10 Steps to a Healthier you!

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It’s so difficult to set good habits when life takes control. Too often we are spending too much time working or meeting the demands of the modern world that we neglect the time that we should be taking care of ourselves, eating right and doing what we enjoy. Studies shown that it takes 21 days to form a new habit, now of course this can be good or bad habits. Detailed below are 10 easy to follow tips on how to set good habits and become a healthier you [1].

1. Maintain a healthy weight

Body weight refers to total weight of the body but also its composition, I.e fat, protein and water. There a number of measurements done to conclude if your weight is healthy, the first being BMI. BMI stands for Body mass index and it calculates your health status and risk of disease according to your weight. Below is a table (1) that describes how body mass refers to health status.

BMI Range

BMI Category

Less than 18.5

Underweight at risk of moderate health problems

18.5-24.9

Healthy weight not at risk to serious health problems

25.0-29.9

Overweight at risk of moderate health problems

30.0-39.9

Obese at risk of serious health problems

More than 40.0

Morbidly Obese at risk of serious health problems

Table 1: BMI categories explained.

If you have difficulty maintaining your weight and require some help please check out the article “12 Steps to Weight Loss: The Fundamental Tips that will help you reach your goal!”

Additionally, there is the “hip to waist ratio”. This proposes that measurements of your hips and waist are associated with your health status. This is simply calculated by dividing your waist measurement by your hip measurement.

For men, a value above 1.0 is considered dangerous to health

For women, a value above 0.85 is considered dangerous to health

As mentioned previously, body composition is also indicative of health status. Body composition can be measured on 5 levels, these are: Atomic, Molecular, Cellular, Tissue and Whole body. Lipids (fats) within the body are of the highest concern. High volume percentages of lipids are indicative of diseases such as coronary heart disease, which has a high fatality rate. An ideal body fat percentage males is between 10-25% and for females, 15-35%. Women tend to have higher body fat percentage because it creates perfect conditions to support pregnancy [2].

2. Increase your Fruit, Vegetables and Fibre Intake

Fruit and Vegetables have been the basis of Public Health Nutrition in England for many years, pushing for every person to be eating a minimum of five, 80gram portion per day. The idea behind this is to ensure that every person is reaching adequate Vitamin C, and fibre intakes. Vitamin C is essential to avoid deficiency and maintain optimal health. Additionally, fruit and vegetables are full of water and low in calorie so are perfect for maintaining weight. Fibre is not technically a nutrient but is most definitely essential. Fibre is used to bulk up stomach contents, maintain regular bowel movements and improve satiety. Currently, in the UK our fibre intake barely reaches 13.2g, however our recommended intake is around 32g. The reason for this is that there is a very valuable link between fibre content in the diet and Bowel Cancer. According to the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) we should be eating only whole grain foods and a minimum of 8 fruits and vegetables per day [3].

But how do I increase my fruits, vegetables and fibre”

  • 8 fruits and vegetables a day may seem a little daunting, attempt to a minimum of 5-a-day.
  • Keep vegetables and fruit peels on, e.g. potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots and apples.
  • Switch a portion of meat to a portion of legumes (chickpeas, lentils), they pack a big punch of fibre.
  • Switch to whole grain carbohydrates. White refined carbohydrates contain little to no fibre in them.

3. Reduce your saturated fats

Saturated fat is one of the world’s biggest dietary problems, it leads to multiple diseases including atherosclerosis, hypertension, and type 2 diabetes. The energy requirement for saturated fat is no more than 20grams a day. This, of course, doesn’t have a minimum as anywhere below 20g (<11%) is considered healthy. Whereas recent national diet and nutrition surveys have found our saturated fat contents to be upwards of 13% [4].

