Sunday, 27 August 2017

Little things can make the world a brighter and better place

I had 24 hour power outage last week. The trip switch at the main fuse box would not reset, even with all the appliances unplugged. It was immensely frustrating. For me it was the little things that were the most frustrating, like not being able to flick a switch to boil the kettle for a cup of coffee, or washing in cold water as the boiler was out. I managed to find an electrician. He was very busy but he gave me a guaranteed time of arrival of 18.00. Thankfully he turned up and with just one small screwdriver (and I expect many years of experience and knowledge) found the problem. It was a trapped wire in the ceiling rose of the kitchen light, disturbed when I had changed a bulb. 

It was hard to believe that such a little thing could result in such a frustrating problem. There was an upside to the day though. As my lap top, iPad, and phone all needed charging, and the electrician wasn't arriving until 18.00, I decided to go for a walk – the sun was shining and I managed a 21km walk across some beautiful Lancashire countryside. Regular readers of this blog will know that I #WalkEveryDay, and for 99% of the time achieve the World Health Organisation recommended 150 hours of physical activity a week (for me, 10,000 steps a day). I find walking suits me better than running, but its good to know an increasing number of people have taken up jogging, park runs and so on. 

However, as Public Health England (PHE) reported last week, many middle aged people are becoming less active. Overall the population is 20% less active now than in the 1960s. PHE estimated that 4 out of every 10 people aged 40 – 60 do not even manage to have 1 brisk walk each month. The evidence now strongly supports the link between exercise such as walking and the impact on our health. Just a 10 minute brisk walk a day can reduce the risk of an early death by 15% - 1 in 6 deaths can be linked to inactivity. A brisk walk is generally accepted as being just under 5kph, which most people can easily achieve.

In encouraging more people to take this small step in improving their health PHE launched a new free app – Active 10 – which can both monitor the amount of brisk walking someone does and provides lots of tips on how such activity can be ‘incorporated’ into our daily routines. In this way the 10 mins walking doesn’t become an additional thing to do. Of course 10 mins brisk walking won’t on its own enable people to achieve the WHO target of 150 hours of physical activity a week, but it will be enough to start to make a difference to those with high blood pressure, diabetes, weight issues, depression and anxiety. For men and women of my age, walking also reduces the risk of hip fractures! Whilst I tend to mainly walk with Cello (my dog), all the grandchildren love walking as well – so when they get to join in their health and wellbeing benefits as well.

Exercise such as walking has also been shown to increase the level of BDNF, (brain-derived neurotrophic factor). BDNF is a key neurotrophin protein which helps to preserve the health of existing neurons and synapses, and create new ones. In the brain, BDNF is most active in the hippocampus, cortex and forebrain, all of which are areas crucial to learning, memory and higher thinking. So last week I was hoping that my walking had increased my BDNF levels as I wanted to participate in the Narrative magazines 6 word story challenge. 

Also launched last week, the challenge reflects Ernest Hemingway’s creation of the six-word story. These combine poetry and drama into a short form, which has grown in popularity despite it being difficult to achieve. Hemingway’s most famous 6-word story is possibly: Baby shoes for sale, never worn – I also liked the Booker Prize winner, Margaret Atwood’s 6-word story: Longed for him. Got him. S**t. Anyway, despite all my walking, I don’t think my BDNF level was increased sufficiently to match Hemingway and Atwood’s efforts. 

Given the black place I have found myself in over the past couple of months, I thought this 6-word story might be apt: I’ve low serotonin levels; very depressing – interestingly, the medication I have been taking for my depression comes in the form of tiny white tablets, but my goodness they have made a difference. If you are interested in the 6-word story challenge, please free to send your suggestions to me, and/or to the Narrative magazine challenge, which can be found here.