DR MICHAEL MOSLEY: My five steps to shrink your waist and help you live longer – including one that started out as a seduction technique…

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.

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

Take up Nordic walking

Nordic walking involves using far more muscle groups than ordinary walking, so it is good for you

Finland not only has some of the happiest people in the world (it took the top spot for the 7th 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 Aging, a group of 60-somethings were 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 the Lake District, poles in hand, so I can testify that it is a good workout. You can find Nordic walking groups to join online.

Add flaxseeds to diet

Research found that those who had a diet enriched with flaxseed had significant drops in blood pressure

Research found that those who had a diet enriched with flaxseed had significant drops in blood pressure

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 add it to ­yoghurt or smoothies — which is something I now do.

Help other people

A study found that those who regularly volunteer tend to be significantly healthier and happier

A study found that those who regularly volunteer tend to be significantly healthier and happier

We know that 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 volunteering 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

Piano and percussion players experienced significant ­improvements in their working memory

Piano and percussion players experienced significant ­improvements in their working memory

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

Reading poetry automatically slows down your breathing and helps to relieve stress

Reading poetry automatically slows down your breathing and helps to relieve stress

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.

Just One Thing, Thursdays at 9.45am on BBC Radio 4 or catch up on BBC Sounds.

Studies show we eat more when watching TV. I once ran an experiment where one bloke ate well over 1,000 calories worth of crisps, without apparently noticing.

But research by Ghent University in Belgium suggests it’s not just because we’re distracted — when you eat in front of the TV you don’t get as much pleasure from the food as when eating at the table and savouring it, so you eat more to compensate.

Big families are good for the brain 

We have four children, which in this day and age sounds like a lot, and it is certainly higher than the UK ­average of 1.7. But new research suggests that having all those kids is in fact good for our brains.

Researchers at Yale University analysed brain scans from more than 37,000 people in the UK Biobank database (which collects health data on half a million people).

They found that people who had more children had a younger pattern of brain activity than those with fewer children, or who had none. Or, as they put it, having more kids leads to ‘long-term neuroprotection’.

The researchers think it may be because our brains are strengthened by the constant demands of raising kids. Or perhaps it’s because parents with lots of kids tend to be more socially and physically active, which helps preserve the brain.

Whatever the reason, it’s good to know all those sleepless nights were worthwhile.

Exercise turns you into a fat-burning machine

I used to love watching a TV series called Wife Swap — where for two weeks, a wife (or a husband) would swap places with a very ­different family. This concept still has great curiosity value, and I was struck by a study from Aberdeen University where male athletes swapped their exercise ­regimens with couch potatoes.

The athletes, who ­exercised for nine-and-a-half hours a week, cut down to doing nothing for four weeks, while the couch potatoes were expected to do at least five hours of endurance training (such as cycling) a week. The results — published in Nature Communications last week — were dramatic. After two months, the athletes put on 1.1kg (2.5lb) and lost power and fitness, while the couch potatoes lost 2.6kg (6lb) and became fitter, stronger and had lower blood pressure, improved ­cholesterol and blood sugar levels.

What surprised the researchers most was the impact on the way the participants’ bodies handled saturated fat, the type in meat and dairy.

Previously, the athletes used saturated fats as fuel, while the couch potatoes stored it as body fat. But after the experiment, they, too, turned into fat-burning machines. Another good reason to get on that bike.

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