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Health

Want to live for longer?

I am turning 30 in a few weeks. There is no avoiding or delaying it and I’m not going to lie… I’m NOT happy about it. I like being in my twenties, I actually quite like being 29, on the cusp of adulthood – just enough maturity to hold your own in conversations with the older generation, but enough youth to justify jaegarbombs and an overdraft. A happy place in between Radio 1 and Radio 2, with the odd flick over to Radio 4 when I’m feeling intellectual.

I’ve made it my mission for the last few weeks to drink as little alcohol as possible and work out more than ever to ensure that I am physically prepared for the potential (inevitable) psychological and emotional meltdown that is due to ensue any minute now.

Considering how quickly the last decade has gone, and apparently it only goes quicker from here on in, thanks to my Gran, who politely pointed out ‘this is what happens when you get old’… I’ve decided that some lifestyle choices need to be put in place, permanently (not just when I’m feeling guilty after a bout of alcohol poisoning) to ensure that for the next thirty, forty, fifty years – I’m in tip top condition! Luckily, there are positive statistics to support the fact that we are all living longer.

Japan has the world’s highest life expectancy (82.6 years) followed by Hong Kong (82.2 years) and Iceland (81.8 years). The world average is 67.2 years and the UK average is 79.4 years. One thing that you can’t deny is that lifestyle has a major impact on lifespan (put the doughnut down) and I’m thinking that we should be learning from the nations that are outliving the rest of us.

Developed nations are seeing people live for up to ten years longer than their parents. “We’re living longer because people are reaching old age in better health,” said demographer James Vaupel, author and expert at Duke University’s Center on the Demography of Aging. So it’s really quite simple, if you maintain a healthy lifestyle while you are young,  you are more likely to reach old age in better health, increasing your chances of living for longer.

Life expectancy changes as you get older.  For example, the life expectancy of a child increases significantly once they reach their first birthday. As they get older, their chances of living longer increases year on year. For example, the average life expectancy from birth for those in the United States is 77.7 years, but those who live to age 65 will see their life expectancy increase by almost 18 additional years. This takes their life expectancy up to 83 years.  So the key is to reach these milestones in good health to increase your chances of adding on more years.  There are many lifestyle choices and changes that you can make, which will certainly increase your chances of living longer and improve your overall health.

Apparently, according to Vaupel, if life expectancy continues to rise at the same rate as it has over the past two centuries, then it’s likely that half of the children alive today, in the developed world, may make it to 100 years.

Want to make sure you are maximizing your chances of seeing 100 birthday candles?  I do! At 100, a 30 year old will seem like an infant! Here are some adjustments that you can make to your lifestyle, which might just give you a few extra years:

Balanced Diet

About 40 per cent of cancers are diet related, according to the American Institute for Cancer Research. Eating at least five portions of fruit and vegetables every day can help to reduce your risk of cancer of the lung, digestive tract, bowel, bladder and breast.

Sweet potato

Loaded with vitamins, iron and magnesium, they are packed with health boosting nourishment.  They are also low on the glycaemic index so a great alternative to potatoes, which can leave you bloated and with a sugar low.

Blueberries

One of the highest concentration of anti-oxidants has earned the blueberry ‘superfood’ status. Anti-oxidants are vital in protecting the body from free radicals, the main cause of aging in living cells.

Exercise

Keeping fit is one of the most important ways to stay healthy. It’s medically proven that people who do regular physical activity have:

  • up to a 35% lower risk of coronary heart disease and stroke
  • up to a 50% lower risk of type 2 diabetes
  • up to a 50% lower risk of colon cancer
  • up to a 20% lower risk of breast cancer
  • a 30% lower risk of early death
  • up to an 83% lower risk of osteoarthritis
  • up to a 68% lower risk of hip fracture
  • a 30% lower risk of falls (among older adults)
  • up to a 30% lower risk of depression
  • up to a 30% lower risk of dementia

Sex/intimacy

Being sexually active, not only lowers blood pressure and stress levels, but also boots immunity, heart health and self-esteem.

