A Few Healthy Thoughts

image: iStock Photo

I wanted to start the year by offering a few healthy thoughts and pieces of advice that might help to get the year off to a fresher, healthier start. They’re all things that I think/do personally.

Slow Aging

Scientists around the world agree that free radicals accelerate the aging process. They are small molecules that are incomplete and so pinch energy from anything nearby, which might be important cells and even DNA, thus degrading the body.

Antioxidants mop up free radicals by supplying them with energy. Drinks like green tea, fruits like blueberries, spices like cinnamon, and even vitamin C are excellent antioxidants.

Practices like yoga, tai-chi, and meditation also mop up free radicals from the inside. Research at Harvard in 2008 showed that a short course in either of these practices activated genes that produced the body’s own antioxidants. A daily practice can definitely keep you younger.

Boost Your Immune System

Studies of cultures who live longest often reveals that they eat more than us. Well, not exactly more, but more ingredients.

As we increase the number of ingredients on our plate, we introduce a greater range of bacteria to our immune system. I know it sounds gross to talk about introducing bacteria, but our immune systems respond by developing immunity.

It works on a similar principle to how puppies and dogs can boost our immune systems. They bring in so much dirt on their paws that it exposes us to a wider spectrum of bacteria.

In time, our immune system becomes broader ranging and more robust. In some ways, it’s the opposite to living in an overly sterile environment, where the immune system doesn’t get a chance to build up because there’s not a diverse enough range of bacteria and other pathogens for it to tackle.

You want to protect yourself from getting the cold? Eat more…..ingredients.


A simple relaxation technique that I personally use when I feel stressed is that I interrupt the effect on my mind and nervous system by taking a few deep breaths. Sometimes I even take a sharp intake of breath, to interrupt the train of though that is producing the stress. This is a bit of a no brainer and most people know about it, but you’ll be surprised at how many people do know it but almost never do it.

Another thing I do is to picture the stress as an inflated balloon. Then I take a deep breath and as I exhale I imagine letting the air out of the balloon. The does 2 things to the body:

The first is that the breathing activates the vagus nerve, which controls the heart. As we exhale, the vagus nerve causes the heart rate to slow and blood pressure to drop, and our physiology moves toward the ‘rest and relax’ mode.

Secondly, the symbolic picture of the inflated balloon deflating represents the stress reducing. It tells our brain that we are feeling better. Psychologically, this eases our emotions.

I do this until I no longer feel uptight. It usually only takes a few breaths.

Gratitude to improve happiness

When life leaves us feeling frazzled, few of us realise that the ability to turn ourselves around lie within ourselves.

Research shows that a powerful antidote to feeling the blues is called a ‘gratitude intervention’. Many find it works even better than an antidepressant.

All you have to do is make a small list every day, preferably before going to bed at night, of 5-10 things that you are grateful for that happened in the last 24 hours.

And other studies have shown that a ‘kindness intervention’ can make us happier. The rules, here, are to choose one day of the week and commit 3-5 acts of kindness on it. Some people find it to be life changing.

Well, I hope those few simple thoughts are useful for you this month, and perhaps are also things you can recall from time to time throughout the year.


  1. Cameron M. on January 15, 2013 at 12:05 pm

    Nice one David – thank you for the reminder. I’ve been using Gratitude to great effect lately too – in fact, I read about it in one of your books! I’m doing the ‘write down 50 things I’m grateful for each day’ exercise, and I find that it works really well. I’m also finding that if I’m stressed out or not in a high mood/vibrational state, I can go to my notepad, add to my gratitude list, and I’m back on track and in a better frame of mind.

    • David R. Hamilton PhD on January 15, 2013 at 12:37 pm

      Thanks Cameron. Great you are having success with the gratitude exercise. It was around 2005 when a friend of a friend shared that he’d been in a deep depression and he decided to find 50 things to be grateful for every day. He really struggled with it at first and had to pay attention around him all day for just tiny things he could write down. Eventually, it became easier. He told me that he was averaging 75 after about 2 weeks and the depression had lifted after about a month. I never forgot that and began looking for research on it soon after. 🙂

  2. Sarah on January 15, 2013 at 3:32 pm

    I agree, gratitude is life changing. I am working through The Magic by Rhonda Byrne at the moment which has daily gratitude practices to do each day – it’s amazing! I do the balloon thing too, David (I also use it with clients in my hypnotherapy practice) but rather than deflating, I imagine the balloon floating away – I sometimes write words on the balloons too (with each breath a new balloon) so that I am letting go of eg ‘stress’, ‘tiredeness’, ‘anger’ etc with each balloon. Thank you for the reminder, Sarah

    • David R. Hamilton PhD on January 16, 2013 at 10:29 am

      I like your balloon exercise Sarah…..I can imagine people find it very relaxing. 🙂

  3. Anna Feist on January 15, 2013 at 4:41 pm

    I’ve just sought out a ‘special diary’ for the year……..one just for recording daily ‘gratitudes’. Now to transfer those comments on pieces of paper into the new diary. The article is a reminder that I need to get on with it.

