Body, Mind & Spirit: The Positive Effects of Steps, Houseplants and Cheering On Your Favourite Team
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From the amount of steps we need to boost longevity to the brain health benefits of cheering on your favourite team, we take a look at some expert-approved tips for improving your wellbeing.
Step It Up
How many steps are enough? The more the better. That’s the bottom line from a recent meta-analysis of 17 studies into how daily step count impacts the bottom line — our mortality. The findings suggest that reducing our risk of dying from any cause starts at reaching 3,967 steps a day. Every extra 1,000 steps after that was associated with a further 15 per cent risk reduction. Although the health benefits decreased slightly after the age of 60, older adults who logged between 6,000 and 10,000 steps daily still reduced their all-cause mortality risk by 42 per cent.
That kind of evidence can be just the motivation we need to change behaviour and adopt healthier habits, says Dr. Dwight Chapin, author of Take Good Care: 7 Wellness Rituals for Health, Strength & Hope. But, to convert those habits into daily rituals, some of us may need more immediate results. “Then, we’re incentivized to want more,” says the 50-year-old, Mississauga, Ont.-based chiropractor and corporate wellness adviser.
In the book, Chapin dangles the following finding as one reason why we should move more (Wellness Ritual #4): People who engage in 30 minutes of moderate aerobic activity – brisk walking counts and nets 3,000 to 4,000 steps – report better sleep quality that same night. Or, maybe you’re more motivated by social accountability. “With time dedicated to a friend or neighbour, you’re more likely to get out for that walk every day” The point, he says, is to find your why. “Lean into what motivates you.”
Get Your Head in the Game
Diehard sports fans have a good thing going — watching a game can induce pain-relieving endorphins and stimulate dopamine and adrenaline, neurotransmitters that play a role in attention and focus. Getting into game mode also supports letting go of unhealthy chronic stress, which can prematurely shrink the brain and lead to memory loss, according to research. On the other hand, “the suspense and uncertainty of the game generates a healthy kind of stress, called eustress,” explains Ben Schellenberg, a University of Manitoba assistant professor of kinesiology and recreation management. Research shows this positive, moderate stress can improve brain performance by strengthening the connection between its neurons.
Going to sporting events or watching them with family and friends can strengthen social connection. Researchers have found that people with strong social ties are less likely to experience cognitive decline. Even peripheral interactions in the neighbourhood, chatting about sports, can be beneficial, reducing cognitive decline in older people, scientists found. “I’m surrounded by Jets fans,” says Schellenberg, who lives in Winnipeg. “It’s easy to have small talk at the grocery store or the bank.”
For Carman Calderone, 82, a retired Montreal controller and soccer fan, it’s about feeling part of the action. “When I watch a game, I’m playing with them. I talk to them. I’m passionate about it,” he explains. “It’s distracting and that’s healthy for me.”
Days growing shorter? Missing nature? Get a houseplant!
According to a charming new book, Happy Plants, Happy You by author Kamili Bell Hill, it’s not just the delight of looking after fiddle-leaf figs or snake plants (which she likens to potato chips because of their ease) that will raise spirits — there is science in play.
Soil contains the natural antidepressant Mycobacterium vaccae, microbes that boost serotonin, the happy hormone, when you either breathe M. vaccae in or it is absorbed through the skin of your fingers. And according to a study by the Institut de Cardiologie de Montréal, caring for houseplants reduces psychological and physiological stress, improves recovery after surgery and increases attention and concentration, as well as creativity and productivity.
But, as Bell Hill so joyously points out — and the book’s subtitle, A Plant-Care and Self-Care Guide for the Modern Houseplant Parent, primes — it’s also about creating calm time for yourself. Slowing down, walking around and checking on your plants is like “ambulatory meditation,” excellent for reducing blood pressure or just feeling good.
Bell Hill compares relationships with plants to dating: Weeding out those that don’t work (the Boston fern, for her) can teach us the importance of reciprocity in our human relationships. And the giveback is terrific when (the right) plants thrive. As she writes, “Nothing says I love you like a shiny new leaf or a flower bud.”
A version of this article appeared in the Oct/Nov issue with the headline, Body, Mind & Spirit, p. 29.