The Habits That Can Protect Your Memory

Want to slow your memory decline and ward off dementia? A new 10-year study of more than 29,000 older adults has confirmed there is a link between how we live and our cognitive function as we age.

The researchers identified six habits linked with a lower risk of dementia and a slower rate of memory decline.

1. Physical exercise: at least 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week.

2. Diet: eating appropriate daily amounts of at least seven to 12 food items (including fruits, vegetables, fish, meat, oil, eggs, cereals, legumes, nuts and tea).

3. Alcohol: not drinking or only occasionally.

4. Smoking: not smoking or a former smoker.

5. Cognitive activity: exercising the brain at least twice a week (such as reading, playing cards).

6. Social contact: engaging with others at least twice a week.

Those people who had four to six healthy factors, and those in the average group of two to three had a slower rate of memory decline over time than people with less healthy lifestyles. Notably, this held true even for people who carried the APOE gene associated with a higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

Ways to Manage Mould

There are such tiny little black spots, yet they can cause health problems and be a real challenge to remove.

Mould is actually a type of fungus that produce microscope seeds called spores.

Breathing in those spores can cause health problems for some people. While most people are unlikely to be affected by mould, the risks are higher for people who have conditions such as asthma or lung disease, chronic disease such as diabetes, or low immunity.

  • Health problems can include:
  • respiratory infections
  • irritation to the nose, eyes and throat
  • skin rashes
  • hypersensitivity pneumonitis

How to manage mould

If you come across mould at work, treat it as a safety hazard. Identify the risk, assess the risk, control the risk and then review. Remember to always wear Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) when dealing with mould.

If you have mould at home, try to remove it as soon as it appears. Remember, unless you remove the cause of the problem, it will keep coming back.

Recommended process to remove mould:

  • For routine clean-up of mouldy surfaces, use mild detergent or vinegar diluted in water solution (4 parts vinegar to 1 part water).
  • If the mould is not readily removed and the item cannot be discarded, use diluted bleach solution (250mls of bleach in 4 litres of water or half a pint of bleach in 1 gallon of water) to clean the surface. When using bleach, protective equipment is recommended: PVC or nitrate rubber gloves; safety glasses; and safety shoes. Make sure the area is well-ventilated while you are cleaning with bleach.
  • Ensure the surface is dried completely once cleaned.
  • Absorbent materials, such as carpet may need to be professionally cleaned or replaced if they are contaminated with mould.

How to reduce the risk of mould

Mould loves moisture, so the best way to reduce mould is to keep your rooms ventilated and dry as much as possible.

1. Maintain proper ventilation

  • Turn on exhaust fans, particularly when bathing, showering, cooking, doing laundry and drying clothes.
  • Open windows when weather permits, to improve cross ventilation.

2. Reduce humidity

  • Limit the use of humidifiers.
  • Limit the number of fish tanks and indoor plants.
  • Limit use of unflued gas heaters

3. Control moisture and dampness

  • Repair all water leaks and plumbing problems, for example, burst water pipes, leaking roof or blocked rain gutters.

4 Expert Tips for Making Friends

Meaningful social connections, aka good friendships, are essential to our wellbeing – and our physical health.

Research shows people who are lonely have a higher risk of dementia, heart disease and stroke, along with higher rates of depression and anxiety.

But making friends as an adult is not as easy as it was in preschool where all you had to do was share some crayons. So how do we make new friends – and keep them – while doing everything else we need to do?

1. Move past the fear

“What if they do not like me?”

One of the core obstacles holding people back from making new friends is the fear they will not be liked.

Yet research into “the liking” gap shows that most people underestimate how much they are liked. A 2018 study published in Psychological Science studied interactions between strangers in a laboratory; first-year college students in a dorm; and as formerly unacquainted members of the general public in a person development workshop. “Our studies suggest that after people have conversations, they are liked more than they know,” concluded the study authors.

Plus, when you assume that someone likes you, you tend to become warmer, friendlier and more open, which in turn makes you likable. It is called the “acceptance prophecy”.

