Nutrition | POSTED November 30, 2022

Don’t Put Healthy on Hold

Your health isn’t just a number on the scale, plates on the bar, steps on your Apple Watch or your stats on Strava. The World Health Organisation (WHO) states that “Health is the extent to which an individual or group is able to realize aspirations and satisfy needs and change or cope with the environment” [1]. Health is about overall wellbeing, not just avoiding disease or infirmity. Being healthy is a resource and, like any resource, you need to access it and cultivate it. The WHO has indicated there are key determinants to health which influence how accessible it is. These determinants are:

  • the social and economic environment
  • the physical environment
  • the person’s individual characteristics and behaviours

Today we will cover strategies you can implement today to improve your health, which are accessible to everyone.

There’s no secret to success

We love a quick fix, who doesn’t?

That being said, we don’t believe in relying on “hacks” or secrets to become healthy. We also don’t necessarily need to push for a certain target to be ‘healthier”. Key word: healthier. For instance, certain Body Mass Index (BMI) ranges carry with them greater risks, but getting closer to the normal range, even if you aren’t there yet, is an improvement. Today we are simply exploring health promoting habits. With that in mind, we love the following quote and believe it’s quite relevant to the discussion today:

“Success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day in and day out.”

– Robert Collier

Effective strategies that improve your health will consider your social, economic and physical environment. They will also take into account your preferences and lifestyle. We believe the most effective strategies are repeatable and require little investment. In our blog, we’ll cover strategies that you can start implementing:

  1. Simple food and drink swaps
  2. Increasing your water intake
  3. Getting in the recommended servings of fruit and veggies
  4. Improving your sleep quality and quantity
  5. Increasing your daily steps (and physical activity)

Simple swaps that are oh so sweet (and healthy)

If the heading wasn’t a giveaway, I’m talking about substituting sweetened food or drink options with artificial sweeteners. A classic example would be swapping out sugar sweetened beverages (SSBs) for low-and no-calorie sweetened beverages (LNCBs). That main fluid we recommend people consume daily is dihydrogen oxide, a super complicated drink that does wonders for your health – otherwise known as… water! That being said, many people enjoy soft drinks and have a sweet tooth. So, what can they do about it?

The good news is that you can enjoy those drinks without the excess sugar or calories, which can negative effects on your health. If you were on the fence about artificial sweeteners, and don’t wish to use them, that’s absolutely fine. Thankfully, quality research has validated its usage for managing bodyweight and cardiometabolic risk factors [2]. We feel comfortable recommending them as alternatives to SSBs and you can use LNCBs at no extra cost than what you would be normally paying.

Does anyone remember the “Swap It Don’t Stop It” campaign from the Australian Federal Government in 2011? The aim was to encourage Australians to lose centimetres from their waist to reduce their risk of heart disease and diabetes. They showed people how they could make small (but achievable) lifestyle changes in four simple ways:

  • Swapping big for small – to reduce portion sizes
  • Swapping often for sometimes – to reduce highly processed foods
  • Swapping sitting for moving – to encourage movement
  • Swapping watching for playing – to get involved in sport or other active social activities

Don’t keep water waiting

Speaking of beverages, many people could benefit from drinking more water. We aren’t worried about people falling over from extreme thirst however increasing fluid intake can have a few potential benefits:

  • Manage body composition (3)
  • Increase daily activity*
  • Improve exercise & sports performance (4)
  • Improve cognitive function and mood (5)

Now, to be clear, other fluids and to some extent, foods (like watermelon), actually contain, well, water! However very often they also include calories in the form of dairy, sweeteners, syrups or otherwise. We advocate that the majority of your fluid intake be from water. How much water to drink is a complicated question and actually not well substantiated in the current scientific literature. So, we aren’t making water recommendations necessarily. Your biologic thirst response is likely adequate under normal circumstances.

We recommend however making water your choice of beverage to minimise excess calories of low nutritional quality, to possibly increase your activity (I mean, you’ll be making a few trips to the bathroom!) and you may simply feel better. At any rate, it’s a harmless recommendation that comes at no cost. So, try it, monitor your water intake and see how you feel if you start trying to drink more.

Have you had your two and three?