Fun

Gelatology, the study of laughter, (it’s actually a thing!) has brought to light some fascinating facts about laughter.  Not only does having fun improve alertness and creativity, but it’s a natural pain reliever as laughter helps the pituitary gland release its own pain-suppressing opiates

Sleep

Getting enough sleep is vital for overall health.  Not only can it improve athletic performance, attention spans and memory, it has also been proven to reduce inflammation, linked to heart disease and stroke, as well as reduce the likelihood of suffering from depression.

Read

Not only is it great for keeping your brain ticking but reading for pleasure has been shown to help people to relax and improve mood.

Get a pet

Pets can have an extraordinary impact on the lives of their owners. From lowering blood pressure to lessening anxiety, not forgetting the great benefits of regular exercise if you are walking a dog on a daily basis.

Relax

Evidence demonstrates that stress is comparable to other risk factors that we would commonly consider as major, like hypertension, poor diet and lack of exercise. It’s impact on our health is huge so, whether you choose meditation or a hot bath, it’s important to take time out each day to relax and unwind.

Making a few adjustments to your everyday life can make all the difference for and the sooner you start to make these changes, the quicker you’ll begin to feel the benefits. See you in seventy years! 🙂

Should we be taking vitamins?

I’m not going to lie, every Sunday night, head in hands, plagued with guilt after indulging in alcohol and whatever junk the hangover required for recovery – all it needs is a breezy Holland and Barratt advert to fool me into the belief that I’ll supplement my way to atonement.

Whether it makes any difference or not is still up for question.  Some health bods claim that a healthy, balanced diet should provide us with everything our bodies need in order to function healthily. But there is also the evidence of a depletion in nutritional content in a significant amount of today’s produce. Due to changing in farming methods and the use of pesticides. So even the healthiest plate might not be providing us with our recommended daily allowance of vitamins and minerals.

If you’re worried about what you’re eating, it’s important to know which foods provide the best nutritional content. There may be some that surprise you, for example, a potato contains more vitamin C than an orange, shitake mushrooms can contain as much Vitamin D as mackerel and a handful of sunflower seeds could give you your RDA of Vitamin E. Understanding the nutritional content of food is just the beginning in terms of getting a balanced, healthy diet.

Despite the fact that many believe we don’t need to be taking additional supplements, there are certain symptoms that could be the result of a deficiency. This is when it might be worth considering supplementing or increasing foods with high amounts of particular nutrients to meet your daily needs. Women may find pre-menstrual tension relief with vitamin B6 supplements. Vitamin B1 is beneficial for nerve function and can help with restless leg syndrome. A lack of B9 could result in anaemia and fatigue could be alleviated with more vitamin C and vitamin D. These are just a few examples of many, and the information can be daunting.

If you feel you may have a deficiency, then go see your GP who can give you a blood test to determine whether or not you need to increase the amounts of certain vitamins and minerals in your diet.  Self-diagnosis could lead to a mis-diagnosis and as much as the benefits of vitamins and mineral are advertised, you rarely hear about the dangers of overdosing.

The body is able to excrete many vitamins itself, through urination, should there be a surplus. However, too much vitamin A, D, E, and K, which cannot be excreted from the body naturally, can cause problems from headaches, nausea, impaired vision and intestinal diseases. Even some standard doses may interfere with certain prescription medicines.

5-HTP, a mood and sleep supplement, can interfere with Parkinson’s disease medication. St. John’s wort can have an impact on the effectiveness of certain contraceptive pills as well as some blood thinners. Ginkgo biloba, renowned for helping with memory and brain function, can also interfere with blood thinners. Not everyone is aware of the potential risks and this sort of information isn’t on the packaging.  It’s important that you do your research before taking anything, particularly if you are on any other medication.

It’s not just vitamins that you can buy in supplement form, one amino acid that is becoming hugely popular is Omega-3. Getting plenty Omega-3 fatty acids are said to reduce inflammation, essential to the brain and cognitive function, and are especially necessary during foetal development. Due to increased publicity around the increased quantities of mercury found in oily fish, there is an increasing demand for Omega-3 supplements. If you are concerned about keeping fish in your diet but unsure of which has the highest mercury levels, it is recommended to avoid larger types such as swordfish and shark. Tuna is to be eaten in moderation, seeing more levels than other alternatives, which you may wish to substitute for salmon or halibut.