Dr Marisa Franco is a psychologist and author of Platonic: How the Science of Attachment Can Help You Make – and Keep – Friends.

She travelled overseas and made new friends along the way, in part fuelled by an assumption that she would be liked. She writes, “People like to be liked, and we tend to like people who we believe like us.”

2. Join an outgoing group

Dr Franco advises joining a group that meets regularly over time to make friends. “So instead of going to a networking event, look for a professional development group, for example. Do not go to a book lecture; look for a book club.”

“When other people are pursuing a hobby in a group, they are likely also doing it for social reasons, because they are choosing not to do it alone.”

“That capitalises on something called the ‘mere exposure effect’, or our tendency to like people more when they are familiar to us,” says Franco.

3. Ask questions

If you cannot think of anything to say, ask a question. It does not have to be deeply personal, it could be based on the current situation, such as “what did you think of the presentation?” A 2012 study from Harvard University found that self-disclosure activates brain regions associated with reward. That is, people love talking about themselves.

4. End with an opening

So you have had a great conversation with a new person and you are getting on well. How do you progress it to friendship?

Dr Franco suggests inviting them to an exclusive activity. “Once you find a person you like, think about generating exclusivity, which means having an experience with that person that you do not have with everyone else in the group.”

How to keep new friends

After you have established a friendship, one great way to strengthen it is to tell your friend how much you value them.

If that idea fills you with awkwardness, do not worry. There are ways to do it without it sounding cheesy. Here are two easy ways recommended by Dr Marisa Franco:

1. Tell them in passing

As you go about your day, if you think of your friend, tell them. The classic “I saw this meme and thought of you,” is a classic for a reason. Franco says these small notes show your friend you genuinely care for them and lets them know it is safe to invest in your friendship.

2. Share your little vulnerabilities

Let them in on the little things: the trashy reality program you love, your irritation over leaf blowers on Saturday mornings. Sharing vulnerabilities, even small ones, creates connection and trust. It allows your friend to open up about their own world in turn.

How to Stop Catastrophising

How to Stop Catastrophising

Catastrophic thinking is a distorted way of thinking that pushes us down and then gives us a kick: we do not just imagine the worst will happen. We also believe that when the worst does inevitably happen, the results will ruin us.

Say you have misplaced your credit card. Immediately you think someone has picked it up. They are using it. They are going to drain your bank account. What is more, you decide, they are going to steal your identity and your entire life is ruined.

Or you notice a pain in your side. It must be cancer, you decide. You are going to die, you tell yourself. Even worse, the treatment will be too expensive and your family will be plunged into poverty and they will end up homeless and the kids’ futures will be ruined.

It is not real. It is not rational. You are catastrophising.


What is catastrophising?

Catastrophising is sometimes called “worst case scenario thinking”. David Robson, author of The Expectation Effect: How Your Mindset Can Transform Your Life, calls catastrophising “a mental habit in which you overestimate the chances of something bad happening, and exaggerate the potential negative consequences of that scenario.”

As French philosopher, Michel De Montaigne, once described, “My life has been full of terrible misfortunes most of which never happened.”


Why is it so damaging?

This kind of negative thinking can have intense psychological and physical consequences.

Not to catastrophise, but this kind of negative thinking can make you more vulnerable to other mental conditions, and can even increase your feelings of physical pain.

One of the reasons is that your body and nervous system cannot tell the difference between real danger or imagined danger. When you think catastrophic thoughts, your system has a stress response, which reduces your ability to think clearly.

“The catastrophic misinterpretation of the bodily signals fuels anxiety and fear, which then makes it more likely that you will interpret the situation catastrophically,” says Barnabas Ohst, a psychotherapist in Freiburg, Germany, and a co-author of a recent meta-analysis examining the role of catastrophic thinking in panic disorder.

