Thank you so much to everyone (hundreds of you!) who entered the give-away for copies of 52 Ways to Walk and The Age-Well Project. Thank you to those who sent photographs and memories – and so much beautiful descriptive writing. It was an absolute joy to read them – although my feet were itching the whole time! Congratulations to winners, Claire and Angela.
For those of you who still want copies of 52 Ways to Walk, Waterstones (in the UK) is doing a pre-Xmas offer (I think it will be half-price, although still awaiting confirmation). In the US, https://www.bookbub.com/ is doing an e-book promotion for a week in November (from the 14th to the 21st) when it will be $1.99. And I’m doing a give-away on my personal Instagram (@annabelabbs) of my two walking books, to coincide with the clock change at the end of the month.
As you know, I’m researching how landscapes speak to us and how our bodies change according to where we walk. There’s more and more research being carried out, although this subject is still in its infancy. But all your responses will now play a part in my 2024 book – so thank you. And in case you’re wondering whether there was a clear ‘preferred landscape’, yes there was. By a long margin.
It appears that our community here at the Age-Well Project has a strong affinity for … the sea. Coastlines, shorelines, beach walks: many of you wrote eloquently of a long-held love for the waves, the big skies, the birds. I’ll be putting this to the marine biologists I’m working with – whose research is so new and pioneering it’s had no publicity outside the most obscure of science journals. Suffice it to say that there may be more to a beach walk than meets the eye.
Forests and woodlands were next, but quite a way behind. Urban walks lagged – but many of you expressed profound gratitude for your local parks. I empathise with this and beg city planners to take note! Equally fascinating (to me, at any rate) were the references to what I call ‘layers of history’ – old buildings, roman ruins, churches, country lanes. Again, I shall be asking our planners to take note. Historical places are so much more than ‘old buildings’. They carry a weight of meaning which environmental psychologists are starting to unpick – and which a handful of neuroscientists are investigating. In the meantime, we must protect them from bull-dozing property developers.
Which is all to say, that our brain subtly rewires as we walk through certain landscapes. The walking adds to the soup of biochemicals with which we experience a landscape – lifting our mood, lowering our blood pressure, steadying our heart rate. It’s very different from looking at somewhere through a car windscreen. So keep walking these places, come rain or shine.
As one psychologist told me last week, ‘our health is greatly affected by landscape.’ It’s just that we’re not always aware of it. I’ll be working on this book for the next few months, so if anyone has any further thoughts, feel free to drop me an email or – if you want to share your ideas more widely, please leave a comment in the comment box which we check regularly.
If you’re still struggling to include lots of movement in your life, bear in mind research published earlier this year which found that movement also acts as buffer against pain: it’s effectively a version of pain-relief, thanks to the cascade of pain-masking chemicals released when we move. In a study published earlier in the year, researchers used data from 10,732 Norwegian participants (aged between 30 and 87), finding that ‘In conclusion, being physically active … was associated with higher pain tolerance compared to being sedentary.’ This isn’t the first time that researchers have uncovered a link between exercise and pain relief. Previous studies found that a single session of movement immediately reduces pain. Several studies have found that people who move frequently feel less pain than those who are sedentary, despite having the same (often painful) conditions. But the Norwegian study also found that the more we move the less pain we feel. To boot, researchers found that by moving regularly we build up a tolerance to future pain – we become more physiologically resilient.
What sort of movement? Anything – light, moderate or vigorous. It all helped. So move frequently now and you may well feel less pain in the future. Who doesn’t want that?
From moving to hair-washing – and a very simple ‘hack’, thanks to Dr James Duke writing in a recent issue of Alzheimer’s Weekly. Dr Duke suggests that rosemary – a very powerful herb we’ve written about before – is as effective as an Alzheimer’s drug called donepezil (or Aricept@), and without any side-effects.
“Rosemary contains more than a dozen antioxidants and a half-dozen compounds reported to prevent the breakdown of acetylcholine [which the brain needs but which disappears rapidly in the brains of those with Alzheimer’s]. It’s fabulous that the classical herb of remembrance has so many compounds that might help people suffering from Alzheimer’s,” he said, before suggesting that we might like to regularly wash our hair with rosemary shampoo. Some of its powerful phytochemicals, he says, will enter our brain via our scalp.
The Husband and I have been using Avalon Organic rosemary shampoo for years – and I was delighted to hear that it may have been working as much on our brains as on our hair. Using rosemary body lotion, drinking rosemary tea and cooking with rosemary all help, according to Dr Duke. You can read the full piece here. Meanwhile I have rosemary oil on my diffuser’s nightly roster (along with lemon, eucalyptus, lavender and pine, which I’m rotating) following my last post on the powerfully brain-enhancing benefits of scented-oil-before-bed. Susan often works alongside a diffusing mist of rosemary oil.
I’m not sure the experiment is improving my sleep, but I feel perfectly fine every day. And I’m not worrying about my sleep because a few weeks ago a study popped into my in-box, suggesting that the effects of lack of sleep (or poor quality sleep) are counteracted by … movement!
Evidence has been mounting for a while, indicating that exercise can compensate for poor sleep. A 2022 study found that 25 minutes a day of activity could erase the risk of early death associated with either too much or too little sleep. But a huge study published earlier this year found that higher amounts of exercise virtually eliminated all risk of early death associated with too much or too little sleep.
In this ground-breaking study, 92,000 British participants (aged 43 – 70) were tracked and followed for seven years. During this time 3,080 of them died, mostly from cancer or heart disease. The participants least likely to die also exercised the most and slept the “normal” amount (6 to 8 hours a night, as defined by the study). Meanwhile those who exercised the least and slept less than 6 hours were 2.5 times more likely to die, as were those who got the recommended amount of sleep but didn’t exercise.
All risks disappeared for poorly sleeping participants (yes, that’s those getting less than six hours of shut-eye a night) who managed half an hour of exercise five days a week. Moderate or vigorous movement counted, so a simple, brisk walk did the trick.
How so? ‘Exercise fights inflammatory and metabolic dysregulation and [stress],’ said Dr Jihui Zhang. And these are often the prompts for cardiovascular disease and other potentially fatal conditions.
In other words, our priority should be movement – above all else. I’ve just been in Sardinia learning the truth about blue zones (more to come on this), but outdoor movement appears to be the single most important factor in the longevity of Sardinian Blue Zoners. Oh, and protein – but that’s for another post.
Keep moving, preferably outside. Whatever the weather, light or temperature. It’s quite possibly the single best investment you can make in your now and future health and wellbeing…