Nine tiny midlife habits that will have a lasting impact on your health

Even small health habits will pay off if you stick to them throughout your adult life. Here are the midlife habits you should adopt. 

A recent study by Dr Sarah-Naomi James, from the MRC Unit for Lifelong Health & Ageing at University College London, has found that exercising at least once a month at any time in adulthood is linked to better cognitive functioning in later life.

The study, published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry, looked at data from 1417 people who filled in surveys about their physical activity levels (sports and exercise) over three decades and took cognitive tests at the age of 69.

The research team discovered that people who maintained a physical activity level of at least one to four times a month across five surveys conducted at ages 36, 43, 53, 60-64, and 69, had the most benefit to their cognitive abilities. This result was even more pronounced than those who exercised more than five times a month in one survey, but who did not continue this level of activity across surveys.

“Our study suggests that engaging in any leisure-time physical activity, at any point in adult life, has a positive effect on cognition. This seems to be the case even at light levels of activity, between once to four times a month. What’s more, people who have never been active before, and then start to be active in their 60s, also appear to have better cognitive function than those who were never active.

“The greatest cognitive effect was seen for those who stayed physically active throughout their life. The effect is accumulative, so the longer an individual is active, the more likely they are to have higher later-life cognitive function,” said Dr James. 

It’s never too late to start an exercise habit – people who take up exercise in their sixties have better cognitive function than those who were never active, the research suggests – but consistency is key. 

Jog or swim once a month to slow brain ageing

In her UCL study, Dr James found that working out, “even at light levels of activity, between once to four times a month … has a positive effect on cognition”.

Jump for stronger bones

Research from Chukyo University in Japan has shown that doing exercises that involve jumping off the ground and landing with a jolt, such as burpees or star jumps, can help increase bone mass and strength in the legs and spine. The study found that doing 10 repetitions of this type of exercise per day is enough to achieve these benefits, and increasing the number of jumps does not provide any additional benefit.

Step outside first thing to improve your sleep

Getting outside in the morning can help improve your sleep because it can help reset your internal clock. Exposure to natural light in the morning helps to regulate your circadian rhythm, which is the body’s natural sleep-wake cycle. This helps to ensure that you are able to sleep and wake up at the same time every day, making it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep. Additionally, getting outside can help you to get some exercise and fresh air, which can help reduce stress and improve overall sleep quality.

Schedule in a good stretch

A recent study published in the Canadian Journal of Cardiology suggests that yoga can improve cardiovascular health, including the health of arteries. For the trial, a group of people with high blood pressure were asked to do 15 minutes of yoga or stretching exercises in addition to 30 minutes of aerobic exercise five times a week for three months. At the end of the study, both groups had lowered their blood pressure, but the yoga group had a greater reduction in systolic blood pressure of 10 mmHg compared to 4 mmHg with stretching. Additionally, yoga also reduced resting heart rate and 10-year cardiovascular risk.

Lift weights once a week

It’s recommended that adults engage in strengthening activities that target all major muscle groups at least twice a week. If that feels too strenuous, start by doing one weight-lifting session a week. 

A study of more than 7000 people in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings shows that even just one hour of resistance training per week lowers the risk of metabolic syndrome, a condition characterised by weight gain, high blood pressure and high blood sugar.

Get out and about in nature

According to a study of 20,000 people in England by a team from the University of Exeter, you need to spend at least two hours a week outside in nature to reap the health benefits. You can choose to get the full two hours in one go or split it up into shorter doses spread over the week. But the important thing is to get the full 120 minutes as any less than that did not produce the same positive feelings and mental health benefits.

Take the 10-second balance test

Research conducted in Brazil and published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine has revealed that those who can stand on one leg for at least 10 seconds are half as likely to die prematurely over the next 10 years, compared to those who cannot balance for that long. To improve balance, Jamie McPhee, professor of musculoskeletal physiology at Manchester Metropolitan University, recommends doing one-legged squats every time you brush your teeth, gradually increasing the difficulty by closing your eyes.

Increase your speed

Daily power walking can reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease and dementia. Studies have found that if you are currently walking 3000-4000 steps a day increasing your daily step count by just 2000 can reduce your risk of premature death from disease by 8 to 11 per cent. 

For those who are inactive, even doing as little as 3800 steps per day can decrease your risk of developing dementia. 

To really reap the benefits, you should aim to take at least 100 steps per minute and gradually increase your daily step count to 10,000, which has been found to decrease the risk of dementia by 50 per cent as well as lower the risk of cancer and heart disease.

Stick to a sleep and wake routine

Creating a regular bedtime routine is one of the best ways to combat insomnia. 

“The best habit you can adopt for good sleep is to find a routine that works for you and stick to it strictly,” says Dr Neil Stanley, an independent sleep consultant. “Our body clocks crave routine, so getting up and going to bed at the same time will work wonders.”

Establishing a set time to wake up and go to bed every day can help our bodies to naturally adjust, and could also keep our arteries healthy. A study conducted by Vanderbilt University Medical Centre discovered that those who had irregular bedtimes were also more likely to have hardened arteries than those with a consistent sleep schedule.

Do you already do any of these things? Which one seems the easiest to incorporate into your life? Share your thoughts in the comments section below. 

Also read: How to tell if you’re oversleeping and what to do

Disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.

Ellie Baxter
Ellie Baxter
Writer and editor with interests in travel, health, wellbeing and food. Has knowledge of marketing psychology, social media management and is a keen observer and commentator on issues facing older Australians.
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