1 Thing You Can Do Today

Start learning a language

More than half the world’s people are polyglots – they speak more than one language. Are you one of them, or do they put you to shame?

You are never too old to learn a foreign language. Yes, it might be easier when you are at school, but people who begin language study in their older years can become as fluent as younger learners – and reap the following mental benefits:

  • You get smarter. How can you not, when you are challenging your brain to recognise, negotiate meaning and communicate in a different language? This skill boosts your ability in other problem-solving tasks too.
  • You delay dementia. Several studies have found that adults who speak two or more languages delay the first signs of dementia by up to five years.
  • Your memory improves. Exercising your brain with a new language improves overall memory – studies show bilinguals are better at retaining names, directions and lists.
  • You boost observation skills. Multilingual people are better at observing their surroundings, more adept at focusing on relevant information and dismissing the irrelevant.

Learning one language makes it easier to acquire others. And you do not have to go back to school. Download one of the many language apps such as Mondly, Duolingo or Babbel and get started in minutes.

Working the Night Shift

Your body is programmed to sleep best overnight and be most alert during the day. But what if you are one of the 15-20 per cent of workers in industrialised countries currently employed in shiftwork?

Industries ranging from health, emergency services and manufacturing to hospitality and mining rely on workers 24/7, meaning many need to work throughout the night, and sleep during the day.

Our preference to sleep at night is not due to habit or convenience, it is driven by our body clock. Many hormones in the body work to keep us active during daylight hours and to rest at night, and it is not easy to switch this around.

If you regularly work the night shift, it can be difficult to get enough sleep or to sleep well during the day. The average shiftworker sleeps one hour a day less than people who work regular hours. This can lead to being tired, both on and off the job, making it harder to concentrate and be alert when at work, and increasing the risk of accidents at work and when driving.

What you can do

Some recommendations:

  • Prioritise sleep. You have to sleep when others are awake, so encourage others when you live to respect this.
  • Try to go to bed and get up at the same time every day.
  • Control noise. You may need to remove the phone from the bedroom and have heavy carpet or curtains to absorb any noise. A fan or ‘white noise’ machine can also help muffle noise.
  • Keep your bedroom cool and dark.
  • Avoid caffeine, sleeping pills, alcohol or cigarettes before going to bed.
  • If you can, sleep just before going to work. If this is not possible, taking a nap before going to work may help.
  • If you are allowed to take a break during your shift, use it for a short nap. A nap should be no longer than 15 minutes, after which a five-minute walk can help you wake up properly.
  • If you have any say when it comes to your shifts, rotate them forwards (morning to afternoon to evening to night) rather than backwards.

Is It Adrenal Fatigue?

It has been a stressful time and now you are exhausted. You feel drained. Could it be adrenal fatigue?

Adrenal fatigue has become a controversial topic since the term was first coined by a chiropractor in 1998.

Most medical professionals say adrenal fatigue is not a real disease; yet alternative health practitioners offer many tests and treatments for it.

Adrenal fatigue makes sense on paper. Your adrenal glands produce cortisol, and they produce lots of it when you are under stress. The theory is that when you are under prolonged stress, your adrenals become fatigued and you run out of control.

This then leads to the classic symptoms: dragging tiredness, brain fog, depressive mood, salt and sweet cravings or nervousness.

Yet these could be symptoms of any number of other issues, including low iron, sleep apnoea, auto immune diseases and mental health conditions. They are also common symptoms of stress in general.


What does the research say?

Harvard Health recently reported on a review of 58 studies which concluded, “there is no scientific basis to associate adrenal impairment as a cause of fatigue.” Yet Harvard Health also acknowledged that it is problematic, because there is no formal criteria to define and diagnose adrenal fatigue.

Doctors at the Adrenal Program at Cedars Sinai in the USA are more direct. “Adrenal fatigue is not an actual disease,” says endocrinologist Dr Anat Ben-Shlomo.

“Stress can have an impact on our health, but it doesn’t affect your adrenals this way. When you’re stressed, the adrenal glands actually produce more of the cortisol and other hormones you need. They will give you all that’s necessary.”

Both Harvard Health and Dr Ben-Shlomo warn against taking cortisol supplements for adrenal fatigue.

Harvard Health gives an important word of caution: “some medical professionals prescribe cortisol analogs to treat adrenal fatigue. Cortisol replacement can be dangerous even in small doses. Unintended consequences can include osteoporosis, diabetes, weight gain, and heart disease.”

Dr Ben Shlomo explains further: “the supplement can make you feel good at first because it’s a steroid. But over time, it can actually inhibit your adrenal glands.”


How to manage the symptoms

The treatments usually offered by alternative health practitioners for adrenal fatigue are sensible, and will probably help. This includes cutting down on coffee and alcohol, eating more fruit and vegetables, doing light exercise and prioritising sleep.


What about adrenal insufficiency?

As opposed to adrenal fatigue, adrenal insufficiency is a medically accepted diagnosis, and occurs when your body doesn’t produce enough of the hormone cortisol.

Chronic adrenal insufficiency is measured by a blood test that measures cortisol levels.

Rather than purely a stress response, adrenal insufficiency is most often caused when your immune system attacks your healthy adrenal glands by mistake. Other causes include cancer, tuberculosis and inherited disorders of the endocrine glands.

Primary adrenal insufficiency, also called Addison’s disease, occurs when your adrenal glands are damaged. It’s quite rare but can occur at any age.

If you’re concerned, see your doctor for proper testing.

How Lifting Weights Can Lift Your Mood

You know strength training is good for your body, but did you know it is also good for your mind?

More and more research studies are showing that resistance exercise has a positive impact on anxiety, depression and overall mental health – but with interesting exceptions.

It is called the anxiolytic effect, and it applies to all types of strength training including lifting weights, using resistance bands or using your body weight for exercises like push-ups.

But not just any kind of strength training, and not just for anyone. Here is what the research found:

1. Firstly, less is more. A 2014 review of studies, published in Frontiers in Psychology, found that the anxiolytic effect is higher when you work out at a lower intensity. That is, at less than 70% of your maximum.

And in even better news for people who do not want to “go hard”, the review found that exercise performed at low intensities with long rests between sets (50-55% intensity with 90 seconds rest) “produced robust decreases in state anxiety relative to high intensities with short rests”.

2. Secondly, the effect is even more marked in women. Research found that women showed “robust decreases” in anxiety after resistance training.

3. And thirdly, resistance training combined with cardio had the best effect of all. A study of women with generalised anxiety disorder found that, “When resistance training was combined with aerobic exercise, which alone failed to decrease anxiety symptoms, robust decreases in anxiety were observed. This effect suggests that resistance exercise may enhance the effects of other modes of exercise, or conversely, other modes of exercise may enhance the effects of resistance training.”

Lift your depression

Resistance training is proven to help relieve depression. In a 2018 meta-analysis of 33 clinical trials that included 1877 participants, resistance exercise training was associated with a significant reduction in depressive symptoms.

It was shown to work for all adults, male and female, regardless of fitness, weight or other health status.

It is thought that the weight lifting helps trigger a release of endorphins which in turn lower levels of stress hormones like cortisol and epinephrine.