    • David R. Hamilton PhD on January 16, 2013 at 10:30 am

      I hope you have a great time with your diary Anna. 🙂 I’m glad the article arrived at the right time!

  4. Vida Green on January 15, 2013 at 5:26 pm

    Thank you David,,, yes the gratitude exercise does work, and being grateful of what the universe gives us… i have had help through the Reach Approach and your books, my life is so much better,Your book “How your mind can heal your body, started it all off. I read it constantly. So thanks again, wish you would return to Sutton Coldfield soon.

    • David R. Hamilton PhD on January 16, 2013 at 10:31 am

      Thanks for your kind words about my book Vida. I’m really glad that your life is so much better now. 🙂 I may be back in Sutton Coldfield again later in the year.

  5. Sonia on January 15, 2013 at 6:09 pm

    Great article David, love how you explain what happens to the body during this type of breathing, really interesting! Saw you at a demonstration in Dublin last year, will you be coming back this year? Keep the articles coming 🙂

    • David R. Hamilton PhD on January 16, 2013 at 10:32 am

      Thanks Sonia. Yes, I’ll probably be back in Dublin in October. 🙂

  6. Kerry on January 15, 2013 at 9:58 pm

    I can relate to your friend’s struggle when first usong the gratitude exercise. I started January 1st this year, and initially found it difficult, thinking that this was to, “insignificant” and that was, “trivial” but they are not! You begin ot realise there is gratitude in the smallest thing, i.e. putting on a pair of Christmas present slippers! How soft & snug on your feet first thing in the morning… priceless! Thank you David…. 🙂

    • David R. Hamilton PhD on January 16, 2013 at 10:33 am

      Hi Kerry, thanks for your comment. I think it will be helpful to people who find gratitude exercises difficult or don’t see the sense in them. You’re so right. It really does help you to see good in even the smallest things that we wouldn’t normally really think that way about. 🙂

  7. Christine on January 16, 2013 at 10:33 am

    A very timely reminder, David. Thank you. Funnily enough, I felt drawn to taking up Tai Chi again towards the end of last year and once again writing my gratitude list. I’ve also been doing a daily meditation, just focussing on the breath, but I certainly need to look at what I eat more closely. It’s too easy when you’re cooking for one to skip eating well balanced meals. I need to start practising what I used to preach to family!

    • David R. Hamilton PhD on January 16, 2013 at 12:56 pm

      Hi Christine, Glad the timing was good for you. 🙂 You’re not alone….I think many of us could do with practising a little more of what we preach to others..me included. 🙂

  8. Cecilia on January 16, 2013 at 8:09 pm

    50? I’ve been doing 3! Oh boy…

    On another note, I’ve booked next Monday up as my first Kindness Intervention day. I figured that was the day most people needed to be cheered by a random act of kindness 🙂

    (But seriously. 50?!)

    • David R. Hamilton PhD on January 17, 2013 at 10:41 am

      Hey, good for you doing your first kindness intervention day next monday…..blue Monday, I think they call it. It’s lovely that you will be adding a little bit of warmth to that day for some people. Good on you!! It’s the quality of the gratitude exercise more than the number of things that matters most. Fifty is the number that many people who are depressed aim for on a consistent basis to try to bring them out of their depression. Most people’s daily exercise is around 5-10, but as I said, it’s the quality more than the number that counts. 🙂

  9. Karen on January 16, 2013 at 8:25 pm

    I’m a pupil of the Alexander Technique, whispered ah’s are taught in lessons where you allow the breath to work naturally. Not to interfere with it, the in breath will take care of itself if we allow ourselves to exhale – we’re always to quick in wanting to take another breath in. As you said David – ‘the breathing activates the vagus nerve, which controls the heart. As we exhale, the vagus nerve causes the heart rate to slow and blood pressure to drop, and our physiology moves toward the ‘rest and relax’ mode’ Makes complete sense to me. We spoke a few years ago at one of your workshops in Perth – did you ever have an Alexander lesson? I think you would find it interesting.

    • David R. Hamilton PhD on January 17, 2013 at 10:38 am

      Hi Karen, yes, I’ve heard many good things about Alexander Technique. I’ve not yet had a lesson but I do agree that I’d probably find it interesting. 🙂

  10. Ursula on January 16, 2013 at 8:32 pm

    I look out for your articles – they help me to understand even difficult stuff. they are inspiring and exude your warmth and enthusiasm . Breathing in and out also activates the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system which is a also a reason why we relax (…. there are maybe more reasons why breathing out is so relaxing )
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts – Ursula

    • David R. Hamilton PhD on January 17, 2013 at 10:37 am

      Thanks for your kind words Ursula. I’m pleased that you look out for my articles. It helps me to know that some people enjoy what I write. Happy Breathing! 🙂