Simple switches to boost health

Patsy Westcott / 03 February 2017

If you need to improve your physical condition and protect against disease, the good news is that tiny, achievable shifts in habits make a big difference.

Check out our round-up of the latest research to discover some surprisingly simple switches you can make right now to do everything from strengthening your bones to reducing your risk of diabetes, improving your liver function, boosting your energy levels and soothing creaky joints.

10 healthy swaps

Lift weights to boost your brain

A recent study of 100 55-to-68-year-old Aussies with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) – memory problems linked to possible future dementia – found their condition improved after twice-weekly weightlifting sessions. The University of Sydney research is the first time a clear causal link has been found between such activity and improved brain function in people aged 55-plus with MCI.

It’s thought that the resistance training may increase levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor, a protein needed to generate new brain cells and improve connections between old ones.

Your home muscle-strengthening programme

Build bone strength with Natto

Natto, a Japanese food made from fermented soya beans, is one of the richest sources of vitamin K2, which is vital for strong, healthy bones. The nutrient helps to draw calcium from the blood into the bones, aiding prevention of the loss of density associated with osteoporosis. You can find natto in sushi bars or oriental supermarkets. Other good sources of vitamin K2 include meat, egg yolks and cheese.

Osteoporosis: the foods to eat and the treatments to try

How to get more tofu into your diet

Diabetes: why a post-prandial stroll might help

A ten-minute walk after breakfast, lunch and dinner is more effective at reducing blood glucose for Type 2 diabetics than a single daily 30-minute walk, according to a New Zealand study, published last autumn. The greatest benefit – a fall of 22% – was seen after evening meals, which tend to be higher in carbs and are most likely to be followed by a sit down.

Liver function – cut down by one drink a day

As we get older, our livers are more vulnerable to the effects of booze. According to DrinkAware, a 45-to 64-year-old man drinking 37 units a week over five days who cut out just one glass of beer, wine or spirits a day, would almost halve his risk of dying of an alcohol-related disease – from 9.1% to 4.9%. To keep tabs on your intake, download the app from

10 ways to help your liver

Are you drinking more than you think?

Attack tooth plaque for better heart health

Try chewing on a plaque-disclosing tablet before cleaning your teeth to guide your brush towards this harmful substance, which scientists are increasingly pinpointing as a risk factor for heart attacks. Why? It increases inflammation in artery linings.

Visit for products recommended by independent charity the Oral Health Foundation.

How oral health affects your body and  brain

De-stress to lose weight

Stanford University researchers in California have found that a newly discovered stress hormone called Adamts1 triggers incipient fat cells to mature, in much the way they do under a high-fat diet. The hormone is thought to signal that hard times may be approaching, triggering our bodies to store as much energy as they can. So taking steps to de-stress, alongside following a low-fat diet, could help to shift that oh-too-solid flesh.

Stress: what it does to your health

Creaky joints – ask your GP about beta-blockers

These drugs, used to lower blood pressure, could ease joint discomfort and reduce the need for painkillers, according to a study at the University of Nottingham. The reason? Beta-blockers, which work by blocking the stress hormone adrenaline, have been found to prevent nerve cells from detecting pain. Talk to your GP about them.

More drug-free ways to help ease arthritic pain

Boost your exercise capacity with dark chocolate

We all know sport and other physical activity is vital for health, but if you find it an uphill struggle, dark chocolate could be the answer. In a preliminary trial of 20 sedentary women aged around 50, carried out at the University of California, those who ate 20g (1oz) of dark chocolate daily for three months significantly improved the amount of exercise that they could manage to do. The researchers surmised that dark chocolate increases the efficiency of mitochondria, the batteries of our cells. But just two squares, now – don’t scoff the whole bar.

More health benefits of chocolate

Instant fixes

Easy ways to boost your health

1. Open the curtains

Blue light, part of the light spectrum, can boost brain sharpness. What’s more, effects last for up to 40 minutes.

2. Snap a selfie

Taking pictures of yourself and sharing them with friends can reduce stress, according to a University of California study.

3. But avoid online food

American researchers found that constantly exposing yourself to tempting virtual images of dishes on social media can cause you to eat too much and pile on all-too-real pounds.

4. Sit up straight

An upright posture can make someone with negative thoughts, and all the effects on health that can cause, feel much more positive, according to recent Dutch research in Cognition and Emotion journal.

5. Sniff a stick

A few inhalations of an aromatherapy stick dramatically reduce blood pressure and heart rate, according to a new study.

A version of this article was published in the January 2017 issue of Saga Magazine.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.