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happy healthy retirees

Can dementia be prevented?

Are you afraid of getting dementia?  Someone in the world is diagnosed with dementia every 3 seconds.

The U.S. National Institute on Aging estimates people over the age of 65 will make up 16% of the world’s population by 2050. This is up from 8% in 2010.

Recent polls suggest that dementia has become the most feared health condition among people over the age of 50. It’s even more than they fear heart disease, cancer and stroke.

The implication of what you read and hear is often that dementia just happens to some unfortunate people. This is true, but the vast majority of people can take positive action to reduce their chances of suffering from dementia.

Dementia is not an inevitable result of old age.  In fact researchers from the University of Southern California have concluded that managing lifestyle factors such as hearing loss, smoking, hypertension and depression could prevent one-third of the world’s dementia cases.

By increasing education in early life and addressing hearing loss, hypertension and obesity in midlife, the incidence of dementia could be reduced by as much as 20 percent, combined.

In late life, stopping smoking, treating depression, increasing physical activity, increasing social contact and managing diabetes could reduce the incidence of dementia by another 15 percent.

Making these changes doesn’t only affect your chances of getting dementia, they also benefit you in many other ways.

There is evidence from the Blue Zone communities that you can have a happy, healthy life as you age. You can help to prevent dementia naturally.

What are Blue Zones?

There are communities known as Blue Zones where people lead lively and active lives into their nineties and hundreds. Living in a blue zone and follwoing the blue zone lifestyle is protective against demntia. Research has now shown why this is so. This is not down to some special gene. It’s down to their lifestyle.

The term first appeared in Dan Buettner’s November 2005 National Geographic magazine cover story, The Secrets of a Long Life.

In 2004 Buettner and a group of anthropologists, demographers, epidemiologists and other researchers travelled  around the world to study communities with surprisingly high percentages of centenarians. He and the scientists interviewed hundreds of people who’d made it to age 100 about how they lived, then did a lot of number crunching to figure out what they had in common.

The five Blue Zones are Ikari in Greece, Okinawa in Japan, Ogliastra Region in Sardinia, Loma Linda in USA and Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica. These are very specific communities – it’s not the whole of the island of Sardinia or the whole of California, where Loma Linda is.

The Blue Zones Solution published by Buettner in 2015 comes with these recommendations based on the research in those communities:

  1. Stop eating when your stomach is 80 percent full to avoid weight gain.
  2. Eat the smallest meal of the day in the late afternoon or evening.
  3. Eat mostly plants, especially beans. And eat meat rarely, in small portions of 3 to 4 ounces. Blue Zoners eat portions this size just five times a month, on average.
  4. Drink alcohol moderately and regularly, i.e. 1-2 glasses a day. (If you have problems moderating your alcohol consumption, this is of course not advisable.)

These recommendations not only reduce your chances of suffering from dementia, but also reduce your chances of being obese, having heart problems, type 2 diabetes and even some cancers.

What else can help prevent dementia?

Diet alone may or may not be enough to prevent dementia, but fortunately there are other things you can do to reduce the possibility.

Check out this short video:

Weight training can help protect you from dementia

You don’t need to read much on this blog to know I’m a huge fan of weight training. This is because of the benefits I have found from regular weight training in my own life – both physically and mentally. So I was delighted to see this study.

Researchers at the University of Sydney have shown that strength training in older people protects some regions of the brain from shrinkage. They conducted a clinical trial for older people at high risk of Alzheimer’s disease due to mild cognitive impairment.

Mild cognitive impairment involves a decline in memory and other thinking skills despite generally intact daily living skills and is one of strongest risk factors for dementia. People with mild cognitive impairment are at a one-in-10 risk of developing dementia within a year.

They found that six months of strength training (lifting weights) can help protect brain areas especially vulnerable to Alzheimer’s disease up to one year later. The researchers say:

“resistance exercise needs to become a standard part of dementia risk-reduction strategies”

So, all of these things can improve the quality of your life right now and may well prevent the slide into cognitive impairment and dementia.

Check out this interview I did on YouTube with Dr Rachael Rooney, a lifestyle medicine physician and a GP (community doctor). She has a particular interest in mind-brain-body interactions, preventative medicine & non-drug approaches that address the root causes of illness. Here she talks about strategies for preventing dementia:

stethoscope and drugs

How to avoid medical errors

Health care professionals dedicate their lives to keeping patients healthy and safe. But medical errors can happen despite the best intentions.

The startling fact is that “Medical errors are a serious public health problem and a leading cause of death in the United States” and other countries too.

Rachel Ann Elliott and colleagues write in BMJ Quality & Safety:

We estimated that 237 million medication errors occur at some point in the medication process in England annually, 38.4% occurring in primary care; 72% have little/no potential for harm and 66 million are potentially clinically significant.

In the UK

More than one in six (15%) of people in England now take five or more medicines a day, increasing the risk of adverse effects, the review found. One in 14 (7%) are on eight drugs or more.

