Body, Mind & Spirit: Easy Wellness Advice for Health and Happiness
Researchers have found significant improvements in cholesterol, blood pressure, oxygen intake and metabolic responses after six weeks of participation in pickleball. Photo: LPETTET/Getty Images
From the health benefits of pickleball to the link between positivity and longevity, we look at some proven strategies for improving your health and happiness.
Get Your (New) Game On
Every Sunday morning, Jan Dekker, 78, plays pickleball for free at Toronto’s St. Lawrence Community Centre, where the court is reserved at 10 a.m. for people aged 60 and over. He’s at a pickleball court somewhere in the city four times a week. He’s even played the popular 1960s paddle game on cruise ships. “It’s addictive,” Dekker admits. He enjoys both the socializing and, along with the other sports he plays, the workout that helps keep his blood sugar levels stable.
Now there’s evidence that Dekker’s preferred form of exercise provides major health benefits. Research published in the International Journal of Research in Exercise Physiology found significant improvements in cholesterol, blood pressure, oxygen intake and metabolic responses after six weeks of participation in pickleball. The study concluded that it is a “feasible alternative to traditional exercise modalities for middle-aged and older adults.”
The study also found that regular participation in pickleball improves cardiorespiratory fitness — as do other forms of aerobic exercise including swimming, cycling and fast walking — and it has a positive effect on key cardiovascular disease risk factors.
“It’s a great pastime for older people,” says Dekker, a retired engineer. “You don’t have to move as fast as tennis, it’s not as hard on the joints, and you don’t have to show up with a partner because there are always people there to play with.”
Get a good night’s sleep for beauty, sure, but also for your brain. This past September, insomnia landed in the crosshairs of researchers at Université de Montréal, Concordia and McGill who, after analyzing data from more than 26,000 participants aged 45 to 85 enrolled in the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging, found that it increased risk of memory decline and dementia. But the good news, say the study’s authors, is that sleep disorders like insomnia can be treated and that treatment might help prevent cognitive decline. In addition, they suggest that adverse cognitive effects may be halted by improving insomnia symptoms.
Insomnia is defined as trouble falling asleep, staying asleep or waking too early at least three nights a week over a period of three months, and that affects your daytime functioning. Compensating with a sleep-in, a longer nap or an earlier bedtime the next night can only make matters worse, says neuropsychologist Dr. Maude Bouchard, clinical lead for the Montreal-based sleep-aid app HALEO. “Unfortunately, while this can help to get more sleep in the shorter term, these behaviours can exacerbate insomnia.”
Instead, through cognitive behavioural therapy for insomnia (CBT-I), which helps develop better — and medication-free — sleep habits, app users learn to improve their “sleep drive” by keeping a strict sleep schedule. “This will result in what we call a sleep rebound, a deeper sleep that will help to recover from previous sleep debt.”
Glass Half Full
Expecting that good things will happen can help you live longer. A Harvard study co-authored by Canadian clinical psychologist Dr. Claudia Trudel-Fitzgerald found that being highly optimistic is linked with longer life and living past 90 in women across racial and ethnic groups. “Optimistic people tend to engage in healthier behaviour and have better social relationships than less optimistic people,” says Trudel-Fitzgerald, assistant professor at Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières. But there’s also a biological perspective. “People who are more optimistic may have a lower level of inflammation and healthier levels of blood pressure.”
Optimism is a fountain of youth, says Nikki Jameson, 66. “Life starts to get more difficult but optimism is a lifebuoy.” Jameson returned to Ottawa after retiring from Global Affairs Canada. She started taking courses at the Centre for Applied Neuroscience for her own health and happiness and now works as a life coach for seniors. Optimism, she says, “gets the juices flowing instead of stagnating. It’s being open to possibility and anticipating good things in life, expecting that good things will happen, not just that they could happen.”
About 30 per cent of optimism is an inherited characteristic, but optimism can be learned, says Trudel-Fitzgerald. Do try this at home: “Imagine what would be your best possible self in five, 10 or 20 years. And then, think of what you would have to do to achieve these goals.”
A version this article appeared in the December 2022/January 2023 issue with the headline ‘Body + Mind + Spirit’, p. 28.