Secondly, catastrophising can make your more vulnerable to other mental illness including phobias and obsessive-compulsive disorder. It can also make other anxiety conditions worse: you can imagine the impact of perfectionism mixed with catastrophising: every tiny mistake you make would mean your life is ruined.

So why do we do it?

As humans, we have a cognitive basis towards the negative. We are conditioned to search for and hone in on potential threats. This served us well in the distant past when we had to avoid predators. In our current society, this can go haywire.

While some people only catastrophise about certain aspects of life, such as their health, or the kids’ safety, or their career, for many people, it is a mental habit.

It can be triggered by prolonged stress (such as ongoing global pandemic and economic crisis), but it is often built-in from an early age.

Note: While catastrophising can simply be a bad habit, it can also be a sign that you may be experiencing burnout, or that your mental health is suffering in another way.

Reach out for professional help if you are struggling. If you or someone you know is in crisis, call Emergency Services. For further information and support, ask your doctor for guidance.

How to stop catastrophising

The most proven and effective way to break the cycle of catastrophic thinking is become aware of it. “Awareness is essential,” says David Robson, “so the first step should be to pause your thinking and to recognise when your mind is going down a psychological black hole.”

The keywords to watch out for are “always” and “never”, the key feelings are dread and doom. Then, challenge your automatic thoughts and question whether they are rational or realistic.

A good trick here is to imagine you are advising a friend. If your friend had a presentation due to work, and they believe they are going to mess it up and embarrass themselves, get fired and never find a good job again, what would you tell them?

Chances are you would remind them of times when they have done well and you would encourage them to rationally problem-solve by spending more time preparing and practising. Remember, you do not have to believe everything you think!

Eat Smarter

Switch to Watercress

Looking for some leafy greens to have with dinner? Skip the lettuce, spinach and rocket, even the kale, and opt instead for watercress. Astonishingly nutrient dense, watercress is one of the best kept nutritional secrets.

Watercress is naturally:

  • high in vitamins A, K, B6, folate and C (the vitamin C helps you absorb the iron in watercress)
  • high in calcium potassium, manganese and iron
  • rich in dietary nitrates, linked to improved athletic performance
  • packed full of antioxidants – watercress has 40 unique flavonoids such as isothiocynates, which give it its peppery flavour. Studies have linked antioxidants with a lower risk of cancer, diabetes and heart disease.

Better for your brain

Another reason to eat watercress? Your brain health. Psychiatrist Dr Drew Ramsay is a world leader in nutritional psychiatry – the use of food and nutrition to optimise brain health. He and his team devised the Antidepressant Food Score to determine the most nutrient-dense foods to help prevent and promote recovery from depression. Top of their list was watercress, with a score of 127 per cent.

Do not confuse watercress with the much smaller and delicate garden cress or mustard cress. Watercress packs more punch flavour wise and has bigger leaves, and as its name suggests, grows in water rather than soil.

Naturally peppery, watercress is a delicious addition to salads, can be made into soup, into sauces such as pesto, added to curries, and mixed into rice with chopped herbs.

1 Thing You Can Do Today

Eat your lunch outdoors

We get it – you are up to your ears in deadlines or you have urgent emails to reply to. Grabbing lunch at your desk seems a no-brainer. But taking your sandwich or salad into a local park, even for just 15-20 minutes, delivers some surprising health benefits that may even boost your productivity.

Here is how spending time in sunlight and fresh air can help you feel better physically and mentally:

1. You can rewind and recharge.

Being outdoors offers a mental and emotional refuge from the overstimulation of flashing screens and vibrating phones. Research suggests spending time in nature and green spaces can help you feel more relaxed and focused, and boost your energy by nearly 40 per cent, which can only benefit you as you head back to work after your break.

2. You will improve your sleep.

Your body’s internal clock generally follows the sun, so you are more awake during the day and sleep better at night. Sunlight affects your circadian rhythm more than electric light, which means that exposing yourself to sunlight can improve your sleep. How? Stepping out into sunlight can help you feel more tired at night, shorten the time it takes to fall asleep, and improve the quality of your rest.