About one in five hospital admissions in over-65s, and 6.5% of all hospital admissions, are caused by the adverse effects of medicines. The more pills a person takes, the higher the risk that one or more of these medicines will have an unwanted or harmful effect. Some medicines, such as those to reduce blood pressure, can also raise the risk of falls among the frail and elderly.

Types of medical errors

There are two major types of errors:

  1. Errors of omission occur as a result of actions not taken.  Examples are not strapping a patient into a wheelchair or not stabilizing a gurney prior to patient transfer.
  2. Errors of the commission occur as a result of the wrong action taken.  Examples include administering a medication to which a patient has a known allergy or not labeling a laboratory specimen that is subsequently ascribed to the wrong patient.

They can occur anywhere in the health care system—-hospitals, clinics, outpatient surgery centers, doctors’ offices, nursing homes, pharmacies, and in your own home. Errors can involve medicine, operations, tests, diagnosis, equipment, and laboratory reports. They can happen during the most routine tasks, such as when a hospitalised patient on a salt-free diet is given a high-salt meal or when home medications are not taken correctly.

Of course, we need medical professionals to be alert to this problem. We need errors to be investigated and lessons learned. We also need to be aware and alert as patients to the possibility of errors and not just assume the medical person knows best.

General tips to help protect yourself from medical errors

  1. Speak up if you have questions or concerns. You have a right to ask questions of anyone who is involved in your care.
  2. Make sure that all health professionals involved in your care have the important health information about you. Do not assume that everyone knows everything about you. You and your primary care provider may have been partners in your health care for many years, but another physician or nurse might be seeing you for the first time.
  3. If you have a test done, don’t assume that no news is good news. Ask about the results, including what the results mean and if you need additional follow-up care.
  4. Clearly identify yourself to your providers. If you are issued an identification band, keep it on. If you have difficulty hearing, tell the person that you have difficulty hearing and double-check that it is your name being called. If you have a common name, ask to have the birth date checked in the record to reduce the chance of mistaken identity.

How to avoid drug errors

It’s important to be vigilant to prevent medication errors.

Tell your doctor, pharmacist and nurse about everything you take. This includes prescription medicines, over-the-counter medicines, and dietary supplements such as vitamins, herbs or other alternative therapies.

At least once a year, bring all of your medicines and supplements with you to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist and ask them to evaluate them. Have them list all of this in  your records.

Tell your doctor and pharmacist when you start or stop taking any new medications, vitamins, herbs or other therapies so they can check for drug interactions.

Tell your doctor, pharmacist or nurse about any allergies or adverse reactions you have had to medicines, herbs, chemicals or foods.

Take a list of everything you are taking, when you have a medical visit.

Ask for information about your medicines in terms you can understand. You have a right to know. Here are some possible questions:

  •     What is this medicine for?
  •     How am I supposed to take it and for how long?
  •     Is this medicine safe to take with other medicines, herbs or dietary supplements?
  •     What food, drink, or activities should I avoid while taking this medicine?
  •     What side effects are likely?
  •     What do I do if they occur?

Instead of relying on your memory, ask for printed information about the side effects and drug interactions that your medicine could cause, as well as printed directions for taking the medicines.

When you pick up your medicine from the pharmacy, make sure it is the medicine your doctor prescribed. If the medicine is one that you have been taking and it looks different, ask the pharmacist to double-check before taking the medicine.

Be sure you understand the directions on your medicine label. For example, ask if “four doses daily” means taking a dose every 6 hours around the clock or just during regular waking hours.

Ask your pharmacist for the best device to measure liquid medicine. Household teaspoons often do not hold a true teaspoon of liquid, so use specially marked syringes or marked measuring spoons to measure the right dose.

If the medicine requires a special device (for example, an inhaler), be sure you understand how to use it correctly. Practice in front of your care provider to demonstrate that you are using the device properly.

You are likely to forget up to 80% of what your doctor tells you!

You may feel that what I have already recommended is over the top, but there was a study published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine that found that most patients forget as much as 80 percent of what their doctor tells them as soon as they leave the clinic. The study was published in 2003, but the results are unlikely to have changed.

Study author Dr. Roy Kessels explains why patients forget crucial medical information:

  • Old age. As you age, your ability to remember episodic and unstructured information, including medical advice and test results, worsens.
  • Preconceptions. Patients are likely to forget or misinterpret medical information if it doesn’t agree with their personal theories about illness. It’s easier to remember entirely new information than it is to remember something that challenges existing ideas.
  • Stress. Anxiety causes what’s called attentional narrowing, a state where the brain can focus only on the most frightening statements. So, when a doctor tells a patient he or she has cancer, that person is unlikely to remember much else from that conversation.
  • Structure and importance. Patients are more likely to remember the first statements they hear and are able to recall specific information better than general information. Structured, logical information will help patients remember better as long as doctors state first what the structure will be.
  • Spoken words. The more information given by a doctor, the less the patient will remember, especially if it’s spoken information, rather than written information. Some hospitals have found that patients given spoken instructions remember only 14 percent correctly while those given information in the form of pictographs remember 80 percent correctly.

