As we start 2019, it becomes that time of year again where we promise ourselves that we will make positive lifestyle changes and get ourselves into better shape. However, the survival of New Year’s resolutions past just a few weeks (or even a few days for some) suggests that our ambitions for lifestyle change do not match the reality of what is sustainable. To give a helping hand this year, we’re sharing some tips from a recent report from the World Cancer Research Fund which provides some great direction for living healthier based on a decade’s worth of research.
1. Move more and sit less. Physical activity protects against several types of disease. Work up to 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity such as brisk walking, or 75 minutes of vigorous activity, every week. Avoid long periods of sitting still and interrupt frequently with movement breaks. If you’re just starting out, you should always build things gradually and always check with your doctor if you need to that you are safe to exercise.
Committing to regular exercise across 52 weeks of the year is one of the best decisions you can make for your health, especially for your heart. Having better fitness is now being regarded as a vital sign and a way of reducing all-cause mortality. Improving how well your body can utilise oxygen lowers the risk of early death and the fitter you are, the stronger are those effects, shown in a study of 120,000 adults. However, if your current fitness is regarded to be low, the good news is that even a small increase in your fitness level can have significant reductions in risk of heart disease and heart attack.
We provide a service which measures your fitness through a body-worn device that you wear for 5 days and nights and all you have to do is go for a non-stop 30minute brisk walk on flat terrain during your measurement period and you’ll have an estimated VO2max score and how that benchmarks against your age and gender. The device also tracks all your physical activity across the 5-days and nights and reports total time in light, moderate and vigorous classifications. If you’re interested, please get in touch and we can make arrangements for you.
2. Eat plants. Vegetables, fruit, legumes like lentils and beans, and whole grains can protect against some types of cancer and help you maintain a healthy weight, which is itself protective. Your parents always told you to eat your carrots as they helped you see in the better in the dark. Well, it turns out that also eating spinach, beetroot and other nitrate-rich vegetables have links to a 35% lower risk of developing age-related macular degeneration, a leading cause of blindness. Nitrate rich foods also help lower blood pressure and keep arteries healthy and is also a boost for athletes helping blood to flow. The key here is to aim to eat a colourful variety of vegetables on a daily basis to maximise the benefits.
3. Minimise “fast,” processed, and sugary food. Fast food, processed food, and baked goods have been stripped of nutrients and fibre, and they tend to be loaded with sugar, fat, and calories. They are also widely available almost everywhere we go. We face an abundance of food choices on a daily basis (estimated to be 200+) with sights, sounds and smells providing several food cues telling you that you want to eat, even when you’re not hungry. Some evidence exists that just being in an area where fast food is available make us feel hungrier and likely to consume more calories than when in a more neutral environment. The fast food industry knows exactly how to tempt us with images, scents and sounds to convince us (without too much effort) into buying their food, and they are very good at it. In addition, when we are tired (which is always) we are even more vulnerable as our appetite and satiety hormones become unbalanced and our cravings for calorie dense foods becomes irresistible (and usually at the wrong time for the body clock too).
To manage these urges better, keep your blood sugar in balance by not skipping meals and eating nourishing foods regularly as well as making sure to value your sleep to maintain your body clock and manage your fatigue. Then be aware that fast food marketing is out for you and being savvy to their strategy is the first step to better avoidance.
The service mentioned earlier also measures your stress and recovery balance by reporting the amount and quality of sleep you are getting. This should be the first area to look to address when making lifestyle changes as better stress/recovery balance leads to better health behaviour.
4. Maintain a healthy weight. Excess weight has been linked to many types of health problems. Aim for a BMI in the normal range (18.5 – 25.0) with a plant-based diet and regular physical activity. One way of keeping a healthy weight is to slow down the pace of how you eat. In a 5-year study involving over 1,000 adults divided into 3 groups of self-described slow, medium and fast eaters, the fast eating group were at higher risk of metabolic syndrome due to higher blood pressure and larger waist circumferences as well as higher blood sugar and larger weight gains than then other two groups. In fact, the slow group were in the best metabolic shape across all the three groups.
