From cold showers to hot tomatoes: 10 of Michael Mosley’s top health tips

<span>Michael Mosley with his wife, Clare Bailey, appearing on ITV’s This Morning.</span><span>Photograph: Ken McKay/ITV/Shutterstock</span>
Michael Mosley with his wife, Clare Bailey, appearing on ITV’s This Morning.Photograph: Ken McKay/ITV/Shutterstock

Dr Michael Mosley, the popular TV presenter, podcaster and columnist who died this month, was best known for surprisingly straightforward tips to improve your health and wellbeing.

As well as producing documentaries and regularly appearing on television, he presented more than 100 episodes of Just One Thing, a BBC Radio 4 series where each episode explored a single action you could take to improve your health.

Here are 10 of his top health tips:

Go swimming to increase mental speed

Swimming can have significant benefits for your blood vessels, mental speed and longevity, Mosley advised. Going three times a week and for about 20 to 30 minutes each time works best, he found.

The physical benefits are obvious. “When you’re swimming vigorously, you are using lots of different muscle groups and, importantly, you are working against the weight of the water,” he said.

But there are also mental benefits. “A small study from New Zealand found that doing a 20-minute swimming exercise boosts brain function and even produced slightly faster reaction times.”

Even gentle laps in a pool can help people with injuries such as knee problems, who may find it harder to go running or go on long walks. “Take the plunge – you could get big benefits for your blood vessels, your brain and your heart.”

Volunteer to live a longer, healthier life

Helping others could help you too, Mosley said.

By giving volunteering a go, you could boost your mental health, lower your cholesterol, and live longer and healthier. It could even help you lose weight.

Cook tomatoes to experience more benefits

Cooking tomatoes could help your heart, reduce your risk of cancer and even benefit your skin, Mosley said.

Tomatoes contain an antioxidant called lycopene that helps the body fight off free radicals. These are chemicals that harm cells in the body.

But lycopene is even more effective when tomatoes are cooked because the heat breaks down the skin and makes lycopene more accessible to the body, Mosley explained. “That means tomato sauce from fresh or tinned tomatoes, and even ketchup can actually provide more lycopene than fresh tomatoes.”

Walk backwards to ward off back pain

It might look a bit odd, Mosley said, but surprising research reveals several benefits of backwards walking.

They include reducing back pain and boosting your memory.

Slow your breathing down to sleep better

Mosley revealed how just by slowing your breathing when settling into bed, you can drift off more easily and enjoy better-quality sleep.

“A recent study showed that simply slowing their breathing … enabled participants to nod off around 20 minutes sooner,” he explained. “Not only that, they slept better, for longer and woke up less often during the night.

“This simple technique, which you can use anywhere at any time, works because it has a powerful effect on the body and brain. It triggers a cascade of changes, from shifting your brain chemistry to calming a worrying mind,” he added. “Slowing your heart rate and initiating deep relaxation.”

Stand on one leg to improve balance

Mastering being able to stand on one leg will set you on your way to achieving stronger balance, said Mosley. It could also be the key to a longer and more proactive life.

Mosley admitted he found standing on one leg “surprisingly hard”. But he persisted because he knew it reduced his risk of injury and improved his posture. “I do it every morning while I’m brushing my teeth,” he said.

“Practising standing on one leg and then switching to another after 30 seconds or so is a simple way to improve your balance,” he added.

“Better balance means better posture and fewer injuries from falling, which according to the World Health Organization is the second commonest cause of accidental death worldwide.”

Read fiction to supercharge brain power

Losing yourself in a novel for a short time each day could boost your brain power, improve social bonds and even help you live longer, Mosley said.

“When researchers at Stanford University scanned the brains of people reading Jane Austen, they found a dramatic and unexpected increase in blood flow across the entire brain,” he explained. “Reading can also increase the connectivity in your brain and create new neural pathways.”

In terms of the types of fiction, it doesn’t have to be the classics, Mosley found. The key thing is to cultivate reading into a habit you enjoy and keep coming back to.

Practise yoga to reverse signs of ageing

Mosley advised that practising yoga for just 25 minutes a day could lower your stress, boost your brain and even reverse signs of ageing at the cellular level.

Fill your home with plants to fight fatigue

Houseplants can make a big difference, Mosley advised. A little greenery can improve your mood, fight fatigue, boost your brain power and your air quality.

Mosley was also a fan of gardening, explaining how not only was it a great form of exercise, but it could also improve your memory, lift your mood and boost your gut biome.

Embrace the cold to lower stress levels

Mosley often spoke of the health benefits of embracing the cold. While chronic stress is bad for your health, a growing body of research suggests short periods of stress can actually be beneficial.

As cold water is one of the most effective ways to create short-term stress across your whole body, Mosley encouraged people to try cold-water swimming.

“There is growing evidence that cold water swimming, on a regular basis, can boost your mood, lower stress, improve your cardiovascular health and strengthen your immune system,” he said.

There was also no excuse if that was not possible because of your location. “If you don’t live by the sea or a convenient river, you can of course have a lovely cold shower at home,” he said.

Research showed that having 30-second cold showers every morning for 60 days reduced the risk of sick days by 30%, Mosley added.