The medical community need to do their best to avoid medical errors, but we also need to do our bit too.

happy woman weighing self

How to stop binge eating by helping your mind

Do you want to lose weight? The answer is probably yes, because so many people do. But wanting and wishing don’t make it happen. It’s clearly a very difficult thing for many people to do in spite of all the diet plans they’ve tried. Binge eating can make life so difficult and interfere with all your best laid plans.

There’s more and more evidence that rather than focussing on food it’s important to focus on what’s happening in your mind. If you can’t get your mind on board, you’re likely to be doomed to failure.

As well as knowing the calories in all the food you eat, you may know this too. But how to recruit your mind to help rather than hinder?

You can give yourself a stiff talking to. That may work for a while, but really what you need is something that will work long term. You may be hyper-critical of yourself, but that won’t work either.

Here’s a simple, safe way to reduce binge eating. Not some mad ideas or some expensive supplement, but a safe way shown to be effective by University research.

I want to tell you about an effective approach using Bach Flower Remedies (BFR). These simple remedies can help to control emotional binge eating.

I know some people dismiss the idea of flower remedies being helpful as unscientific and ridiculous. I know from personal experience how helpful they can be. So, I was delighted to read about some recent research in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine: “Efficacy of Flower Therapy for Anxiety in Overweight or Obese Adults: A Randomized Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trial”.

Before I get into the study, a bit about Bach Flower Remedies.

The remedies were developed by Dr Edward Bach -pronounced ‘Batch’ – who lived in England from 1886-1936. He was trained as a doctor and worked as a pathologist and bacteriologist, but he felt that medicine was not getting to the root of the problem. He learnt about homeopathy, and developed various important homeopathic remedies, but he was still not satisfied. Eventually he developed the Bach flower remedies. There are 38 single flower remedies and one combination.

The remedies are based on flowering plants and trees. They are designed to correct inappropriate psychological states.

Bach found the remedies through intuition: sometimes he would hold a flower in his hand and experience in his body and mind what the remedy was capable of. Sometimes he experienced deep negative emotions and would go out into the countryside searching until he found the flower that would turn off these feelings.

Bach found that if he floated the flowers in a glass bowl containing spring water in the sunshine, this healing property of the flower passed into the water. For some plants that flowered early in the year, such as holly, Bach boiled the flowers and stems to overcome the problem of the lack of sunshine.

See what I mean about some people thinking it’s mumbo jumbo?

But cast aside your scepticism for a while. This study was conducted at the Clinical Research Unit of the Medical School of São Paulo State University, Brazil.

The participants were divided into two random groups: one group was treated with Bach flower remedies (water/brandy solution with two drops each of Impatiens, White Chestnut, Cherry Plum, Chicory, Crab Apple, and Pine), and the other group was given a placebo (same solution without BFR). The patients were instructed to orally ingest the solution by placing four drops directly in the mouth four times a day for 4 weeks.

The authors concluded:

“This study demonstrated an improvement in indices related to anxiety, sleep patterns, and binge eating in overweight or obese individuals treated with BFR. These findings suggest that the integration of BFR with other treatments in the therapeutic plan for overweight or obese patients may be beneficial. The authors believe that BFR therapy is of great relevance in the current scenario and may shed an innovative and positive perspective on the treatment of these patients.”

The study was only four weeks long, but of course you can go on taking the remedies for as long as you find them helpful. The study was also on overweight and obese people, but there is no reason to believe that these remedies wouldn’t work for you if you only had a few pounds to use.

The authors also explained why they chose the remedies they did:

  • Impatiens for tension and anxiety – this can help you control binge eating when you are stressed or anxious
  • Crab Apple for self-loathing and inaccurate perceptions of body image
  • White Chestnut to counteract repetitive thoughts
  • Cherry Plum for impulsiveness and compulsiveness helping you to stop compulsive eating
  • Chicory for lack of control and possessiveness
  • Pine for feelings of guilt and regret.

These remedies may help you control binge eating without therapy. They may help you to stop binge eating quickly and permanently.

You can view an abstract here. The full article is behind a paywall.

man sitting on floor

Is the floor a foreign country?

When you’re a child, you belong on the floor!

As you get into your twenties, the floor is where you are sometimes – no big deal.

As you get older, the floor becomes a foreign place that you never visit. It’s just too complicated to get to it, too difficult to work out how to get down there. It doesn’t matter, because life is interesting up here in a comfy chair, watching television.

You may think that doesn’t matter. You don’t need to sit on the floor. Chairs and sofas are the place to be. You can stretch out and read a book, flick through your phone or watch a movie, hold a conversation, eat a meal – all while sitting in a comfortable chair.

You don’t need to sit on the floor. But if you can, it indicates that you have good control of your physical body, that you can easily shift your weight without falling and that you can co-ordinate the different parts of your body. Sitting on the floor or standing up from the floor may be one of the most complex body moves you do.

