Sadly, this is my last column in YOU after more years than I care to count. For family reasons, I am stepping down to have a break. But it’s not goodbye as I will still be contributing regularly to the magazine.
Over the years, your letters, cards, photos and emails have provided the inspiration for the huge range of topics I have delved into. You have trusted me with your concerns and, with the help of leading experts worldwide, I have aimed to respond with the advice I would want for my family and friends.
I have had the privilege of talking to health heroes, including doctors and scientists carrying out pioneering research, natural health experts exploring the potential of traditional medicine, and patients with life-limiting conditions who have found their own ways to live well. It has been a fascinating, illuminating and moving journey into all the spheres that affect our health and wellbeing – physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. So I wanted to share a few of the things that I have learnt over the years, which you tell me have also proved interesting and helpful to you…
Laugh – lots! It’s one of the best boosts for your mind and body, relaxing muscles, decreasing stress hormones and improving your resistance to disease.
Fat is not the foe, sugar is. It is now clear that the low-fat imperative was based on flawed research. Good books include Fat Chance: The Hidden Truth about Sugar, Obesity and Disease by Professor Robert Lustig (Fourth Estate).
Sing. Make music. Dance. The arts generally are hugely powerful for our health and wellbeing. Discover more from Aesop, a charity and social enterprise connecting the worlds of health and the arts (ae-sop.org).
Eat fruit, don’t drink it. Crunching a whole apple gives you fibre, nutrients, making you chew and less likely to snack. A glass of juice contains around four apples, but yields virtually no fibre, gives a quick sugar hit and the acid may erode your tooth enamel.
Be good to your gut. An abundance of research now proves that keeping your gut happy helps your mind, brain and body. Also, gut problems may be behind neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s. Many people thrive on a Mediterranean-type, low carbohydrate diet with lots of olive oil, fish and vegetables. Also consider a probiotic supplement.
Womb cancer has doubled in the past decade, mainly due to increasing rates of obesity, and is now the fourth most common female cancer. It’s very treatable if caught early. But nearly half of women don’t know the key symptoms, starting with unusual bleeding. See The Eve Appeal Womb Cancer Guide (eveappeal.org.uk).
Make time for small pleasures – seeing a friend, a sunny day, a bunch of flowers – and be grateful for simple things such as hot water coming out of the tap. ‘Start the day feeling happy by saying thank you,’ suggests life coach Carrie Rose.
Vitamin D is vital. At least one in five people suffers from low levels. If you are tired and lack energy, consult your GP about getting your vitamin D levels tested. Summer sunshine boosts levels but Public Health England suggests we should all consider a daily supplement in the winter.
My desert island books
Anam Cara: Spiritual Wisdom from the Celtic World by John O’Donohue (Bantam). This book, by an Irish priest, poet and philosopher, moved me greatly. His assertion that ‘the human spirit thrives on risk’ makes me braver in tricky moments.
Healing Without Freud or Prozacac: Natural Approaches to Curing Stress, Anxiety and Depression by David Servan-Schreiber (Rodale). This ground-breaking guide by a leading psychiatrist and joint founder of Médecins Sans Frontières offers scientifically proven ways to balance your mind and brain without pharmaceutical drugs.
The Emotional Intelligence Pocketbook: Little Exercises for an Intuitive Life by Gill Hasson (Capstone Publishing). Suggestions for small changes that can make a big difference to you and those around you. I love the quote from Maya Angelou: ‘People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.’