Five tips for losing weight and living longer, according to Doctor Michael Mosley

I recently celebrated my 67th birthday, which gave me the usual pause for thought.

I like to think I’m ageing well, but there’s plenty of room for improvement.

But change is hard and at my age it can also be pretty daunting.

Which is one of the main reasons why I enjoy making — and testing — ideas that feature in my podcast, Just One thing, where I look at one simple change you can easily make to your life that comes with some surprising benefits.

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Here are five of my favourite tweaks from the new series . . .

TAKE UP ‘NORDIC’ WALKING

Finland not only has some of the happiest people in the world (it took the top spot for the seventh year in a row in the recent World Happiness report) but also some of the healthiest.

That could partly be because the Finns are pioneers of “Nordic walking”.

This involves walking using poles to drive yourself forward, and it comes with lots of health benefits.

For instance, in a 2019 study in the journal clinical Interventions in ageing, a group of 60-somethings was assigned to do three hours a week of either Nordic walking or ordinary walking.

At the end of six months, not only were the Nordic walkers significantly stronger, but their stomachs had shrunk by an average of 6cm, twice as much as the ordinary walking group.

This is probably because Nordic walking involves using far more muscle groups.

I’ve just returned from striding around, poles in hand, so I can testify that it is a good workout. You can find Nordic walking groups to join online.

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A top tip is to take up ‘Nordic walking’. Credit: Adobe Stock/Halfpoint - stock.adobe.com

ADD FLAXSEEDS TO DIET

I hadn’t previously been a big fan of flaxseeds, but it turns out they’re a nutritional powerhouse, packed with fibre, protein and alpha-linolenic acid, a fatty acid that’s good for heart health.

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

For a 2013 study, he took 110 people with high blood pressure and allocated them to eating either foods that had been enriched with three tablespoons of ground flaxseeds (muffins, biscuits, cereals) or similar foods without flaxseeds.

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

Professor Pierce told me you don’t have to eat three tablespoons of flaxseeds a day to see benefits, but he does recommend using it in baking or adding it to yoghurt or smoothies — which is something I now do.

HELP OTHER PEOPLE

We know helping other people can have benefits for those who are on the receiving end, but volunteering — such as taking part in a community group — also benefits the volunteer.

This is because it gives you a purpose in life, which boosts self-esteem.

It also helps keep you physically and mentally active, while at the same time releasing caregiving-related hormones such as oxytocin.

These, in turn, can help reduce stress and chronic inflammation. And it helps you feel happy, as seen in a study in PlOS One in 2017 — based on data from 40,000 people, it found that those who regularly volunteer tend to be significantly healthier and happier; the equivalent, said the researchers, of being five years younger.

I know first hand how good it can make you feel: two years ago, we volunteered to have a family of Ukrainians (a mother and her three children) live with us, and they have been a delight.

PLAY AN INSTRUMENT

I’ve never been remotely musical (though I do like singing out loud) — but it is never too late to learn, and there’s plenty of evidence 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, the drums or just listen to music.

The instrument groups were given lessons and asked to practise for about 30 minutes a day for four months.

By the end, the piano and percussion players experienced significant improvements in their working memory — i.e. their ability to remember something and then use it.

This is something we normally lose with age.

I’ve decided to start learning to play the keyboard, as that way I can practise wearing headphones so not disturbing others.

READ POETRY OUT LOUD

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

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

That’s not only because of the power of the words, but when you read out a poem that has a rhythm (such as Shakespeare’s sonnet, Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day) this automatically slows down your breathing.

This in turn activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which slows down your heart, reducing stress and making you feel calm.

Give it a go — I have — you might even enjoy it.

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