When I was in my early sixties, I could still get to the floor and get up from it, but it was slow, hesitant and difficult. I looked at the younger people in the gym, who clearly could get on and off the floor without thinking about it. I had to focus on it completely to do it safely.

As my body has got stronger from resistance/weight training, I can get on and off the floor much more easily. I’ve practiced it a lot.

You may not care that you can’t sit on the floor anymore, but you should care about what it says about the state of your body. Of course, some people cannot do it because of physical disability, but for most people it’s a lack of practice and strength.

I’m in my seventies now and can get on and off the floor much better than I could when I was in my fifties and sixties. The sense of accomplishment and freedom is worth a lot to me.

I recently spoke to John Gullick.  John is a health coach with a background in physiotherapy. In our interview he talks about the benefits of sitting on the floor, which posture is best and how to start doing it if it’s a long time since you’ve sat on the floor. John says:

“To become supple, interact with hard surfaces, to become stiff, interact with soft surfaces”

When you sit in a chair, your body doesn’t prompt you to keep moving. When you get up, you may feel stiff rom this lack of movement. You may blame the chair. In a way that’s true, but it’s because its’ too comfortable, not comfortable enough.

John also says :

“The best posture is the next one: we need movement, not “optimal” static positions. These basically don’t exist.”

You may think that you can’t just sit on the floor, but that’s not the idea. You will shift your weight and your legs into different positions, moving frequently as any position becomes uncomfortable.

John describes it as “strong medicine” so don’t spend a long time on the floor when you first start.

When you sit on the floor, you have to keep moving and adjusting your body. When you get down on the floor or stand up from the floor, you are engaging in a really complex set of movements, while you shift your weight and tense different parts of you.

Of course, if you are fragile or uncertain that you will be able to get back up off the floor, or worried that getting down there may hurt you, consult a physical therapist specialist.

We have lots more great interviews on my YouTube channel.


eyes with letters for me either side

How can I impress myself?

Do you ever impress yourself? This may seem a strange question. Most of us are busy thinking about how we can impress other people. But isn’t it more important to impress ourselves? After all we live with ourselves all the time, so we are definitely the number one person we need to impress.

Magically if we impress ourselves, we often don’t feel the need to impress other people. We have a level of security that doesn’t need validating by other people being impressed.

So far so good, but then the question becomes: How on earth do I impress ME?

Often our response to that question is something big:

  • I’m going finally to lose all that weight.
  • I’m going to go to the gym every day and get a toned body.
  • I’m going to declutter the house and keep it spotlessly clean.
  • I’m going to learn to speak Mandarin fluently.

I’m going to be patient with my teenage children and rebuild an amazing relationship with them.

Of course, if you do that, you will impress yourself and probably other people too.

Ask yourself how likely is it that you will achieve this big thing.

The answer is probably not that high. How many times in the past have you promised yourself you will do amazing things, and everything has unravelled?

I’ve been interviewing people for my YouTube channel, both experts and ordinary people.

All the interviews offer hope that things can improve. A recurring theme from many of the experts and the ordinary people is to make small changes. Once a small change has become embedded in your life, add more.

This seems to be the key to impressing yourself – find small things you can achieve each day, so that you can impress yourself in a small way each day.

Take a moment to think about things you could do to impress yourself. Here’s some I could do:

  1. Put the books that have been sitting on the stairs for several days on to the bookshelf.
  2. Wash the glass and put it away at least once today rather than leaving it out.
  3. Phone a friend I’ve been intending to speak to for ages.
  4. Check through my emails and find 10 I can delete, because they don’t need an answer.

These are just some ideas that came to me quickly while I was writing this. I’m not aiming to do them all – I just want to do one today, so that I can start to impress myself rather than trying to impress other people. Surely that is the way to good mental health.

cut broccoli

Broccoli almond sizzle recipe

Broccoli and almonds are a great combination in this easy, appealing vegan recipe. Colour and texture and good nutrition combined in one dish you can make at any time.

Recipe from The Contented Vegan by Peggy Brusseau, Published by Head of Zeus

Contented Vegan

Peggy says:

“I love this simple and pretty dish. It offers interesting taste and texture surprises to complement the strong green flavour of the broccoli. I like to have it with a bowl of noodles or serve it as one of three or four dishes to make a hearty dinner. Try serving it with these other recipes from the book – Jerusalem Artichoke and Sweet Potato Sauté or Scalloped Potato Bake.

“Brocolli comes in many guises. In these recipes, use the type that is available to you, depending on where you are and the time of year. Each variety has its own texture, colour and flavour. After sampling many types, you will find your favourites. Try calabrese, purple sprouting, tenderstem, romanesco and Italian leaf broccoli, sometimes called rapa. Cauliflower is a good substitute if no type of broccoli is available.”

Serves 4

Preparation time 20 minutes.

brocolli vegan recipe



1 tablespoon untoasted sesame oil

1 head of broccoli, florets halved or quartered

1 red onion, halved and thinly sliced

50g flaked almonds

1⁄4 teaspoon black pepper

1⁄4 teaspoon ground allspice

Juice of 1 lime


Stems of purple sprouting broccoli or florets of cauliflower may be mixed, half and half, with the regular broccoli to create a multi-coloured dish.