3. Your mood may benefit.

Getting outside into sunlight can often help ease the symptoms of depression such as low mood and fatigue. Experts are not really sure why, but sunlight is believed to increase the body’s level of serotonin, a brain chemical strongly linked to mood.

Protect Your Feet at Work

Blisters, swelling, aching feet, shin splints, heel spurs – ouch! If you work on your feet all day, these problems might be familiar to you. Fortunately, there are ways we can all protect our feet at work.

It is common to develop foot problems at work. Some are caused by slipping or falling, or from injuries such as sprains and cuts. Then there are those caused by long periods of standing, and from poorly fitted or inappropriate footwear.


What is the problem with standing?

Our feet are designed for mobility, which is why standing for long periods can be so tiring. Standing for hours, day after day, not only tires you out but can lead to aching and swollen feet, varicose veins, swelling of legs, general muscular fatigue, plantar fasciitis (causing pain on the bottom of your feet) and even damaged joints.

The surface you are standing on makes a difference, too. Hard or uneven surfaces such as concrete can lead to significantly more wear and tear on your feet, ankles and lower legs.

If you can, change your body posture regularly, and sit down if you have the chance. Swapping your posture increases the number of muscles you use, putting less strain on individual muscles and joints used to maintain a standing position.

The right shoes for the job

Shoes play a vital role in supporting your feet, as well as in protecting them from external dangers. Some occupations need specific footwear for safety reasons, such as steel caps or chemical resistant material. As a general guideline, you should look for shoes with the following:

  • A well-padded sole – to absorb and reduce pressure on the feet.
  • A heel less than 2.5cm high – high heels increase the pressure on the ball of the foot.
  • Material that breathes – fungal infections like tinea thrive in warm, moist environments. Leather is preferred for shoe uppers, with synthetic or rubber best for the sole as they are often more durable, shock absorbent and provide better grip.
  • Laces, straps or buckles to secure shoes to your feet, so you are not ‘clawing’ your toes to keep them on.
  • Plenty of room. Your toes should not touch the end of your shoes or you can damage your nails and toes. For this reason, it is best to shop for shoes in the afternoon as most feet tend to swell during the day.

Should I Still Bother With the Flu Shot?

Flu? What flu? No one gets the flu anymore, right? With the flu numbers down in recent years due to lockdowns and restrictions, it is easy to forget just how serious and even lethal the flu can be.

It is a common question; surely, with all the hand-sanitising, and with more people now working from home when sick, surely I do not still need to worry about the flu?

After all, during COVID lockdowns, very few people got the flu. Plus, we are all a bit sick of talking about vaccinations. Not to mention, we are all a bit sick of worrying so much about getting sick.

Yet, getting the flu vaccine this year is more important than ever.

If you are in the Southern Hemisphere, you get a preview of the upcoming flu season by watching what is happening in similar countries in the Northern Hemisphere. And the same is true if you are in the Northern Hemisphere – the Southern Hemisphere flu season gives you an idea of what the next flu season may look like.

Over the Northern Hemisphere winter, the US experienced the worst flu season since the start of the pandemic. According to the Bedford Lab, which studies the spread of viruses, the last season was one of the worst flu seasons of the decade.

People had not been exposed to the flu virus in more than two years, and this impacted their natural immunity. The Northern Hemisphere flu season also started earlier than usual, and many people who intended to get the flu vaccine left it too late.


What the flu vaccine does

Similar to the COVID-19 vaccine, the flu vaccine does not always prevent the flu, but it does reduce your chances of getting it. Flu vaccination prevents illness in approximately up to 6 to 10 healthy adults under the age of 65. Because the vaccine is not effective in absolutely every case, some people may still catch the virus after having the flu shot. But the risk of illness is still reduced, and the severity of symptoms if you do catch it.


Can you get covid and flu vaccines together?

It is safe to get your flu vaccination and COVID-19 vaccination or booster on the same day if you want to. Remember, the flu shot will not protect you from COVID-19, and the COVID-19 vaccine will not protect you from the flu.