Increasing certain green vegetables in your diet such as kale and spinach, could also make up for the shortfall in Omega-3, as too much also comes with it’s risks; potential side effects include prolonged bleeding, low blood pressure and digestion problems.

My advice would be to ensure you eat a balanced diet. Where possible, buy produce from local suppliers and, if you can afford too, organic products will guarantee quality and less nutrient-killing pesticides.  If you think you are suffering from a deficiency, don’t go mad at the health shop (even if Gethin is telling you it’s buy 1 get one free), ask your doctor for a test and take their advice.

 

You can find a comprehensive table of vitamins, their function in the body and which foods you can find them in here. 

Sunshine! The benefits

FINALLY, summer seems to be hinting at a come back! After a weekend of sunshine and temperatures that didn’t necessitate any form of thermal underwear, it’s time to start thinking about sun exposure, the risks and the benefits.

I’m one of these pasty types that goes red and freckly in the sun, so I tend to avoid it and slather on enough fake tan to appear vaguely human.  But after reading about the possibility of being deficient in Vitamin D, I’ve decided to allow for a bit more sun (although not on my face – I’m on a serious anti-wrinkle campaign and I’m not about to let UVA/B get in the way of that)!

In the words of Jennifer Anniston (circa L’oreal Elvive sell-out) ‘Here comes the science bit’…

For years, research from various health advocates pretty much concluded that too much sunlight can dramatically increases the risk of skin cancers and deadly melanoma.  Sunburn and skin damage from too much sun can lead to premature ageing or skin growths that can become cancerous if untreated. Scientists have discovered that overexposure to UV radiation may suppress the immune system and the skin’s natural defenses, potentially raising the risk for infections. Bad news for tan-aholics and pretty much everyone in TOWIE, Geordie Shore and that ridiculous Welsh one that I can’t even make through the advert for without changing the channel, The Valleys.

BUT…

New research is now revealing that sun exposure can be extremely beneficial to our health and even reduce the risk of heart disease.

We all know that sunshine helps the body to produce vitamin D, which is hugely beneficial as it encourages the absorption and metabolism of calcium and phosphorous, promoting healthy bones and brain function. Not only have increased levels of vitamin D been shown to aid in weight loss, Researchers from discovered that higher vitamin D levels in healthy individuals have a significant impact genetic illnesses including cancer, autoimmune disease, cardiovascular disease and infectious diseases. Wowsers! (Good news for tangoed reality TV people.)

You can take supplements but the most natural way to increase levels is exposure to sunlight. Ultraviolet rays are utilized to synthesize a form of cholesterol already in the body, into vitamin D. So it also encourages decreased levels of cholesterol. Take that Flora Pro-active! (I’m NOT a fan of margarine but that’s a whole other article!)

Vitamin D is not the only benefit of sun exposure. Scottish researchers found that when sunlight hits the skin, a compound is released in blood vessels that reduces blood pressure, which may reduce the risk of heart attacks and stroke. According to Dr Richard Weller, a senior lecturer in dermatology at the University of Edinburgh: “We suspect that the benefits to heart health of sunlight will outweigh the risk of skin cancer”.

Considering that heart disease and strokes kill up to 80 times more people than skin cancer in the U.K. (where the study took place) the blood pressure benefits from sunlight outweigh the risks for skin cancer. And I’m from Scotland – to get enough exposure to cause cancer would be a miracle in itself.

Getting more sunshine and ultraviolet light can make you feel happier and improve sleep as it helps the body produce more serotonin, endorphins and melatonin in your brain. Other benefits include and increase of white and red blood cell production, which enhances your immunity. UV rays from the sun can actually kill viruses, bacteria, moulds, yeast and fungi that may be found on the surface of your skin. So it also acts as a natural antiseptic. And while excessive sun exposure can lead to premature ageing, moderate sunlight has been shown to help clear up some cases of acne, psoriasis, and eczema.

