DR MICHAEL MOSLEY: What 2021 taught me and how it can change your life too

Have you made any New Year’s resolutions yet? If you’re looking for inspiration, here are some of the proven things I have incorporated into my own life that you could also take on to ensure a healthier, happier 2022.

Try a keto diet

A 2021 study from Public Health England revealed that almost half of us have taken about half a stone on (just over 3kg) during the pandemic.

So how do you best get rid of those Covid pounds? During the fall months, I gained a few pounds and crept into the overweight category (my BMI, which had been around 24 for years, was 25).

I tried a new approach to dieting for Christmas: a short-term ‘keto’ diet – where you reduce your carbohydrate intake to less than 50g a day while eating lots of healthy fats, such as olive oil, fatty fish and nuts plus lots of vegetables. It forms the basis of my book, The Fast 800 Keto, which has just been published.

A study from Public Health England from 2021 revealed that almost half of us have taken about half a stone on (just over 3 kg) during the pandemic

A study from Public Health England from 2021 revealed that almost half of us have taken about half a stone on (just over 3 kg) during the pandemic

When you drastically reduce your carbohydrate intake, your body begins to burn fat by converting your fat stores into ketones, which it then uses as fuel.

One of the great benefits of this is that ketones suppress hunger. In fact, a study published in April last year by Norwegian researchers found that the more ketones your body produces, the lower the level of the hunger hormone ghrelin in your system and the less hungry you feel.

During the 12 days leading up to Christmas, I stuck to my low-calorie keto diet and lost 4 kg – which reduced my BMI to 24 and took an inch off my waist.

A brighter year ahead

There are many reasons to feel optimistic about the coming year. Not only do we finally have Covid on the run, but the resulting development in vaccine technology will also improve our ability to fight other infectious diseases and even strengthen our immune system’s ability to fight cancer.

And our greater understanding of how the immune system works should also lead to major advances in our treatment of allergies. In a few months, parents with children with severe peanut allergies will be able to access a new life-changing drug, called Palforzia, for free on the NHS for the first time.

The drug dampens the body’s reaction to peanuts, which in turn reduces the risk of the child having a serious, even fatal, reaction if it is accidentally exposed. And that’s very good news.

Set training alarms

If you, like me, are struggling to find time and desire for longer workouts, why not try “exercising snacks”? The idea is that instead of spending hours in the gym, you try to build more moments of activity into your life.

Research published last year in the Journal Of Applied Physiology showed that if you get up from your chair every 30 minutes and do a few squats, a brisk walk, some press-ups or even just walk up and down the stairs a few times, every day, it may be enough to have a positive impact on your health.

I spend a lot of time at my computer, so I set an alarm every 30 minutes to remind me to move.

I also go for a couple of brisk 20-minute walks every day and I do 7-minute workouts most mornings. It is a free app that combines resistance exercises (to build muscle) with an aerobic workout (to strengthen the lungs) and involves a mix of activities such as press-ups, lunges and triceps dips.

Switch your brain

There are real benefits to looking on the bright side. In a 2019 study from Boston University School of Medicine, researchers discovered that optimistic people live on average seven years longer than their more pessimistic friends. And they are more likely to achieve ‘exceptional longevity’, ie. to live to the age of 85 years or older.

Another study in 2019 from the University of Illinois showed that optimistic people also tend to sleep better. This may be because they are usually looking for answers to problems instead of worrying about things that interfere with sleep.

One way to cultivate a more optimistic mindset is to stop listening to your inner critic and instead focus on your successes. Research shows that this can switch your brain.

BUY GRUDE PLANTS

If you love the great outdoors, you will know that walking in a forest or field makes you feel calmer. A 2019 study at Exeter University, which involved more than 20,000 people, showed that those who spend at least two hours a week in nature reported better physical and mental health than those who do not.

Looking at trees not only reduces stress, lowers blood pressure and improves mood, but plants also produce chemicals called phytoncides, which strengthen our immune system.

If you can not get out quite often, I recommend bringing nature into your home by buying potted plants. Research suggests that they can help calm your mood as well as remove toxins from the air.

If you can not get out quite often, I recommend bringing nature into your home by buying potted plants

If you can not get out quite often, I recommend bringing nature into your home by buying potted plants

STOP SWITCHING OFF

If you’re as dull as I am, a sure way to look younger and feel better is to shrug your shoulders and stand up straight. Bending makes you look older and contributes to back pain.

The first way to improve your posture is to change the way you sit. Try to avoid leaning up against the back of the chair (you can even buy a chair without a back, as these make important posture muscles in your back work harder).

You can also buy a posture bar, a series of straps, which go over your shoulders and meet at a belt around your stomach.

When I relax, it digs into my shoulders and reminds me to pull them back.

Say it with a song

Whether you are singing in a choir or alone in the shower, there is evidence that interrupting a tune can reduce stress, improve your blood pressure and even reduce chronic pain.

Singing gives us a ‘high’ because it boosts the level of endocannabinoids, cannabis-like chemicals that your body produces naturally.

In a study I co-created at Nottingham University in 2018, we found that singing resulted in a 48 percent increase in the level of this feel-good chemical. It works for me.

Cut out junk food

Junk food is bad for our waist and our brains. It leads to chronic inflammation, which contributes to heart disease and cancer, and also to depression, anxiety and potential memory loss.

A study from Ohio State University, published in October, showed that putting rats on a junk food diet for four weeks led to an inflammatory reaction in their brains and signs of early memory loss.

Junk food is bad for our waist and our brains.  It leads to chronic inflammation, which contributes to heart disease and cancer, and also to depression, anxiety and potential memory loss

Junk food is bad for our waist and our brains. It leads to chronic inflammation, which contributes to heart disease and cancer, and also to depression, anxiety and potential memory loss

Stand on one leg

It is very important to have a good sense of balance, especially as we get older. Tumbling is the most common cause of death worldwide after traffic accidents. I find that standing on one leg while brushing my teeth improves my balance. I stand on my left leg for 30 seconds, then my right and repeat.

It also means I brush my teeth thoroughly!

Give more hugs

One of the things I have had a hard time with the last two years is that I have become much more careful about hugging friends and family. When I go to hug my mother, there is the fear that I may give her Covid. This is not very likely as we are both triple and neither of us regularly visit bars or clubs.

Still, I know a good, long hug would be good for both of us. Studies show that regular 20-second hugs can reduce stress and lower blood pressure, while increasing the level of the ‘pampering hormone’, oxytocin.

A study from 2019 showed that putting a dog also boosts oxytocin in the owner – and in the dog.

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