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Just One Thing: At last you can trade in your vagina crystals for a good night’s sleep

Podcast review: Michael Mosley’s BBC series delves into the single simple change that might improve your health and wellbeing

Let’s get this out of the way: some sort of irony may seem to be at play when a podcast entitled Just One Thing has already dropped 50-plus episodes. But the “one thing” that this podcast wants you to try might be a different one thing for different people, which is why we get so many options: it’s the single simple change that you might make to improve your health and wellbeing. And what a list of simple changes, running the gamut from the more obvious habits of the virtuous – drink water, eat wholegrains, meditate – to the more surprising and, let’s face it, more appealing examples of playing more video games, napping or consuming red wine.

The host for these quarter-hour chunks of science lite is the avuncular Michael Mosley, a long-time BBC presenter, now in his 60s, who gives every challenge a go on his own, kicking off each episode with audio of his own experience of, say, having a cold shower or making sauerkraut. It’s an even-I-can-give-this-a-try approach that he augments with his digestible summaries of the science behind the purported health benefits. And, frankly, if this 66-year-old can plank for more than a minute, it does feel like a gauntlet thrown.

The podcast’s formula makes for easy absorption: Mosley sets out the stall – red wine contains polyphenols that could lower your blood pressure and improve gut health, or listening to music can ease pain and give your brain a boost – then invites a member of the public to make the switch to incorporate the healthy nugget in their daily life. Steve from Blackburn swaps his regular cider for the red wine; Fiona from Belfast starts learning Japanese. Mosley gives us a mini science primer on the theory behind the benefits expected, and it’s on to the experts.

Every episode, Mosley interviews academics and scientists who have particular knowledge about the area in question, and can speak to the research, a reminder that academics go deep on the most idiosyncratic subjects – backward walking, anyone? They lay it out in fairly simple terms: Dr Jamie O’Driscoll from Canterbury Christ Church University, for example, talks us through his randomised control trial on the benefits of planking, and how best to introduce this exercise into your daily routine. Back to Penelope to find out how her weeklong trial went – the answer is invariably, “Very well, thank you, Michael”. (Nobody that I hear reports anything but positive changes, including more energy or better sleep, which does lead one to wonder if there are a series of unusable out-takes where Stella from Amesbury says the weeklong trial made her break out in hives or lose the will to live.)


What’s affirming about this podcast is the reminder of the many great choices you are already making: I drink water! I drink red wine! I sing in the shower! It’s like a form of positive reinforcement that then dials up your attention about the just one things you aren’t doing, which is to say walking backwards, drinking kefir or taking cold showers. And while the science can feel a bit breezy – the truth is not one of these things on its own can undo generations of crummy genes and years of bad habits – there’s something winningly simple about the notion that, to be better, you just need to start with something small. Just one thing, in fact, and often an affordable one at that. The wellness-industrial complex won’t want this stuff to get out, lest we trade in our vagina crystals for a good night’s sleep.

Fiona McCann

Fiona McCann, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a writer, journalist and cohost of the We Can’t Print This podcast