For a long-lasting solution, forget crash diets and ferocious exercise regimes. Try a gentler approach to healthy living with a change of eating and working habits. And learn to relax.
By Sheila Compton
The only sure recipe for improving fitness and wellbeing is to approach the subject holistically. It’s not just about how you look but how you feel, too. Small changes, over time, will reap the most rewards. Don’t be tempted to take anything to extremes. A crash diet, especially one that cuts out a whole food group such as carbohydrates, will rob your body of nutrients and make you feel tired and touchy. It can also cause hair loss.
Dr Sarah Jarvis, who is the Radio 2 doctor and also appears on Channel 5’s The Wright Stuff, says: “As well as calculating your body’ mass index to assess whether you are the right weight for your height, you have to consider whether you are apple or pear-shaped. The Ideal waist measurement for a woman is more than 34ins, and 37ins for a man. “If your waist is bigger than this, you are laying down the sort of fat associated with high cholesterol and insulin resistance, which will make you a more likely candidate for diabetes.” Sarah, who is also a GP in Shepherd’s Bush, west London, says if you are over 40 and have never had your cholesterol tested, you should do it now. Women over 50 should have regular smear tests and mammograms. “If you haven’t been contacted automatically about this, check with your OP to ensure you are on the list,” she says, adding: “Older men who find they have to rush to the 100, get up to go night or find their stream is not good should get their prostate checked out.” The Government guidelines for alcohol consumption are 14 units a week for women and 21 for men. A unit is a normal glass of wine, a half-pint of beer or one measure of spirit. “It’s no good saving up your units and going for it on a Friday night,” says Sarah, “You should divide your alcohol consumption into days- no more than two to three units daily for a woman and three to four for men.”
Patrick Holford, from the Institute for Optimum Nutrition in Richmond, west London, says: “One of the most important things people can do to improve their health is eat oily fish, such as mackerel, salmon, herrings, kippers or sardines, three times a week. “Research by Martha Morris, at Chicago Rush Institute of Ageing, says this cuts the risk of developing dementia or Alzheimer’s disease by 60 per cent” He adds: “New research published by the same institute has revealed that vegetables, rather than fruit, do more to cut your risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Try to eat a dark green vegetable such as broccoli, kale or Brussels sprouts, which are all rich in folic acid, every day. “I also recommend eating pumpkin seeds daily. They are high in omega-3 fatty acids, folic acid, magnesium, calcium and zinc. “People who are magnesium- deficient get tight muscles, become anxious aid find it difficult to chill out or go to sleep,” he says. “Zinc also improves sexual function and virility in men. Oysters are the richest source if you want to boost a flagging libido.”
Patrick recommends taking a daily, high-strength multi-vitamin and mineral supplement, and also one gram of vitamin C to ward off infection Another important dietary change you should make is to cut your salt consumption. Sarah says: “The average UK intake is 9.5g a day you should have no more than 6g. This can make a huge difference to blood pressure.” Fast foods tend to be full of salt there are 325mg of Sodium in a McDonald’s chocolate shake, for example. Sarah adds: “I’d also recommend substituting Benecol or an dive-oil based spread for butter, eating less red meat and cutting off any fat on the meat you do eat” Improving wellbeing also means getting off the couch. However, physiotherapists are kept in work by people who begin draconian exercise regimes without seeking expert advice on what was appropriate for their age, weight and fitness.
Gyms have introductory sessions to put you on the right track and modem exercise machines will calibrate your Ideal activity level. But if you do not want to visit a gym, even a 30-minute daily walk will make a difference to your wellbeing (see exercise page). Sarah says It is important to build more exercise Into your day such as taking the stairs Instead of the lift or parking the car half a mile from work. “Think about the things that are liable to stop you doing this beforehand, and pick little things you know you will stick to,” she says. “Doing this with a friend can be a powerful incentive to keep going,”
Equally important to wellbeing is learning how to relax. Everyone should spend something in their day doing something they enjoy, which non-goal related. A half-hour of self-indulgence, whether it’s soaking in the bath, listening to music or going out for a walk, will recharge batteries, set you up for the day, put life in perspective and calm you down.
Aromatherapist Caroline Eccott, who is based in Letchworth, Hertfordshire, says a monthly massage works wonders for stress levels. “I use essential oils to promote deep relaxation,” she says, “but I will also loosen up any tight muscles I find. Most people carry tension in the back of the head, neck and shoulders, sol do a lot of work on those parts.” State of mind has a very powerful effect on the body. Stress can cause high blood pressure, hair loss, headaches, chest pains, fatigue, cold 4 hands and feet, palpitations and shortness of breath. It is even putting us off sex according to research published for Men’s Health Week 2006. Millions of British men are turning down sex because an increase in stress and anxiety means they don’t feel like it. Most of them blame work. It’s not stress that causes the problem, It Is how you react to it. If you are always feeling panicky or angry, try to be more realistic about what you can achieve. Operate a strict priority system with your workload; always leave plenty of time to complete tasks and delegate whenever possible.
Looking good is a great fillip to flagging self-esteem. Image consultant Margaret Thomas, who is based in Liphok, Hampshire, says: “Wearing the right clothes for your body shape can make you look two sizes smaller, you feel more confident knowing you look your best. “Today, it is not just women who come to me for advice. More men are aware of their out by the way that they dress.” Life coaches Lauren Zander and Meredith Haberfeld, principals of the Personal Evolution Group (www.personalevolution.com) say people make themselves unhappy because they cannot accept their bodies and seek unrealistic ideals. “It’s important to learn to your own body. Then, if you carrying too much weight, you will find taking control of what you eat easier,” says Lauren. “It’s about happiness, not dieting.” “Start with small changes, example, you might limit bread and desserts to no more than twice for the first week. Next might eliminate them completely and add in more fruits and vegetables, and so on,” She also recommends keeping a list t what you eat. “This will make you more careful about your diet and help you spot potential problem areas.