DR MEGAN ROSSI: Seven simple health tips that I practise every day
One question I get asked a lot is, do you really practise what you preach? Actually, I do (well, 99 per cent of the time) — and my daily routine is very much based on things that have been scientifically proven to help improve wellbeing.
They’re also simple enough to stick to irrespective of the chaos life throws my way. So let me share what I do with you . . .
DAILY HABIT 1:
For the last 30 seconds of my shower I switch the water temperature to cold.
When I started doing this 18 months ago, it was a definite struggle — after all, I’m from Queensland in Australia — but the evidence was compelling enough to make it a daily habit.
My daily routine is very much based on things that have been scientifically proven to help improve wellbeing, writes Dr Megan Rossi (pictured)
One study published in the journal PLOS One in 2016, involving over 3,000 people, found that those who had a cold shower (for 30, 60, or 90 seconds) had 29 per cent fewer work days off sick compared with people who stuck to the normal temperature. The cold shower group felt they had a better quality of life and less anxiety.
The theory is that the cold stimulates leukocytes — immune cells that help fight off bugs — and increases levels of feel-good chemicals such as endorphins.
I started off with ten seconds a day, increasing this by ten seconds every three weeks. Now I have a cold shower burst without thinking — it might be coincidence, but I haven’t been sick once since I started.
A word of caution: if you have a heart condition, first check with your doctor.
DAILY HABIT 2:
I always have veg with breakfast — relying on lunch and dinner for your five-a-day puts you immediately on the back foot.
Plants are nutritional powerhouses that provide us with protective compounds we can’t get elsewhere in our diet. Multiple studies show a veg-rich diet can lead to a longer and healthier life.
For the last 30 seconds of my shower I switch the water temperature to cold, writes Doctor Megan Rossi. Illustration: Donough O’Malley
Sometimes I grate courgette into my porridge or munch on a carrot, or have a few cherry tomatoes alongside my granola. It’s a simple step with a big gain.
DAILY HABIT 3:
To ensure I get the best boost from my caffeine I delay my first coffee until mid-morning.
The energy kick you get from caffeine relates to a chemical in the body, adenosine, which plays a role in our wake/sleep cycle.
Try this: Tofu scramble
This flavour-packed plant alternative to eggs is a great way to get extra fibre and potent plant compounds, along with a healthy dose of calcium.
- 1 block firm tofu
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- ½ tsp turmeric
- 1 tsp curry powder
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- Salt and pepper ÷ 1 tbsp nutritional yeast (optional)
- 1-2 tbsp milk or non-dairy substitute
To serve: Cherry tomatoes, spinach, mushrooms, avocado
Using your hands, break the tofu apart into small pieces and crumble. Fry in the oil over medium heat for three to four minutes, or until the water from the tofu has cooked off.
Add all seasonings to the pan (including yeast, if using) and stir to fully coat the tofu. Cook for another five minutes, stirring constantly.
Once cooked, lower heat and add milk of choice to the pan as needed to loosen the consistency — you can also now stir through any additional veg. Serve immediately.
Tip: Check the label to see if your tofu is ‘calcium-set’ for a calcium boost.
Our adenosine levels build through the day, helping us feel sleepy later. They’re generally at their lowest first thing, so having coffee then is unlikely to be as effective — you want to have it as soon as you start feeling sluggish.
Levels of the stress hormone cortisol also tend to peak on waking — adding caffeine then can elevate them further, so waiting a few hours for your cortisol peak to subside may help avoid the anxiety-inducing effects of caffeine.
I have my coffee (and I generally stick to one so as not to interfere with my sleep) at least two hours after getting up.
DAILY HABIT 4:
Whether I’m frying, roasting, or whizzing up a salad dressing, I always use extra virgin olive oil.
It’s high in antioxidants linked to a lower risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia and more.
People with the highest olive oil intake (over half a tablespoon a day) had a 19 per cent lower risk of dying from heart disease and a 17 per cent lower risk of dying from cancer, compared with those who rarely or never ate olive oil, according to a review of research in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology last year.
Some people fear that cooking at high temperatures causes extra virgin olive oil to break down into potentially harmful compounds. That’s a myth.
Research in 2018 showed good quality extra virgin olive oil was actually more stable for home cooking (at around 180c) than other oils including sunflower — the abundance of antioxidants it contains stops the fat breaking down.
