The 10 basics of living healthy.
For most people, the New Year heralds new aspirations and goals in the form of New Year’s resolutions. As a nutritionist and personal trainer, the most common resolutions I’ve come across are “lose weight” and “get fit” (what do these even mean?). In a world saturated with unhealthy body image must-haves (e.g. bikini bridge or hotdog legs), or have-nots (e.g. thigh gap), our quest for “looking the part” often over-rides the need to actually gain health, be healthy and maintain healthiness. It is important to remember that the human body is a fine-tuned machine that will work optimally under the correct conditions. Unfortunately many strive for the TOFI look (thin on the outside, fat on the inside) without realizing the health implications of simply “losing weight” for the sake of thinness.
I’ve educated people on healthy lifestyle choices from 6 years old to 86 years old. And whilst nutritional and physical activity needs change throughout life, there are some constants that provide the basis to achieving and maintaining a healthy life. These are foundational healthy lifestyle principles needed throughout life, not for a short period of time or a one-off… Whether married, parenting or single, by incorporating these principles into your lifestyle, they will become habits that make health not only achievable, but maintainable…long after January :-).
- Eat wholefoods.
We eat food, not nutrients. Think about it – when you sit down to lunch, you don’t eat a piles of vitamin C, vitamin B-complex, Iron, magnesium and maybe calcium. No, instead we eat food. Food which is the source of these nutrients, plus many others. Therefore opting for whole-foods like VEGETABLES, FRUITS, WHOLE-GRAINS (e.g. rolled oats, dark rye bread, brown/basmati rice, lentils, legumes), LEAN PROTEIN (e.g. dairy, tempeh, soy, lean meats, fish, lean poultry), HEALTHY FATS (e.g. monounsaturated fats found in olives, nuts, seeds, Omega-3 fats found in fish) INSTEAD of high fat, high sugar, high salt, low fibre HIGHLY PROCESSED FOODS not only provides vital nutrition but also increases satiety, i.e. it makes you feel full for longer. Important in weight management – so you stop reaching for the cookie jar every 45mins…! Furthermore WHOLE FOODS actually tastes good..! Bonus!!!
- Eat colour.
The bright colours of fruits and vegetables are due to different compounds called “phytonutrients”. For example the red colour in tomatoes is due to lycopene, orange carrots are orange because of carotene and anthoycyanins make purple cabbage, well purple. Eating colour = eating variety. And eating variety = consuming all the different groups of nutrients. Eat colour. You’ve got all your bases covered.
- Drink water most of the time, if not all the time.
The water content of the human body varies between individuals due to factors such as size, sex, lean muscle mass to fat ratio as well as others. However physiologically the human body of an average adult is approximately 55-60%. Water is important in regulating body temperature, eliminating toxins, is the bulk of blood plasma therefore affects blood volume, is a major constituent of amniotic fluid as well as MANY other important roles in the human body. Water makes up ~80% of the brain. Therefore by the time you actually experience a headache, you are most likely ~40-50% dehydrated…! Don’t wait until you experience the headache before you start drinking water. Keep juices to a minimum. Replace with water and EAT the whole fruits and veggies instead. Juice, even freshly made juice, should be a TREAT. Not meant for everyday consumption. Whilst juices are high in polyphenols and nutrients that have been extracted from the fruit and veggies, they are also HIGH in kilojoules/calories due to the high sugar content…think about it. To make a 250mL glass of orange juice, ~3-4 oranges need to be juiced. I don’t know of too many people that will eat 4 oranges straight. Furthermore, research has shown that up to 80% of certain polyphenols in fruits and veggies actually become “bound” to the plant fibre when juice is produced… and unless you actually eat the fibre, you’re losing all of this goodness. If plain water is not your thing, add freshly squeezed lemon or lime. Or my personal favourite – ½ blood orange + 1 lime to 1L filtered water! Or even mint leaves add a refreshing perkiness to plain water. Ice-tea is often considered to be a “healthier option”. However most commercial teas are severely sweetened as well.. L. Solution? Make your own. Mix a couple of herbal tea bags like lemongrass and mint and ginger to 1L of water. Let it brew for a while to soak up the flavour. Add thinly sliced fresh ginger and if you need to sweeten, add a tablespoon of honey or agave. And BAM! You have a very refreshing, delish, gourmet ice-tea at home for the fraction of the price. Pour into a bottle, and you’ve got your ice-tea to go :-).
- Eat until you are 60% satisfied NOT until you are full.
Eating until you are satisfied instead of full will make you more aware of how much food you should consume. Listen to your body. It takes ~15sec for the stomach to send a signal to the brain that it is satisfied. Too often as adults we over-ride this feedback signal to the point where we actually aren’t sensitive to it anymore. And hence eat more food than we actually need to. Furthermore our stomach is like a balloon. It fills up with food and essentially “crushes” it with peristaltic motion. If it is “stuffed”, this does not allow the stomach to move freely, resulting in decreased digestion output. Overeating = not getting all the nutrients out of the food you eat. What a waste…
- Eat raw and cooked veggies. Boiled foods are dead though.