Pour the oil into a large frying pan or wok set over a high heat. Swirl the hot oil around the pan, then add the broccoli. Cover the pan and cook the broccoli for 3 minutes.

Meanwhile, toss together the onion, almonds and spices in a bowl. Stir the broccoli and reduce the heat to medium. A few lightly browned pieces are fine, but your aim is to keep the bright green colour, ensuring the broccoli is just tender. Add the onion mixture to the pan and stir into the broccoli. Cook for 5 minutes longer, stirring often.

Drizzle over the lime juice. Stir once as it sizzles, then immediately remove the pan from the heat and transfer its contents to a warm serving dish.

woman listening to another woman

The importance of curiosity

I really think that curiosity is one of the most under-estimated beneficial mind sets.

When we are curious, we find life more stimulating and enjoyable. When we are curious, we connect with other people better. When we are curious, life becomes more interesting and less boring.

I like this quote from Robin Sharma

“Aging only happens to people who lose their lust for getting better and disconnect from their natural base of curiosity.”

Maybe he’s exaggerating. Ageing does happen regardless of our mind set, but the speed and depressing nature of it can be restrained by a curious mind set.

Studs Terkel was a Pulitzer-prize winning author best remembered for his oral histories of common Americans. In his memoir, Touch and Go, he wrote that curiosity was the virtue that has kept him going. This idea translated into his funny headstone:

“Curiosity did not kill this cat.”

An article entitled Curiosity: the secret to your success says:

“We tend to dismiss curiosity as a childish, naïve trait, but it can actually give us profound advantages.”

It’s interesting that when I was looking for an image to illustrate this blog, the vast majority showed children or animals being curious. There was also the odd scientist, but otherwise hardly any adults.

Being curious about the world is great for your mental health. I’m always seeking to learn new things. This can mean reading a fiction book set in a place that isn’t familiar or by an author that’s new to me. Researching new vegan recipes or trying to understand a little about football and the latest controversy.

It can mean I want to enrol in an online course and learn something new. MOOCs are a good place to start. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are free online courses available for anyone to enrol. They are often taught by academics or experts, who just want to share their passion. You can do a course on the fundamental of statistics or learn more about food and health. Maybe you already speak some Spanish, but you want to learn more.

The easiest way to find a course is to search online using the word MOOC followed by the subject, so for example you would search “MOOC nutrition” or MOOC Spanish”.

The second, and possibly, more important part is being curious about other people and why they think or feel the way they do.
Curiosity is particularly important in this age of polarised views and information bubbles. Do you have friends who are different ages to you? Do you know and interact well with people who have very different political views to you?

It can be difficult, but curiosity can help you. Seek out people whose lives are very different to yours. Be curious about why they think the way they do. Try to understand how they experience life and how they interpret the latest news. Don’t start from the point of trying to change what they think. Start by trying to understand how they see the world and their place in it. This can be hugely stimulating. If done honestly, it will probably encourage you to examine some of your own cherished views and certainties.

When I meet someone new, I’m always interested in understanding how they tick: why a seemingly intelligent person can hold political views completely opposite to mine, or why someone is nervous and without confidence. Most people respond well to this. People tell me I’m a great listener because I pay attention and I’m not judgemental.

I find myself in conversation with people of all ages. I get young people to explain things to me about the modern world that I don’t understand. They really seem to enjoy it. These interactions stimulate my brain and build connections across the generations.

Curiosity can also help us be less judgemental about ourselves. Mindfulness is rightly hugely popular, as a way of managing ourselves better. It can help you sleep better, be more relaxed, be less fearful and more contented. Central to mindfulness is the idea of curiosity – being curious about your thoughts, rather than trying to quell them with criticism and determination.

For example, the Headspace course for mindful eating teaches you to be curious about your relationship with food, to stop and look at your urge to keep eating the tub of ice cream until it is finished. The idea isn’t that you should scold yourself or walk determinedly away from the temptation. In being curious, you are treating yourself kindly. You are also creating the space, where another decision, another behaviour can become the natural reality.

Curiosity can also help us to question the prevalent idea that as we get older we are going to become more passive and weaker. If you’re curious, you won’t accept the view that as you get older you have inevitably to get more frail, more dependent and less yourself.

I love going to the gym and weight training. I’m really curious about how strong I can get. How much weight I can lift.  Medication is seen as a normal part of ageing. I’m in my seventies. When I went for an eye check-up recently, the optician said: “Any changes in medication?” The implication was clearly that I would be already taking medication. He looked surprised when I said: “No I’m not taking anything.” I’m curious to see if by looking after my health and well-being I can live my life without needing long-term medication.

Curiosity is ultimately non-judgemental of ourselves and others. It can give us a more interesting life, stimulate the brain and reduce cognitive decline. It can make us a supportive friend. Through curiosity we can seek to bridge the gap between ourselves and those we disagree with. We need a lot more of that in this world of strife and conflict.

