose.
I had always rejected claims that breathing through the nose is healthier than through the mouth; after all, it still ends up in the same place (the lungs). But, as I discovered, breathing through the mouth has considerable disadvantages, including reducing the amount of saliva produced, drying out the mouth, and increasing the risk of cavities and swollen gums.
Breathing through your nose could also give your brain a boost. In a recent study, volunteers were given a memory test while they were in a brain scanner: when they breathed through their nose they performed better and the scans revealed that their brains worked more efficiently (File Image)
And breathing through your nose could also give your brain a boost. In a recent study, volunteers were given a memory test while in a brain scanner: when they breathed through their nose they performed better, and the scans revealed that their brains worked more efficiently.
Studies conducted at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden have shown that breathing through the nose increases levels of nitric oxide, a chemical that fights infections in the sinuses and increases blood flow in the lungs, raising oxygen levels in the blood. and presumably in the brain.
Listen to Just One Thing on BBC Radio 4 every Wednesday from September 20 at 9.30am, when you can also download the full series on BBC Sounds.
Sleeping early can protect the brain
Trying to function after a bad night’s sleep is difficult: you feel tired, irritable, and, if you’re like me, you also have a crazy urge to eat something sweet.
While a restless night won’t cause much harm, sleeping poorly night after night can increase your risk of dementia.
One theory is that if you don’t get enough sleep, especially deep, restful sleep, toxins build up in the brain that can cause brain damage.
This is because when you are in deep sleep, a network of channels in your brain, known as the glymphatic system, opens and removes any toxic residue from the day.
While a restless night won’t cause much harm, sleeping poorly night after night can increase the risk of dementia (file image)
Unfortunately, as we age, we tend to sleep less deeply, which means our brains aren’t as good at eliminating toxins. In fact, young people usually sleep soundly for a couple of hours a night, but when you get to my age (66), you’re lucky if you can get 30 minutes of sleep.
But the good news is that researchers at Binzhou Medical University in China have identified a protein, pleiotrophin, that can (at least in mice) protect brain cells from damage caused by toxins. When the mice were deprived of sleep, their pleiotrophin levels decreased.
The hope is that we will find some way to increase pleiotrophin levels. Until then, sleep early to try to maximize the amount of deep sleep you can get.
Eat green bananas for a healthy liver
In last week’s column, I mentioned that cooking, cooling, and reheating pasta converted carbohydrates into resistant starch, which is not easily broken down in the intestine but acts more like fiber.
So not only do you get fewer blood sugar spikes after eating it (because less is absorbed), but it also feeds the friendly bacteria in your gut. These, in turn, convert resistant starch into a fatty acid called butyrate, which has many benefits for the gut, including reducing the risk of developing colon cancer.
The good news is that you can easily increase your resistant starch intake by eating oats, legumes, and green bananas.
Now, a study has shown that consuming more resistant starch also helps the liver. Researchers at Shanghai Sixth People’s Hospital in China recruited 200 people with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), a buildup of fat in the liver; one in three Britons have early signs of this condition, which is associated with an increased risk. of heart attack, stroke and liver damage.
Patients in the study were given a resistant starch powder made from corn to consume twice a day for four months. Compared with a control group, they had 40 percent less liver fat.
They also had reduced levels of liver enzymes and inflammatory factors associated with NAFLD. The good news is that you can easily increase your resistant starch intake by eating oats, legumes, and green bananas. Or cooking, cooling and reheating rice, pasta or potatoes.