1 Thing You Can Do Today

Get photos off your phone and into a photo book

When was the last time you sorted through the photos on your phone? The average smartphone user has a whopping 2100 photos on their phone. Lose your phone, and all those memories are gone.

You can upload them onto your computer, but then what? Never look at them again?

Instead, why not get them off your phone and into a phone book?

A photo book isn’t just a great gift or centrepiece on the coffee table, it is also an instant mood-lifter. It triggers feelings of joy, hope and gratitude, which are like medicine for your mood.

You can use one of the many photo sticks, little devices which gather all your photos from your phone and computers and tablets and make it easier to sort through duplicates and dates.

Then you can choose from many different online photobook shops. Most allow you to send photos digitally and then have your fully produced book delivered to you. There are various levels of sophistication, so you can decide if you want total control over layout, or whether you prefer a ‘done-for-you’ template.

Google “photo book” to get started now.

4 Surprising Ways Sleep Affects How You Feel

Chances are you know how awful you feel when you are not getting enough sleep, but on the flipside, have you ever had run of good sleep, and felt amazing? Sleep makes you feel good in a surprising number of ways:

1. So creative!

You go to sleep worrying over a problem, and when you wake up, the answer seems obvious.

According to Professor Penny Lewis from Cardiff University, the two main phases of sleep – REM and non-REM – work together to help us find out-of-the-box solutions to problems.

During non-REM sleep, millions of neurons fire simultaneously and strongly while your brain replays memories. As your brain reruns the memories, it makes links and connections to make sense of patterns.

During REM sleep, it all gets more chaotic, says Lewis. Different parts of your brain become activated, seemingly at random. Lewis suggests this allows your brain to search for similarities between seemingly unrelated concepts, so you can see a problem in a different way.

2. Better reaction times

Like a superhero in a movie, you will find your reflexes and reactions are sharper. Even if your job does not involve split-second decisions, your reaction times can still be a matter of life and death. Every time you get behind the wheel of a car, your reflexes matter.

According to the Sleep Foundation, if you skip a night’s sleep, your impairment is equivalent to a blood alcohol content of 0.1% - that is double the legal limit.

3. Laser sharp memory

When you get enough sleep, you will find you retain information more easily. You read it once, and you remember it. You no longer have that mental blank trying to remember that password – or forgetting why you walked into the kitchen.

Harvard Health says both animal and human studies suggest that the quantity and quality of sleep have a profound impact on learning and memory. Sleep helps you focus and learn, and it helps you consolidate memories.

4. Brighter mood

Sleep affects your mood, and your mood can affect how well you sleep.

Disturbed sleep is one of the first symptoms of depression. Conversely, chronically poor sleep can lead to depression. A study published in Sleep Journal in 2007 found that out of 10,000 adults, people with insomnia were five times more likely to develop depression.

Another study by the University of Pennsylvania found that subjects who were limited to only 4.5 hours of sleep a night for one week reported feeling more stressed, angry, sad, and mentally exhausted. When the subjects resumed normal sleep, they reported a dramatic improvement in mood.

* 17 March is World Sleep Day.


Improve your sleep, improve your mood

If you struggle with sleep and stress, the last thing you want to hear is that insomnia can exacerbate depression and anxiety. But it can help to know what you are dealing with, and to know there are many proven tactics and strategies you can use to improve your sleep.

If you are worried about your sleep, Harvard Medical School advises you first look at your sleep habits. Their recommendations include:

  • maintaining a regular sleep-wake schedule
  • avoiding caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, and other chemicals that interfere with sleep
  • making your bedroom a comfortable sleep environment
  • establishing a calming pre-sleep routine
  • going to sleep when you are truly tired
  • not watching the clock at night
  • not napping too close to your regular bedtime
  • eating and drinking enough – but not too much or too soon before bedtime
  • exercising regularly – but not too soon before bedtime