January is a very strange month. A month where we ‘detoxify’, ‘eliminate’ and ‘cleanse’ our lovely bodies after 2-3 weeks of festivities. It’s wonderful that with the beginning of the New Year we take stock and think about healthy habits to keep us fit and strong. But truly, we don’t need to follow restrictive diets or punish our bodies with a hard-core fitness programme.
The research shows that very few of us achieve our New Year’s resolutions. An interesting study highlights that the best way for us to achieve our resolutions is by setting tougher, rather than easier goals, but allowing and forgiving yourself for the odd lapse!
It is truly a question of changing habits and finding a ‘balance’ with a sprinkling of flexibility. It does not have to be all or nothing. You do not need to be extreme, but the goals should be (just slightly!) challenging to keep you motivated.
The most common New Year’s resolution are (no surprise) to eat more healthily and to move more.
Six Healthy Habits for Optimal Health
Your favourite Menopause Health Matters Nutritionist, Charlotte Debeugney has selected ‘six healthy habits for optimal health’ and added some expert tips to help you stay happy, healthy and strong in 2018.
No. 1 Aim for 10,000 steps a day
Exercise can reduce your risk of chronic illnesses such as cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. It can lower levels of stress and anxiety through the release of neurotransmitters (‘messengers’) which promote calmness and well-being. It can help to build and maintain both bone density and muscle mass. It’s an anti-aging potion as it helps to maintain a healthier body composition. It’s free and easy to do. You simply need to find activities which you enjoy. Exercise truly is a miracle cure!
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that adults aged 18-64 should aim for 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise a week or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity exercise, ideally with a duration of at least 10 minutes. You should also do at least 2 sessions of weight bearing exercise involving major muscle groups a week.
But you hate exercise? Don’t worry. Walking counts and it is very easy to walk in our every day life. If you can manage to do 10,000 steps (and you can measure this using an app on your phone or a pedometer), it’s even more than the minimum recommended by WHO!So, how to do your 10,000 steps?
- Aim to walk part of the way to work. If this is possible, it’s an easy way to add in 20-25 minutes of physical activity into your day.
- Fidget! Pump your legs under the desk by doing a ‘heel/toe movement’
- Stand up to take all your phone calls
- Find reasons to go up and down stairs – coffee breaks, toilets, meetings
- Switch your chair for an exercise ball
- If you don’t have a stand-up desk, try making one. Use a stack of books to increase the height of your desk so you can comfortably work standing up.
- Have active meetings where you can discuss business while walking
No. 2 Avoid a restrictive diet
At the risk of repeating myself, you, my lovely friends, do not need to ‘detox’, this is why you have a liver, kidneys, lungs and skin. They do their job very well! You do not need to ditch the coffee, eradicate sugar and avoid all fat.
The magic word is ‘balance’ and to focus on the foods you can introduce and continue to eat which are good for your health – wholegrains, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds, oily fish, wine (!)
No. 3 Binge on the vegetables
Eat as many as you can as often as you can. Eating vegetables is one of the key six healthy habits for optimal health. Your goal is 7 a day (5 vegetables and 2 fruits – a portion size is about 80g) because all the studies support the link between fruit and vegetable consumption and health. Why more vegetables? Vegetables have the slight edge on fruit in terms of nutrient content, especially in terms of sugar content, though I am going to underline that fruit is also very good for our health. The aim is to eat a rainbow a day. A rainbow a day, keeps sickness at bay!
No. 4 Think of what you can replace in your diet rather than what you should reduce!
A much more motivating strategy is to focus on all the incredible foods, which you can add into your diet. Yes, we certainly need to moderate our consumption of added sugar, alcohol and refined carbohydrates, so think of something else to replace them with which is even more tasty. For example, replace white pasta with a lovely nutty wholegrain one or teatime biscuits with a colourful fruit salad.
No. 5 Enjoy a dessert or something sweet 1-2 times a week
Yup. You probably have a long list of all the reasons why you should aim to eat less added sugar. Your teeth, the potential ‘dips’ in energy levels with a high added sugar consumption and the fact that sugar does not fill you up, if anything it increases your appetite!
Added sugar is a source of ‘empty calories’. A reminder that added sugar includes syrups, honey and fruit juices. Yet, there’s also the pleasure of sharing a home baked cake with friends, or savouring a chocolate mousse (my favourite!). Rather than ‘banning’ sugar, it’s about balancing your intake. A lower sugar diet, in line with WHO guidelines, does mean that you can enjoy a weekly dessert, without guilt, without shame and without apology!
I suggest to my patients that during the weekdays, they finish their meal with a portion of fruit or a square of dark chocolate, so they can enjoy a dessert/cake (take your pick), at the weekends.
No. 6 Respect your alcohol!
Even if a glass of wine or dry beer does not generally contain much sugar (the sugar has been fermented), alcohol is high in calories – 7 kcal per g. This is almost the same calories as fat which has 9 kcal per g. It is also a source of ‘empty calories’ and the evidence is indisputable, an excessive intake increases the risk of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, some cancers, liver disease and problems with weight control.
As to how to make alcohol consumption one of your 6 healthy habits for 2018? The advice for woman is to consume a maximum of 10 small glasses per week. And no, the fish bowls which contain 250 ml are the equivalent of 2 glasses!
My advice is to enjoy the alcohol at the weekends and stick to water, sparkling water or aromatised water during the week.
Charlotte Debeugny, a British Nutritionist and Author based in France.