I hope I’ve convinced you that cultivating curiosity is a way to enjoy your life more and do your bit in creating a better world for us all.

split red lentils

Red Lentil, Rice and Coconut Soup Recipe

This soup ticks so many boxes. It’s easy to make even if you’re not really a cook. It’s cheap. It tastes delicious and it’s highly nutritious too.

As well as the lentils, rice and coconut, the soup uses ginger, turmeric and garlic too. These are now very much regarded as super-foods, offering lots of health benefits in tiny packages.

Ginger is now more widely known as a treatment for indigestion, but it also helps regulate blood sugar levels. Importantly it also has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which can prevent cell damage and help ward off chronic disease.

Turmeric has long been recognised in Ayurvedic medicine for its beneficial properties, but now western medicine is beginning to recognise it too. Research has found that curcumin, a natural compound found in turmeric, can help eliminate certain viruses. It has also been shown to improve memory and mood in people with mild, age-related memory loss.

This recipe has black pepper in it to add to the overall tastiness. Coincidentally research has shown that combining the piperine in black pepper with the curcumin in turmeric enhances curcumin absorption by up to 2,000%. Another nutritional benefit of this recipe.

Garlic is known for its ability to fight infections. I used to eat raw garlic when I had a sore throat. The sore throat (and my loved ones) would disappear very quickly. It also appears to reduce the risk of heart disease, high cholesterol levels and cancer. Cooking, as we are doing here, reduces these benefits somewhat, but it is still worth doing.

Do remember, in case you’re getting put off by all this worthiness, that it tastes delicious and is easy to make.

In this recipe I use rice, but you can use other grains if you prefer – millet or quinoa would work well. I like to use risotto rice as it starts to disintegrate in a way that adds body to the soup.

If you have some leftover cooked grains, use that, rather than cooking more from scratch.

The basic soup is not that spicey. This is great if you have a delicate stomach. Remember the ginger should help you digest it, but you can add other spices, such as chilli or cayenne to spice it up.

We know that the cheap and lowly red split lentil has great health-giving properties. They have been described as “the world’s oldest health food” by the WebMD website. Lentils have a high fibre content with all the benefits that brings for regulating blood sugar and reducing cholesterol levels. They are also a great source of potassium which helps blood pressure and heart health. Dr Michael Greger of recommends we all eat beans, peas and lentils every day.

If you find all beans and lentils give you gas, try adding a half teaspoon of the Indian spice asafoetida to the soup at the beginning.

It can seem strange not to start by sautéing some onions or some garlic, but the coconut milk gives it that great mouth-feel of oil when it’s added towards the end.

lentil soup with chard

So here’s the recipe:

4 servings


100 gms risotto rice dry weight

100g red lentils

1 heaped tsp turmeric

1 tbsp coarsely grated ginger

2 garlic cloves, sliced

1 teaspoon of ground coriander

1 teaspoon of ground cumin

200 gms of grated celeriac and/or carrot

1 litre of vegetable stock

400ml can coconut milk

Pepper and salt to taste

Fresh coriander or parsley as a garnish (optional)


  1. Cook the risotto rice in water until al dente (or use any other cooked grain).
  2. Put the first nine ingredients in a saucepan and simmer, stirring occasionally for 15 minutes.
  3. Add the can of coconut milk and stir well.
  4. Taste at this point and see if you want to add more cumin and/or coriander and whether you want to add some heat with chilli powder or curry spices.
  5. Cover and cook for 10 minutes, giving an occasional stir if needed.
  6. Optional: add some chopped parsley or coriander to each bowl before serving.


You can add some shredded spinach or chard to the pan at this point. Leave for a few minutes on a low heat and then stir before serving. If you wish, you could cook the chard separately in a little water until wilted.  Once the soup has been put into bowls top each bowl with some of this chard.


This is based on an original recipe from the BBC Good Food website.

This article was originally published on Sixtyandme.

Age Bold

What exercises should seniors do?

As people get older, they tend to get less active. Gyms, Zumba classes and organised runs are full of younger people. You may be even wondering if you should be exercising at all. The answer is a categorical yes!

Although staying fit is good for younger people, it’s even more important for older people.

The UK NHS website says that people who exercise regularly have:

  • up to a 35% lower risk of coronary heart disease and stroke
  • up to a 50% lower risk of type 2 diabetes
  • up to a 50% lower risk of colon cancer
  • up to a 20% lower risk of breast cancer
  • a 30% lower risk of early death
  • up to an 83% lower risk of osteoarthritis
  • up to a 68% lower risk of hip fracture
  • a 30% lower risk of falls (among older adults)
  • up to a 30% lower risk of depression
  • up to a 30% lower risk of dementia

You may know and accept that, but still find it difficult to exercise.

I post gym videos on Instagram. Some people feel inspired by them, but some older people feel intimidated – they feel that they could never do that.

Perhaps you were fit and active when you were younger, but feel you’ve let yourself go as you’ve got older. Now you’re not fit at all and you feel old and weak.