Some nutrients are destroyed with heat (e.g. vitamin C, B-group). And therefore eating raw is very important. However the bioaccessibility (i.e. the amount of a nutrient that is released from the food and hence is available for uptake) of some nutrients is improved with heat treatment. For example, the lycopene (a polyphenol found in tomatoes and is associated with decreased risk of certain cancers) content of tomato paste is high than raw tomato. Heat treatment enables the fat layer that surrounds individuals cells to melt therefore allowing greater nutrient bioaccessibility. Eat raw. Eat cooked (e.g. steamed, stir-fried, roasted, grilled, BBQ’d). Eat both. You’re bound to get all of your nutrients.
- Incorporate 30-45mins physical activity into your day, at least 5 days per week.
Any physical activity is better than nothing. As a whole, society is becoming more and more sedentary. I can easily sit at my computer for 8 hours straight, with the occasional toilet break. I catch the bus to and from work. Sit at dinner. Then go to bed. Not much movement happening. Physical activity is very important in maintaining joint health, strengthening bones, improving cardio-respiratory function, mental health, emotional well-being and weight management. Incorporating at least 30-45mins of medium intensity (i.e. you feel a bit puffed, slightly sweaty, breathing heavy, but can still talk) at least 5 days per week has been shown to help maintain health. If you want to improve your health, increasing intensity and duration is vital. However exercise performed incorrectly will result in injury. Seek professional advice from a qualified personal trainer, exercise physiologist or physiotherapist. Even though I’m a qualified personal trainer, I still get periodic feedback from another personal trainer and physiotherapist to ensure I meet my fitness goals without injury.
- Sleep for at least 8 hours.
Sleep is possibly the most under-rated healthy lifestyle habit. Food, nutrition, exercise rank high, but sleep seems to drop off the list. When we sleep, our cells actually regenerate themselves. Essentially our body is repairing and building itself. Excessive sleep deprivation can cause cognitive dysfunction similar to excessive alcohol intake. Furthermore sleep deprivation can lead to sleepy-eating. You eat because you’re tired, not because you’re hungry. Sleep is so valuable that certain companies in Japan actually have “SleepPods” for their employees to utilize during their lunch break. Prioritise sleep into your day. Even if it means catch-up naps in the afternoon or weekends, do it. Your body, brain, emotions will love you for it.
- Look after your feet.
Bet you weren’t expecting that one on the list… and by looking after your feet I don’t mean get a pedicure… You’re feet support the rest of your body. Take a moment and look down. Yup those 2 floppy discs actually support your entire frame…all of your body weight..! Yet what most people don’t realize is that back pain, joint pain, hip pain, even headaches are often caused by muscle fatigue, which may be brought upon by imbalance of the joints, spine, bones. And this is where you’re feet come in. With age, our arches may flatten. Some may be born with flat arches. If you ever damage your ankles, this can affect your centre of gravity. And nerve tightness in the neck can be associated with nerve tightness in your feet. The body is truly an integrated piece of specialized machinery. However our precious feet never seem to get as much attention as the rest of our body. Talk to your doctor about your feet. Do a gait analysis with a physiotherapist or podiatrist. Or even get a proper feet assessment and deep tissue massage by an exercise physiologist or osteopath. There are professionals that understand the body and all of its intricacies well. Getting your feet checked out may be the best thing you do this year 🙂
- Turn off stimulation for at least 2 hours per week.
Another reason that we are more tired than ever before may be due to over-stimulation. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Whatsapp, Chattime, BBM, texting, mobile phones, emails, Pintrest, Google+…the barrage is incessant..! And if it’s not our phones or tablets, our TV’s have caught onto the “Smart” phenomena. And whilst it is important to keep in contact, we also NEED DOWNTIME (shock!!!). It may not seem like much, but forcing you to take time out from social media will not result in the end of the world. Rather it will result in better clarity in your mind. And a space for self-reflection. It may start small like – turning your “Smart” device off for at least 2 hours during your active waking day. Start of 1 day per week, and slowly increase it. You are your own best friend. Or your own worst enemy. Take time to appreciate doing YOUR OWN STUFF.
- Make it a point of duty to TRY 1 NEW THING EACH MONTH.
Try something new. It doesn’t have to be crazy like paragliding, scuba-diving, or bike-riding the Great Wall of China. Although all of those things are pretty cool I admit. And I’d like to do all 3. It doesn’t even have to cost anything. Something as easy as TASTING A NEW FOOD! Yes I’m a nutritionist. But I live by the adage “try everything (as long as it is not illicit or alcoholic) at least once.” So for this month it was Chia seeds. But I’ve also been able to add to my list of trying Tuscan spinach and kohlrabi. And speed-boating. And pouring a 1L bottle of ice-water on myself as I stood at a crowded traffic light in 43 deg C heat here in Melbourne. As a scientist, I’m a calculated individual. I like to think the process through and make thought-out decisions. But there has to be some spontaneity in life. A mixture of planning and creativity. There is a sense of achievement in stepping out of your comfort zone and trying or doing something different. You’ll never know if you don’t try. Plus life is not meant to lived confined to a small selection of food and beverages, and activities. This may impact on your nutritional intake and physical activity levels. But the mental and emotional highs are second to none.
Print this list out and stick it on your fridge. It’s a lifestyle. Not a diet. Not a fad. Not a New Year’s resolution.