Changing how you eat isn’t altogether easy. Your long-established eating habits won’t be easy to break and there’s at least three occasions per day that provide opportunity to slip back into these old habits. Aim to start with one target first, such as the pace in which you eat. Break your speed eating habit by choosing one meal per day to lengthen. Start by using a stopwatch at this meal and keep a log of your times. To help, put your knife and fork down a few times during the meal, ask questions to others at the table and listen to their answers (without eating). Turn off all distractions such as TV or mobile phone and ultimately, aim to practice eating mindfully and savour your food and feel grateful for where it came from and how it has been prepared.
5. Limit red and processed meat. Eating red meat (beef, pork, and lamb) and processed meats like bacon and salami has been shown to cause colon cancer. Limit your consumption of red meat and avoid processed meat as much as possible.
Aim this year to eat a more Mediterranean-style diet. Not only is this nourishing for the brain and the heart, it has also been shown to be beneficial for weight management and also for healthy ageing. Eating more fish, olive oil, beans, nuts and whole grains is very good for the gut both in terms of good bacteria and culture diversity. As mentioned earlier, aim to increase your intake of plant foods such as fruit and vegetables and fresh herbs and choose fish such as salmon. These changes automatically should start to reduce the occasions where you have red meat during the week. Also, mimic not only the food choice but the style in which it is eaten down on the Med, where mealtimes are opportunities for the whole family to sit down together, without distraction, and spend time eating slowly together and conversing over their meal.
6. Choose food over supplements. Don’t rely on high-dose dietary supplements for cancer prevention; get your nutrients from food.
This year aim to increase your omega-3 intake from natural sources such as fish as a preliminary study on animals indicates that high-doses from fish oil is linked to lower incidence of tumours forming and spreading when compared to a plant-based diet high in omega 6 fatty acids. Both count as essential fats, however the wrong ratio may affect your health and most Western diets are often too low in Omega 3 and too high in Omega 6 (much of which comes from refined vegetable oil in processed foods). This imbalanced ratio leads to chronic inflammation and higher risk of different types of cancer. Aim for at least two servings of fish during the week with wild salmon and sardines as good options. In the future, we may see more natural omega 3 options available in sources such as chicken as food science and animal feed evolves. Remember, you are what you eat eats.
Another service I provide my clients is a comprehensive blood analysis which can reveal your Omega3:Omega6 ratio as well as multiple other health markers. These blood results are then reviewed by a GP and Registered Dietitian who will advise on action points to focus on to enhance your health. You can either come to visit me at my clinic or I can organise a nurse to come out to you and take your blood sample. Just get in touch if you’re interested.
7. Minimise alcohol. Even small amounts of alcohol increase your risk of cancer. If you do drink, be sure to stay within national guidelines (no more than one drink a day for women, two for men). Alcohol places an additional stress on the body and it particularly ruins the quality of your sleep. The service we provide can also show the impact of alcohol on your body and how it harms the stress/recovery balance needed.
As we approach the month of January, many feel they have over indulged a bit too much over Christmas, there is an urge to sign up for a dry January in an effort to readdress the balance. I would, however, advise some caution on this “All or None” approach for those who are regular drinkers and if your ambition is to make lasting changes to your annual alcohol intake. Come February, expect a negative rebound as you’ll be desperate to reward your good behaviourand it’ll soon be back to “All” again after a period of “None”.
Instead, consider ways to achieve moderation and therefore more sustainable changes. As mentioned, changing long established habits is not straight forward and research suggests the best strategy is to concentrate on either starting new habits OR stopping old habits, BUT not a combination at the same time. Another important aspect is to start small and realistic with the changes and then keep making small and incremental progressions by tracking them in a journal and scheduling reviews in a calendar, whilst keeping a positive mindset throughout and accepting setbacks will happen along the way but anticipating and planning how to deal with them.
I hope you have found the information above helpful to get the head focused on a positive year ahead in terms of health & wellbeing.
Wishing you a healthy & successful 2019.
The Support To Perform Team