If you’ve had a fall, you may be nervous about doing active physical things. You may be uncertain what is safe and what would cause another fall.

You may have back ache and be fearful that resistance training will make it worse. But working out can actually help back pain.

You may feel that you’d be embarassed going to a gym. But watch my YouTube interview with Mary Anne Burkhalter – it may change your mind. Mary Anne startedd going to the gym aged 68. Mary Anne is a care giver for her husband who is quadriplegic with multiple sclerosis. She found that she was tired all the time, so age 68 she decided to join a gym and do a thirty-minute workout. Within two weeks she started to have a lot more energy. Over time she found that her rotator cuff pain and her arthritis were getting less and less. Now Mary Ann does stair climbing challenges, exercises most days and has started jogging. She says she is fitter now than she was in her fifties. She loves being a role model for friends and family.

You may not want to join a class or start running.

You may just not want to exercise in front of other people, even though you know it’s important for you to stay as fit and well as you can.

If you’re in any of these categories I recommend you give Age Bold a try. This is an online programme focussing on older people – people who’ve had a fall or who haven’t been active for a long time.

Their programmes are aimed at older adults who may be trying to get back into an exercise programme (maybe after a fall or serious surgery) or are focused on a lifestyle change to lead a healthier and more active life.

You don’t have to go to a gym. The video instructors are a friendly bunch with lots of adaptations and supports if you are frail. They won’t exhort you to “feel the burn”. They don’t look impossibly glamorous, so that you feel even worse about the shape you’re in. You don’t need a lot of equipment. When you start, you will need a chair for support in some exercises if you are unsure or tentative about your ability to balance. You also need a water bottle. As you progress, you will probably want to buy yourself some dumbbells.

(Disclaimer: Age Bold gave me a free year’s subscription so I could try out their programme in the hope I would write a positive review. I didn’t commit to being positive about it and they didn’t ask me for that either. If you sign up, I do not get any financial reward.)

The programme starts with Age Bold’s Two-Minute Tests, where you measure your strength, mobility and balance. Once the programme has that information it can design the right program for you. You will have three sessions a week. You will gradually make progress becoming stronger, fitter and more physically confident again.

In addition to your personalised programme, your Bold membership includes access to a library of on-demand exercise classes. Maybe you want a shorter class or one focussed on stretching or yoga. The programme has those and more.

If you want to be held accountable, you can subscribe to their weekly SMS text reminders.

You can encourage friends to try the programme along with you, by sending them an invite to try the premium membership for 30 days for free. Use this link and get to try the programme free for 30 days yourself.

The figures from the NHS at the beginning of this blog show just how important exercise is to your health and wellbeing. Better health and wellbeing are just waiting to be unlocked, when you take regualr exercise.

Helen Branthwaite is  Senior Lecturer, Clinical Biomechanics, Staffordshire University, UK . She has written a really intersting article entitled “Four ways older adults can get back to exercising – without the worry of an injury“. In it she writes:

Maintaining muscle is important for many reasons. As we age, frailty can make it more difficult for us to be independent and do the things we need to do each day – from going shopping to meeting our friends. Being active maintains a healthy musculoskeletal system whilst also protecting us from some diseases, such as type 2 diabetes. Research also shows that strong active muscles can help prevent falls and lower injury risk.

lots of foods high in fibre

How to eat more fibre without getting gas

At one time fibre was thought to serve no useful purpose in the body, as it does not contain any nutrients. A dietitian friend told me she was taught during her training that the idea that wholemeal bread was better for you in some way than white bread was ridiculed.

But no longer. We now know that fibre performs some very important functions in our diet to maintain our good health.

The NHS website says:

“Most of us need to eat more fibre and have fewer added sugars in our diet. Eating plenty of fibre is associated with a lower risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and bowel cancer.”

Harvard Health says:

“To reduce your risk of getting diverticulitis, you should try and add high-fiber foods to each meal. Aim for up to half your plate to contain some fiber-rich food. via How to get more fiber in your diet”-

What does dietary fibre do to my body?

Ok, so it’s important, but it doesn’t contain protein or vitamins or minerals, so what exactly does it do? In fact dietary fibre has many benefits including:

  • Making your stools (your poo) bulkier and softer, so they are easier to pass. You are much less likely to suffer from constipation if you have enough fibre in your diet.
  • If your stools are loose and watery, the fibre can help by absorbing the excess water, giving you more control.
  • Fibre keeps the intestinal wall clean and reduces the likelihood of developing diverticulitis.
  • Bacteria in the colon can break down fibre, creating an acidic environment that decreases the risk of developing colorectal cancer.
  • A high fibre intake can increase the beneficial bacteria population.
  • Foods high in fibre can take longer to eat, increasing the feeling of fullness after a meal, and so help weight control.
  • Food high in fibre is digested more slowly and so glucose may be released more slowly into the blood stream.
  • Dietary fibre can reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease (heart disease and stroke) and type 2 diabetes.
  • Foods such as oats and barley contain a type of fibre known as beta glucan, which may help to reduce cholesterol levels if you consume 3g or more of it daily, as part of a healthy diet.

