09 May 2021

Health: Just one thing

The premise of Just One Thing, a BBC podcast, is to investigate lifestyle changes that improve health. One idea per episode, covered in 15 minutes. I love that concept, and these are my “what, why and how” notes for each change.

Usual disclaimers apply: more research needed, start slowly, chat with a GP first, individuals have different needs.

Resistance is useful

A few minutes a day of press-ups and squats. No equipment needed, good for the brain, sleep, and heart.

Squats challenge the brain with alternating high and low blood flow. Improving blood supply to the head has positive impacts on neurogenesis or neuroplasticity (it wasn’t clear to me which). Throw in a cognitive task too (a puzzle, reading, a podcast) for an extra boost.

  • Squats: 3 to 5 minutes, 3 times a week.
  • Press-ups: daily, building up to 40 press-ups.

You can find exercise instructions in many places, including the NHS 10-minute home toning workout. And there’s a web page for this episode.

Cold showers

A little stress to the body is a good, and a burst of cold water is an example of a stress. Good for your immune response, mood, and reducing depression.

Try 30 seconds every morning, building up to 2 minutes or until your breathing returns to normal in the cold water. However, starting with 10 seconds, during a shower, sounds manageable.

This episode has a write-up on the programme website.

Update Oct 2021: More information in Cold showers are said to be good for you – here’s what the evidence shows.


Eat sauerkraut, kefir, kombucha, kimchi. Good for immune system, reduced inflammation, and your microbiome can influence your sleep, mood and mental health (psychobiotics).

You can make all the above yourself. And for the yogurt-type drinks, doing it yourself means avoiding those little plastic bottles.

This programme also has a write-up.

A daily walk

Ideally in the morning, within two hours of waking up. The exposure to light helps with mood, and by doing this early it helps your body clock when it comes time to sleep at night. Plus there’s the exercise element for the heart.

A brisk walk is best: a pace where you can still talk. Aim for 30 minutes a day.

More details on the programme website.

Spend time in nature

In any green spaces: parks, woodland, coast, mountains. This isn’t about exercise. It’s about using your senses, and gaining the long-lasting mental health improvements (reduced anxiety, stress), and immune system improvements (from plant chemicals, phytoncides; beneficial microbes in soil).

So stop and take it all in when out in nature. I can’t track down the exact recommendation, but I think it’s for a couple of hours each week.

Stand on one leg

Balance is a skill that we need to practice from 40s onwards. Without it, we’re more likely to take a fall. Practicing helps, and improves posture and possibly cognition. Poor balance is a marker of general health decline.

Stand on one leg for 30 seconds, then swap to another. If you can do 10 seconds, you’re doing well. Work up to doing this with eyes closed, which is much harder. Try it when you’re waiting for the kettle to boil, for example.

Take a breath

Taking control of the breathing—slowing it down–means you can control your heart rate, blood pressure, stress, anxiety and improve your decision-making. It’s instant and easy.

The 4-6 technique is breathing in to the count of 4, and breathing out to the count of 6. Despite being so powerful, we generally forget to do it. Especially when under pressure, which is when it’d be of most benefit. Try to remember to do it, for example, when switching tasks.

Learn a new skill

Good for stress reduction, good for your brain. This is regardless of age, and indeed may help keep your memory sharp and stop your thinking speed from slowing as you get older.

Should be something that gets you into flow, and something you enjoy. The examples in the programme included learning a new language or doing something creative.

See also the episode webpage.

Hot baths for better sleep

Hot baths in the evening can improve your sleep. There are other benefits (from small studies) suggesting benefits to blood pressure, arterial stiffness, reduced blood sugar response.

The idea, for sleep, is that when you get out of the bath your body starts cooling. This signals to your body that it’s time to sleep.

Take a hot bath (40 to 42.5 degrees C) around 90 minutes before bedtime. A hot shower can work, but not as effectively.

Count your blessings

Expressing gratitude improves your mood, lowers blood pressure, improve sleep, can help with chronic health conditions. Generally improves your attitude to life. “If you tend to dwell on the dark side of life, this may help”.

Speculation as to why this works includes decreasing stress and negative thoughts, and increasing positive feelings about yourself, your future, and the world.

Every day, or every other day, think about three things you are grateful for. You can start a gratitude journal to note these down, if you like.


The episodes are available from the Just One Thing home page: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p09by3yy.

Update Oct 2021: There’s a second series, too, covering sun, chocolate, games, singing, houseplants, amongst other “things”.