Live Longer with These 3 Simple Toothbrush Tricks for Enhanced Health

Ever since “it” hit us hard in 2020 (you know what I’m talking about), people are becoming more health conscious. Now as somebody who works in the health industry, this is absolute music to my ears! But everybody always says the same thing… “I don’t have time”.

I get it. We’re all busy. We have competing interests all vying for our attention (whatever is left outside of work, at least). So the secret to creating new habits is to sneak them into your existing routine.

That’s exactly what we’re going to do here. When I did some quick research for this topic I found out that only 52% of Australian’s brush their teeth twice each day?! Wow. A topic for another day perhaps. But the point remains, almost everybody brushes their teeth at least once, every single day. 

We’re going to put these 2mins to good use. Not everybody just stands there, staring mindlessly into the abyss that is their own reflection while they switch into auto-pilot. But a lot of you do.

Why does any of this matter?

Before we jump into the “toothbrush tweaks” I think it’s important to provide some context. You need to understand why these things matter, and how they’ll contribute to a longer, healthier lifespan. 

Over the last decade, deaths due to Dementia (including Alzheimer’s Disease) have increased by 56%, it is now the first and second leading cause for death amongst women and men respectively, accounting for 10% of all deaths nationwide. 

Accidental falls have shown the largest increase in mortality risk, having doubled since 2013. Falls are now the leading cause of injury hospitalisations (43%) and are now also the leading cause of injury-related deaths (42%) – meaning they are the highest-ranked “external” cause of death. 

Our goal, therefore, as with anything we do at Longevity Project™ is to intervene with these things early and often. Genetics and family history have a role to play in the development and progression of these two enemies, but it’s smaller than you think and not insurmountable.

(All statistics: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, The Australian Bureau of Statistics)

The secret to "staying sharp"...

Neuroplasticity. 

You’ve probably heard of this before. Like most things, I’m not here to show off and “WOW” you with complicated physiological processes that confuse the heck out of you. I want this to actually make sense.

Neuroplasticity = the ability for your brain to re-wire itself and continue learning or adapting. 

We’ve got a hell of a lot (millions) of brain cells that are all connected and talk to each other. Your brain tells your hand to move by using this neural highway, a nerve impulse shooting between cells the entire way. These connections are what keep us sharp. Think of these as little roads or pathways between the cells. When we start to slow down, it’s not necessarily that we’re losing these cells, we’re just losing the ability for them to talk to each other at the speeds we’re used to. We use it or lose it. 

Consider the image below and you’ll understand more about neuroplasticity than most.

 

Originally, there was just tall grass. Through time and repetition, a pathway was formed. If we were to deviate from the clear path i.e. create a new path, it would be hard going, and by tomorrow, the grass we had squashed underfoot would have probably sprung back up. But… What if we continue to walk this new route, every day for weeks on end? Over time, a new (second) pathway would have formed.

This is how neuroplasticity works. This is the “use it or lose it” principle. Forming new pathways and strong connections takes time and repetition. If we leave a path unused, it will become overgrown and harder to follow. 

We previously thought our brains did not have the ability to continue to form connections and pathways as we aged, but that’s not true. We can continue this process well into old age.

We’re going to use the concept of neuroplasticity, along with our knowledge of habit loops to re-wire your brain whilst you brush your teeth. Anywhere between 40-45% of what we do in our lives happens on autopilot. Half our life happens without us thinking about it, using those well-walked pathways we’ve created through repetition.

tweak #1 - using non-dominant hand

By interrupting the unconscious habit of brushing your teeth by using your non-dominant hand, it forces your brain to pay attention. You’re going to be incredibly uncoordinated the first week or so, understandably. It might take you longer than usual, that’s ok because it gives you more time to practise our other tweaks. 

Think of using your non-dominant hand as creating new brain pathways – triggering neuroplasticity. 

It’s a struggle at first, but the more pathways we have, the healthier our brain is! We have options.

There’s no need to worry about losing your skill with your dominant hand, I’m sure that gets plenty of practice the remainder of the day. 

Here are 5 other ways you promote neuroplasticity:

  • Play video games
  • Learn a language
  • Play a musical instrument
  • Travel 
  • Exercise

tweak #2 - single leg balance

I hope you’re feeling coordinated. But if you’re not, all the more reason to start practising! As mentioned, accidental falls are the biggest cause for hospitalisation later in life.  The better you get at balancing now, the more of an advantage you will have later. 

Why are we more susceptible to falls when we’re older?

  • Our eyesight gets poor (fail to see obstacles)
  • We lose sensation in our extremities (think diabetes, peripheral neuropathy etc)
  • We lack the strength and power to recover from tripping or stumbling

Simple drills such as balancing on one leg (with your eyes open) challenges those foot muscles and can help you have greater awareness of your feet. PS. Please be careful with this. Might be harder than you think!

tweak #3 - wall sit

Our final tweak is all about leg strength. As mentioned above, one of the reasons we’re more susceptible to falls is because we lack the strength to “save ourselves” when our toe catches that uneven surface and we end up going head over heels. 

85% of the Australian population does not meet the minimum amount of physical activity recommended for good general health. The biggest reason for this: lack of strength exercise twice per week. 

Clean teeth and stronger legs? Yes please.

putting it all together

Now, obviously you can’t do all of these at once. My advice is to choose one each time and give it a go. Mix it up morning and night. Keep creating those brain pathways! 

Looking for the ultimate challenge?

Try closing your eyes.
Try single leg wall sits.
Try single leg calf raises.

Can’t wait to hear what sort of creative ideas you come up with! Let me know.

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