I love it when something I’m already doing turns out to be good for me. Especially now that I’m endlessly checking out advice on how to avoid all that bad stuff that comes with aging.
My eyes are riveted by headlines such as “Chocolate protects against memory loss”. I never fail to click on links like “Red wine prevents Alzheimer’s disease”. Since I’m already in the habit of scoffing chocolate bars and savouring Shiraz, I’m happy to note any vindication of my existing tastes and habits.
I am less open to advice that might require alteration of time-honoured routines. For example, I avoid reading articles claiming that fasting for extended periods helps you live longer. The expression “Life’s too short” springs to mind.
Bring on those studies that can be summed up as: “Whatever you’re doing, keep it up and you’ll live forever!” My current favourite is research proving health and psychological benefits of an activity I undertake fairly often and am not bad at: strolling in the park.
This study on the effects on the brain of getting outside and walking around in green spaces revealed that those who ambled past trees and gardens showed more improvement to their mental health than those who walked through urban concrete.
Perhaps your response to this is “Duh!” as you dismiss it as intuitively obvious. Maybe you’re of the view that social scientists shouldn’t be spending time and money conducting studies that confirm what we seem to already know.
Since, as I’ve made clear, My New Old Self loves being vindicated, I’ve got no problem with this kind of research into how we live our daily lives. For me, the more proof we get that activities like nature walks are demonstrably good for your brain, the better. Especially since people in Western societies are now spending only minutes each day outdoors and hours a day indoors staring at screens.
I welcome scientific evidence that experiencing the natural world can make you happier and healthier. Particularly in light of this worrying new factoid: today’s children can recognize more than 10,000 corporate logos, but fewer than 10 indigenous plants.
Thus I appreciate the follow-up study from Stanford University’s Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources. It extends the first body of research “by demonstrating additional benefits of nature experience on affect and cognition through assessments of anxiety and a complex measure of working memory”. In plain English that means that nature walks can make you worry less prone to what scientists call “morbid rumination” over all that’s not right in our lives.
“Through a controlled experiment, we investigated whether nature experience would influence rumination (repetitive thought focused on negative aspects of the self), a known risk factor for mental illness. Participants who went on a 90-min walk through a natural environment reported lower levels of rumination and showed reduced neural activity in an area of the brain linked to risk for mental illness compared with those who walked through an urban environment.”
– Nature experience reduces rumination and subgenual prefrontal cortex activation, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, May 2015
I also welcome a new study on how to counter the negative effects of something that I do far too much of: sitting. My New Old Self has warned before of the dangers of too much bum-on-chair. Studies show that excess sitting can not only cause obesity (okay, duh) but also diabetes, heart and kidney disease. What’s more, standing more and sitting less has proven anti-aging benefits, like in preventing that most dreaded of outcomes: premature death.
You’d think that all of the above would have scared me out of my chair. Alas not. Despite my publicly shared endorsement of the standing work stance, I must confess that I have found it challenging to practice what I preached. I made myself a free, makeshift Standing Desk, but unfortunately, you won’t find me standing at it for hours on end. I tend to manage 20 minutes from time to time, all too quickly sinking back down into my unhealthy chair.
Hence my enthusiasm for a new study that does not vindicate my (mal)practice, but at least offers a quick and easy remedy. I’m talking super quick and easy, like 2 minutes.
Now that I’ve got your attention, here’s the simple antidote to oversitting. Just get up and gently walk around for two minutes of each hour that you spend sitting and you’ll lower your risk of premature death by a third, compared with non-stop sitters. Or to put it in science-speak, “short bouts of light activity seem to boost longevity”. I’m liking the “short” and “light” parts.
“Sedentary behavior is associated with increased mortality in the general population… Interventions that replace sedentary duration with an increase in light activity duration might confer a survival benefit.”
– University of Utah research using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey
The researchers now want to find out whether substituting a bit of moderate exercise for 2 minutes of each sitting hour could further reduce mortality risk. I might just conduct my own informal study, moving about, maybe even dancing, for that hourly 2 minutes. If I add that to my default non-sitting times, I will no longer feel like I’m skiving off when I pop to the kitchen to make a cuppa or make a trek to the loo. It’s all about more intermittent light and occasionally moderate activity, as per doctor’s orders.