5 Things Worth Being Thankful For and Why it’ll Keep You Younger

Each November, teachers around the country prompt kids to think about what they’re thankful for. But how many of us do this in adulthood? And why only once a year? Is it merely a social habit, or is there actually a benefit to it that goes beyond the obvious good manners?

A number of studies have drawn a positive link between people who regularly practise gratitude and good mental health. They have a sense of perspective about their problems, don’t ‘sweat the small stuff’ and report that they generally feel happy, or contented.

Furthermore, in her recent book, Dr Elizabeth Blackburn (who was awarded a Nobel Prize for her work on telomeres), explains that people who take time to be present in the moment, and direct positive thoughts towards themselves and their lives, are more likely to be healthy for longer, and less likely to suffer from the diseases of aging – diabetes, heart disease, cancers.

“The ability to focus on… your present experience, turns out to be very good for the cells of your body” – Elizabeth Blackburn

According to Blackburn’s research, everything from the food we put in our bodies to the thoughts we think, have an effect – positive and negative – on the health of individual cells. The telomeres inside our cells, which control when and how they grow or die, are easily affected by what we do.

Here is her list of the things that make them happy and healthy:

  • Positive attitude: viewing problems as challenges that we’ll enjoy tackling can reduce stress response from unhealthy to healthy
  • Meditation, mindfulness and breathing exercises also reduce production of cortisol, the stress hormone, and can even help lengthen telomeres
  • Exercise, especially cardiovascular exercise, is great for telomeres
  • Eat fresh, whole foods. Avoid processed and high sugar items
  • Socialize. When we feel connected and safe with other people, whether family or friends, our cells know about it. This makes a difference, regardless of income or abilities.

So although Thanksgiving only comes once a year, make some time in your day to sit quietly and think about the good things in your life right now. It will keep you present, and it can also help strengthen good habits, like taking regular exercise and enjoying delicious food that’s good for your cells.

Why Memory Training Is More Important Than You Think

Train your brain

Ever walk into a room and forget what you came in for? Lose your keys? Your glasses? And at what point do you stop laughing it off and start worrying that these are the early warning signs of dementia?

Scientists in Italy  recently researched a link between age-related cognitive decline and general inflammation in otherwise healthy adults. Age-related inflammation typically shows itself in conditions like thickened arteries, arthritis and diabetes, and increases at a similar time to a decrease in memory and reasoning.

The study took 32 adults over 60 and treated them to 1 hour of Memory Training twice a week for 6 months, while another group of 28 older adults received no intervention. At the start and end of the study the participants took a number of cognitive tests, as well as giving a blood sample so that the scientists could establish levels of Cortisol (the stress hormone) and other inflammatory markers.

While memory training, or Brain Training, as it is sometimes called, has become a popular in commercial products, the research behind it has often been called into question. Just because you train your mind to recall a list of names, and makes you better at name recall, doesn’t necessarily mean that your brain is ‘fitter’ all over.

But, interestingly, the 2017 study discovered that the adults who received training in specific memory tasks, namely:

  • shopping list recall
  • remembering the locations of monuments on a map in an unfamiliar city
  • names and photographs of faces
  • remembering a short story and re-writing it from memory

not only performed better in recall tests, but also showed lower inflammatory markers and lower Cortisol in the 6 month follow-up test. The mechanism for this relationship is not fully understood, but it seems that by practising these tasks, not only did the participants’ brains improve in memory tests, but their level of inflammation (and therefore risk of diabetes, thickened arteries and arthritis) declined over the same period.

Perhaps there is more to Memory Training than simply finding your keys where you expected them to be.

4 Reasons to Take a Forest Bath This Month

You don’t even have to take your clothes off: forest bathing isn’t about getting wet.¬† June is National Great Outdoors Month, but we’re not talking about enforced route marches up bear-infested mountain trails. Just being in some green space near you can deliver significant health benefits.

A public health program begun in Japan in 1982 prescribed Shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing as a preventative health tool. The idea is to simply spend time amongst trees, or similar natural surroundings, without striving to achieve anything, count steps or monitor your heart rate. Just be.

The results, from studies carried out in Japan, the Netherlands and Australia, are clear.

Lower Blood Pressure

A 2016 study showed that spending at least 30 minutes a week reduced participants’ blood pressure by 7% in the first month. Other studies report similar reductions and the more frequent these doses of nature, the greater the benefits.

Reduce Depression

The same study showed depression rates reduced by 9%, after just 30 minute exposure per week, and a study from the Netherlands in 2005 showed people felt healthier when they lived in an area with substantial green space near to them.

Lower Stress Levels

Numerous studies have shown that spending time in green space – whether exercising outdoors, gardening, or socialising, all have benefits in lowering stress. This is where the Japanese idea of simply being, noticing what is around you, listening to birds and other natural sounds reduce stress by relaxed focus, rather than our habitual method of hurrying to our destination without paying attention.

Improved Fitness

Now, if you only sit on a bench in the park, your fitness won’t improve greatly. But getting to green space often involves more walking than usual, and there are often other opportunities to exercise while you’re there: Tai Chi classes are often held outdoors in good weather, why not give it a try? A walk in the park can also be a good excuse to catch up with a friend, giving your mood an extra boost.

So take advantage of bright summer days and come into the natural light, breathe some fresh air. After all, our oxygen comes from those trees, it’s bound to be freshest closest to the source.