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Health and self for 2020

Kick start your New Year’s resolutions with these top tips based on research from King's College London

1. Mind the health gap

If you can walk or cycle for your daily commute, choose quieter routes rather than main roads to reduce your exposure to air pollution as research reveals the health risks of living near a busy road in the UK.

Researchers measuring fine particles on the London Underground found that concentrations of PM2.5 were approximately 15 times greater than in the surface and roadside environments in central London with the Northern and Victoria Lines recording levels higher than any other major city.

There might be ways to reduce your exposure such as switching to an alternative line with lower concentrations of PM2.5 or for shorter journeys it might be possible to switch to alternative modes of transport.– Dr David Green, Senior Research Fellow

2. Move it, move it

A lifetime of regular exercise can keep the body young and healthy, ultimately slowing down the signs and processes of ageing. After studying a group of older adults who had exercised most of their lives, researchers concluded that regular exercise can mitigate against a loss of muscle mass and strength, as well as prevent an increase in body fat and rise in cholesterol.

More surprisingly, the study also revealed that the benefits of exercise extend beyond muscle as the individuals studied also had an immune system that did not seem to have aged either.

The findings emphasise the fact that the cyclists do not exercise because they are healthy, but that they are healthy because they have been exercising for such a large proportion of their lives.– Stephen Harridge, Professor of Human & Applied Physiology.

Another study found that adults who participated in short-term pedometer-based walking trials experienced health benefits several years later, according to research from King’s.

It is never too late to start exercising – our work was aimed at 45-75-year olds who were not walking much. Encouraging the use of pedometers or step-counting to increase brisk walking is a great investment for those commissioning services to improve public health.– Julia Fox-Rushby, Professor of Health Economics

3. Get minty fresh

After the festive season of excess comes to end, your oral health will need a boost to get back on track. Why not make a New Year’s Resolution and add chewing sugar-free gum after meals into your routine?

Research has found that chewing sugar-free gum produces saliva, and saliva can act as a natural barrier to protect teeth and neutralise food acids that can attack the outer layer on the tooth, the enamel.

A systematic review by King’s found that chewing sugar-free gum could help to reduce the further development of dental caries (cavities).–  Avijit Banerjee, Professor of Cariology & Operative Dentistry.

4. Tweet tweet

Researchers at King’s, landscape architects J & L Gibbons and art foundation Nomad Projects have used smartphone-based technology to assess the relationship between nature in cities and momentary mental wellbeing in real-time.

They found that being outdoors, seeing trees, hearing birdsong, seeing the sky, and feeling in contact with nature were associated with higher levels of mental wellbeing. The beneficial effects of nature were especially evident in more impulsive individuals, who are at greater risk of mental health issues.

These findings suggest that short-term exposure to nature has a measurable beneficial impact on mental wellbeing. The interaction of this effect with trait impulsivity is intriguing, as it suggests that nature could be especially beneficial to those individuals who are at risk of poor mental health.– Dr Andrea Mechelli, Professor of Early Intervention in Mental Health

5. Go heavy on the berries

Research shows that eating red raspberries improves the function of the cells that line blood vessels. Endothelial cells form the interior lining of our blood and lymphatic vessels. They act as a barrier between the blood or lymph and the surrounding body tissue as well as playing key roles in blood clotting and regulating blood pressure amongst other things.

Researchers measured how arteries widen when the blood flow increases and those who drank raspberry-containing drinks had a significant increase.

Another study found that eating 200g of blueberries every day for a month can lead to an improvement in blood vessel function and a decrease in systolic blood pressure in healthy people.

If the changes we saw in blood vessel function after eating blueberries every day could be sustained for a person’s whole life, it could reduce their risk of developing cardiovascular disease by up to 20%– Dr Ana Rodriguez-Mateos

6. Go al-fresco

Help boost your wellbeing at work by taking a lunch break away from your desk and trying something creative or physical such as photography, drawing or going for a walk.

Few people take regular lunch breaks away from their desk or place of work and this is potentially harmful to wellbeing. It is particularly an issue in the clinical practice of nursing care and nursing education. A recent study into the wellbeing of nurses showed that those who engaged in activities such as physical exercise, mindfulness practice and listening to music, felt their wellbeing improved.

Our study into the wellbeing of mental health nurses in the UK found that healthcare employers’ staff health and wellbeing strategies should be informed by nurses’ insights into what works for them. This may mean offering opportunities to take part in wellbeing activities. There are also opportunities to improve staff wellbeing through shared initiatives open to nurses and patients and through an inclusive and empowering approach to staff engagement.– Dr Jennifer Oates

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