A 2021 study published in the Journal of Nutrition by researchers at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University examined how whole- and refined-grain intake over time impacted five risk factors of heart disease: waist size, blood pressure, blood sugar, triglyceride, and HDL (“good”) cholesterol.

The results showed that for each four-year interval:

  • Waist size increased by an average of over 1 inch in the low intake participants, versus about ½ inch in the high intake participants.
  • Even after accounting for changes in waist size, average increases in blood sugar levels and systolic blood pressure were greater in low intake participants compared to high intake participants.

One of the researchers Nicola McKeown  senior and corresponding author and a scientist on the Nutritional Epidemiology Team at the USDA HNRCA) said:

“The average American consumes about five servings of refined grains daily, much more than is recommended, so it’s important to think about ways to replace refined grains with whole grains throughout your day. For example, you might consider a bowl of whole-grain cereal instead of a white flour bagel for breakfast and replacing refined-grain snacks, entrees, and side dishes with whole-grain options. Small incremental changes in your diet to increase whole-grain intake will make a difference over time,”

What is soluble fibre?

The British Nutrition Foundation says this:

“You may have heard of the terms ‘soluble fibre’ or ‘insoluble fibre’– these are words that are sometimes used to describe the types of fibre in our diet. Although scientific organisations argue that these terms are no longer really appropriate, you may see these terms being used, with soluble fibre including pectins and beta glucans (found for example in foods like fruit and oats) and insoluble fibre including cellulose (found for example in wholegrains and nuts). What is important to remember is that fibre-rich foods typically contain both types of fibre.”

How do I know if I’m eating enough fibre?

Most people just aren’t eating enough fibre. The NHS website says:

“[UK] Government guidelines published in July 2015 say our dietary fibre intake should increase to 30g a day, as part of a healthy balanced diet. As most adults are only eating an average of about 18g day, we need to find ways of increasing our intake.”

How do I prevent gas from eating high fibre diet?

You may be concerned about gas if you increase your fibre intake. Producing a lot of gas can be embarrassing and painful. The gas occurs because bacteria within the colon produce gas as a by-product of their digestion of fibre. Harvard Health say:

“be careful about eating a lot of fiber at once. Overdoing it can cause gas, bloating, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps as your gut bacteria try to process all the new fiber. These problems go away after a while as your digestive system gets used to the higher fiber levels, but you can avoid them by adding extra fiber gradually to your diet. For example, try to add just one more serving of a high-fiber food to your daily diet for a week, then see how your body feels. Give yourself another week, if needed. If everything is okay, add another daily serving for a week. Continue this pattern until you reach your daily quota of fiber.

“Also, make sure to drink plenty of fluids each day—about 16 ounces of water, four times a day. Increasing the water you drink can help fiber pass through your digestive system and avoid stomach distress.”

Coral Sirett of Zest Health has written a very interesting article entitled 15 Ways With Pulses. She says:

“If you have been put off eating more beans because you’re concerned about wind [gas] my advice is to increase the amount you eat gradually. This will help your body to adjust to the increase in fibre.

“You can also make pulses more digestible by rinsing them if you buy canned.

“The easiest beans to digest are black-eyed peas, adzuki, lentils and mung beans. You may also find them easier to digest if you eat with another source of protein such as quinoa, rice or barley.”

Disadvantages Of fibre

Fibre can bind with some minerals such as iron and reduce their absorption.  If you are taking an iron supplement, take it with something with vitamin C (e.g. orange juic) and keep it away from a high fibre meal.

If you already have diverticulitis, Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome, etc., you may not benefit from an increase in fibre, as this can physically aggravate the existing problems.

How can I increase my fibre intake?

The British Nutrition Foundation suggests:

  • Choose a high fibre breakfast cereal e.g. wholegrain cereal like wholewheat biscuit cereal, no added sugar muesli, bran flakes or porridge. Why not add some fresh fruit, dried fruit, seeds and/or nuts.
  • Go for wholemeal or seeded wholegrain breads. If your family only typically likes white bread, why not try the versions that combine white and wholemeal flours as a start.
  • Choose wholegrains like wholewheat pasta, bulgur wheat or brown rice.
  • Go for potatoes with skins e.g. baked potato, wedges or boiled new potatoes – you can eat these hot or use for a salad.
  • For snacks try fruit, vegetable sticks, rye crackers, oatcakes, unsalted nuts or seeds.
  • Include plenty of vegetables with meals – either as a side dish/salad or added to sauces, stews or curries – this is a good way of getting children to eat more veg.
  • Keep a supply of frozen vegetables so you are never without.
  • Add pulses like beans, lentils or chickpeas to stews, curries and salads.
  • Have some fresh or fruit canned in natural juice for dessert or a snack.

Coral Sirett has some good suggestions in her article 15 Ways With Pulses for what you can make with pulses.

If you’re eating a plant-based diet, you will naturally be eating plenty of fibre and repeaing all the benefits that gives.