DAILY HABIT 5:
I eat legumes — kidney beans, butter beans, lentils, chickpeas — most days, as research suggests they will help me live longer.
A study published in the Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2004 sums it up in its title: ‘Legumes: the most important dietary predictor of survival in older people of different ethnicities.’
Among their numerous benefits, legumes provide our gut microbes with the type of prebiotic fibre they love to feast on. And, as you will know, gut microbes are now linked with a host of health benefits, including mental wellbeing and weight control. Eating them regularly minimises any bloating and flatulence they might cause, as your gut gets used to them.
Did you know?
Potatoes are surprisingly high in water; around 80 per cent (just 15 per cent behind celery).
You don’t notice this because, when they’re cooked, a lot of the water is trapped in the cells.
The water content varies, so for a fluffy, mashed potato, opt for lower water varieties such as Idaho; for a salad, new and baby, which absorb less water when cooking, helping retain their shape.
DAILY HABIT 6:
After lunch I have two squares of dark chocolate — I adopted this after a patient in his late 90s attributed his longevity to his daily dark chocolate habit.
Looking into it, I found a decent amount of science behind his claim. This includes a study published last year in the European Journal of Epidemiology, which found that people who eat 12g of chocolate a day — roughly two squares — have a 12 per cent lower risk of dying prematurely from all causes, compared with those who don’t eat any chocolate.
They were also 16 per cent less likely to die from heart disease and 12 per cent less likely to die from cancer.
It’s thought that flavonoids, the plant compounds in the cocoa, are anti-inflammatory (inflammation is known to contribute to many common diseases).
The higher the percentage of cocoa solids, the more flavonoids the chocolate contains. If you’re not used to dark chocolate, start with 65 or 70 per cent and work your way up.
I now have chocolate with 90 per cent cocoa solids with a hot drink for a ‘melt in the mouth’ effect. Higher cocoa levels also mean more caffeine — so I have mine after lunch, not dinner.
DAILY HABIT 7:
At night in bed I take ten minutes to practise mindfulness — which is essentially a way of calming down your mind. I use the Headspace app, but there are plenty of other free options.
It helps me sleep better, but studies suggest that calming excitatory neurotransmission (when you have lots of thoughts rushing through your mind) may extend your lifespan, too.
At night in bed I take ten minutes to practise mindfulness — which is essentially a way of calming down your mind (File image)
A protein in our brain (RE1-Silencing Transcription factor, or REST), plays a role in reducing brain cell activity, thereby reducing brain excitement.
Studies suggest that people who live longer have higher levels of the REST protein. This mechanism could explain the longevity benefits of daily brain-calming habits such as mindfulness and meditation.
Now it is time for me to sign off, with my last column for a while as I’m about to have my second child (wish me luck!).
But let me leave you with one final message for today: remember that small changes really can make a big difference.
I have gut problems every time I eat pork. This has happened only recently; I’m in my 60s. Why might I have developed pork intolerance at this point in my life? Also, I’ve tried taking aloe vera pills and after a couple of days this seems to help — but is this a safe remedy?
Denise Norbury, Macclesfield, Cheshire.
The most likely explanation for your symptoms is acid reflux. The high-fat content of certain cuts of pork — plus the protein — means it can take longer for your stomach to digest them; this puts pressure on your stomach’s trap door, which connects it to your oesophagus, allowing stomach acid to escape up into it.
The high-fat content of certain cuts of pork — plus the protein — means it can take longer for your stomach to digest them (File image)
Another (albeit rarer) possibility is that you’ve been bitten by the lone star tick — the saliva of this particular tick contains a carbohydrate, alpha-gal, and if you’ve been bitten, your immune system can become sensitised to it.
The problem is that red meat (including pork) also contains alpha-gal, so when you then eat red meat, the body flags it as a toxin. Essentially the bite triggers an allergy to meat (the first published case of this allergy in the UK was in 2021).
Symptoms can vary — for some, it can be as severe as a peanut allergy, resulting in anaphylaxis; for others it may be isolated to gut problems. If your GP suspects you have this, they can refer you to an allergist.
While aloe vera works wonders for skin healing, the evidence is less convincing for gut-related issues, although it might help with reflux and constipation.
So, if you find the occasional use helpful, then as long as you follow the instructions on the pack and it’s a reputable brand, it’s likely to be harmless.
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