I think the lesson here is don’t burn, don’t go mad, get outside more and enjoy the summer!

The Fast Diet

Unless you have been living under a rock for the last 6 months, you would have come across the latest fad in the world of weight loss. The New York Times and UK’s No.1 best selling book, The Fast Diet offers an alternative view to dieting. Basically, you follow the ratio 5:2, meaning for 5 days a week, you eat normally and the other two, you fast by only consuming a quarter of your recommended daily calories. Apparently it has proven to help aid weight loss as well as a number of other health benefits. My only question is this… if your normal eating habits consist of daily visits to KFC, deep frying your veg and tanking a tub of Ben and Jerry’s, then surely, it’ll take more than just two days of cutting down a week to make a difference? Apparently not (although no healthy regime would recommend any of the above and neither do I.)

Fasting isn’t something these guys have taken off the wind; it’s been long regarded as a necessary medical precaution in contemporary medicine.  Below are some examples of medical procedures, which require patients to abstain from eating:

  • Blood test – eating before a blood test may interfere with results.
  • Cholesterol testing – fasting prior to a cholesterol check gives a clearer indication of potential risks of heart disease and stroke.
  • Glucose testing – eating prior to a glucose test will cause blood sugar to spike and potentially interfere with results.
  • Surgery with full anesthesia – to avoid any risks of vomiting and choking while under anesthetic, a fast prior to surgery is vital.
  • Diabetes screening – eating will have an impact on insulin production, therefore a diabetes test should be undertaken after a fast to ensure clear results.

Fasting, as a tool to a healthier lifestyle, has been recommended for years by a number of holistic practitioners. Not forgetting that long-term calorie reduction has been clinically proven to extend life as well as potentially delay the onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s. Now that science has provided the evidence, fasting is now a mainstream program, not only as a way to be healthier, but to lose weight.

One of the authors of The Fast Diet, Dr Michael Mosley, explained in an interview about the months he spent researching the medical findings on, what he describes as ‘intermittent’ fasting:

I went into it quite skeptical […] But the people who study in this area are really top scientists – world-class scientists who are hugely reputable in their areas. And they were all coming at it from their areas of expertise: cancer, dementia, diabetes – they were approaching it from different angles, but coming to the same conclusion. I found that very convincing.”

Mosley decided to test the method on himself and found his cholesterol and insulin resistance went down AND he lost 19lbs of FAT.

Mosely claims that intermittent fasting encourages the body to lose fat, not muscle explaining that in a standard diet people lost approximately about 75 % fat, 25 % muscle. The Fast Diet results show a loss of between 85% and 100% fat. This is hugely important when going on a diet, as muscle is metabolically active and should be preserved for long-term health and fitness goals.

While The Fast Diet recommends the 5:2 ratio of fasting intermittently, the book does not agree with the faddy ‘juice fast’ concept.  By juicing, you are eliminating the fiber, which is the most beneficial element and has an impact on the glyceamic index of the fruit. A majority of the vitamins are found in the skin and pulp of many fruits, so drinking the liquid, is simply a high fructose liquid of empty calories with limited nutritional value. This would encourage a huge sugar slump, leaving you feeling lethargic, unable to concentrate and, not to mention, starving!

The book doesn’t encourage total abstinence either. It’s not about starving for 2 days a week and bingeing the rest. The regime requires that for two non-consecutive days a week, you eat only a quarter of your recommended daily calorie intake.  So for the average woman on a 2000 calorie diet, for 5 days a week, you can eat as normal, even allow for dessert. For two days a week, the diet is restricted to 500 calories. The results of this program have been scientifically proven to aid in weight loss and to lower cholesterol, give more energy and higher insulin resistance. To find out how many calories you should be eating each day, click here.

It’s not for everyone though. People with type 1 diabetics, children under the age of 18 and pregnant women are not advised to take on intermittent fasting. But as the evidence shows, it might be a new regime worth trying, and for only two days a week, it might be a diet that you can actually stick with. And with bikini season just around the corner, it’s a regime I’m willing to try 🙂

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