We’ve all heard the phrase: “get your two servings of fruit and three servings of veg a day!” In the case of fruit and vegetables – the more the merrier! Not only are they full of fibre and phytochemicals, but their unique food matrix (that is, the complete fruit and/or vegetable) is beneficial to consume. Thankfully, fruits and vegetables can be conveniently consumed, requiring little prep.

So, how can you consume more? Fruits tend to be the simplest “snack food” out and skin is nature’s packaging. They can be conveniently packed and eaten while travelling to work, sitting at your desk, between or even during meals. Vegetables can be a staple at each major meal and add food volume and bulk. You can’t go wrong with a lean protein, source of complex carbohydrates and 1-3 servings of vegetables at lunch and dinner time (or breakfast if you’re like me and like eating large).

Increased fruit and vegetable intake has been linked to decreasing all-cause mortality and improving both health and body composition outcomes (6, 7). So, that old saying is probably right: “An apple a day keeps the doctor away!” Lastly, fruit and vegetables are usually no more expensive and often cheaper than buying lots of processed foods. Sources of legumes, lentils and beans can be a good source of extra protein that’s cheaper than animal products. You can also buy frozen veg and fruit or canned alternatives – these are perfectly fine and healthy.

Enter Sandman

Like most people, I love to bag some Z’s (or get a good sleep). Your body loves quality sleep too (8). We’ve all been there – irritable, hungry, tired, groggy and clouded. Being low on sleep isn’t pleasant. Like many of the above suggestions we’ve made, this suggestion really comes at no extra cost. It is difficult to make any hard and fast recommendations however we like how this research paper sums it up: “it is important to continue to promote sleep health for all. Sleep is not a waste of time and should receive the same level of attention as nutrition and exercise in the package for good health (9).”

Our recommendation is to experiment with how much sleep seems to be right for you and stick to a routine for bedtime as well as trying to go to bed and get up around the same time, most days of the week. Consistency and routine are what will have the biggest impact. Some other quick tips may include:

  • Limiting electronic light stimulation and use of electronics before bed
  • Limiting caffeine intake 6-8 hours before bed
  • Try something that calms you down whether it be reading, breathing, stretching or otherwise
  • Try to avoid eating large meals and certain foods IF they give you gastrointestinal distress before bed

Step it up

We recommend people be active according to the physical activity guidelines (10) and a convenient way to do monitor activity is to track steps. In fact, steps have been a useful metric for researchers too and up to a point, increased total steps improve overall health outcomes and place further away, hard endpoints such as death (research)! Now it doesn’t have to be 10,000 steps a day. In fact, if you aren’t doing that many, more steps, today, is a great start!

Any steps count. Even walking on the spot or getting up and doing some extra cleaning and vacuuming can count. Simply getting up and moving more can have a profound impact on your overall health. We understand there’s a time commitment to this recommendation, but the following thoughts might make this goal more achievable:

  • Taking more steps during your commute or workday (like taking the stairs instead of the elevator)
  • Taking phone calls or meetings while walking
  • Try and set small chunks of time aside to do a quick loop around the block or office
  • If it’s not disturbing the peace, go and talk to your co-worker in person rather than sending an email or text in the office

Healthy doesn’t have to be hard

We want everyone to have the opportunity to be healthy. You don’t need to invest huge amounts of time, money or resources to make positive and powerful changes in your life. So, stop putting healthy on hold and start making moves today!

References

  1. Health and Well-Being (who.int)
  2. Association of Low- and No-Calorie Sweetened Beverages as a Replacement for Sugar-Sweetened Beverages With Body Weight and Cardiometabolic Risk: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis – PubMed (nih.gov)
  3. Drinking Water Is Associated With Weight Loss in Overweight Dieting Women Independent of Diet and Activity – Stookey – 2008 – Obesity – Wiley Online Library
  4. Dehydration, Wellness, and Training Demands of Professional Soccer Players during Preseason – PubMed (nih.gov)
  5. Effects of hydration status on cognitive performance and mood | British Journal of Nutrition | Cambridge Core
  6. Health Benefits of Fruits and Vegetables – PMC (nih.gov)
  7. A Comprehensive Critical Assessment of Increased Fruit and Vegetable Intake on Weight Loss in Women – PMC (nih.gov)
  8. Improving sleep quality leads to better mental health: A meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials – PMC (nih.gov)
  9. Sleeping hours: what is the ideal number and how does age impact this? – PMC (nih.gov)
  10. Physical activity (who.int)