Saturated fats are found in animal products including beef, lamb, chicken, milk and cheese. The modern diet is rife with processed foods such as pizzas, cakes, crisps and pastries that are laden with saturated fats. If you would like to know more about how saturated fat affects the body click HERE. The dietary fat we need to concentrate on is the unsaturated fats (poly- and mono-). These fats are found in foods such as oily fish, nuts, plant oils and avocado. These are beneficial fats to the heart, cholesterol levels, cognition and waist line. Fat mostly affects the cardiovascular system, yet the cardioprotective diet recommends high levels of unsaturated fats, oily fish and a complete reduction of saturated fats to below 7-8%.

How to reduce your saturated fat?

  • Reduce meats such as lamb and beef and switch to turkey, chicken or a vegetarian option
  • Consume atleast 2 portions of fish per week, one of which is an oily fish.
  • Switch from whole milk to skimmed or semi-skimmed
  • Don’t fry or deep fry, instead grill or bake foods.

Saturated fats are found in animal products including beef, lamb, chicken, milk and cheese. The modern diet is rife with processed foods such as pizzas, cakes, crisps and pastries that are laden with saturated fats. If you would like to know more about how saturated fat effects the body click HERE. The dietary fat we need to concentrate on is the unsaturated fats (poly- and mono-). These fats are found in foods such as oily fish, nuts, plant oils and avocado. These are beneficial fats to the heart, cholesterol levels, cognition and waist line. Fat mostly effects the cardiovascular system, yet the cardioprotective diet recommends high levels of unsaturated fats, oily fish and a complete reduction of saturated fats to below 7-8% of total energy.

4. Make reading food labels a habit

More often than not food labels are filled with so much jargon that they are near impossible to decipher, however if you want to improve your health debunking the jargon will greatly benefit you. In the UK there are a number of methods to keep reading labels simple.

The front label typically only contains the energy (kilocalories), fat, saturated fat, salt and sugar. These are components of the diet that can become problematic if eaten in large quantities. On the back of the label there will be a complete nutrition table include energy, macronutrients, vitamins and minerals. Contents of 100g and the contents of the serving size will be listed, although these are often written in grams which is hard to comprehend. The column most beneficial to you is the percentage of the total daily diet, I.e 20% fat, or 2% sugars. Understanding this will help you to calculate and moderate your diet.

Another way is the “traffic light system”, this is demonstrated by red, amber, green indicating whether the food is “healthy”. Red means the product is too high in this nutrient and should be consumed in moderation. Amber means the product is moderately high in the nutrient and should also be consumed in moderation. Green means the product is low or adequate in this nutrient. Always read the “per portion” quantity, a seemingly ‘healthy’ product in small quantities can easily become an ‘unhealthy’ one when eaten in large quantities [5].

5. Keep hydrated

Water is the most abundant chemical molecule in the body with approximately 60-70% of human's chemical makeup being H2O. Not only is it hydrating, it aids mental function, digestion, satiety, weight loss, and physical performance. Kidney health is entirely dependent on water intake. The role of kidneys is to balance fluids within the body and remove waste. Drinking inadequate volumes of water can lead to kidney stones and urinary tract infections. Additionally, it can lead to an imbalance of vital electrolytes potassium, phosphate and sodium. Most importantly water is used for a number of chemical reactions within the body that keeps the body working at optimal levels [6]. For more information on the benefits of drinking water please click HERE.

6. Exercise daily

‘Exercise’ can be considered anything from walking the dog to taking a 5 mile run. Exercise is essential at all ages, but the needs vary greatly.

Young children to teenagers are recommended to exercise upwards of 60 minutes per day. This can include physical education class at school or active play with family members.

Adults are recommended to perform moderate exercise 150 minutes per week, this can be in 5 bouts of 30 minutes. However, if they choose to do vigorous exercise, competitive sports, or running they will only need to perform a minimum of 75 minutes.

Older adults are recommended to be as fit and active as young adults. However, they are recommended to take less weight bearing sports such as swimming, walking and golf.

The benefits of exercise are extensive, a study by Blair confirmed (to many researchers surprise) that it was not ‘fatness’ that determined life expectancy, but ‘fitness’. The better the fitness level of the person the longer the life expectancy [7,8].

7. Don’t take drugs, smoke or drink excessively

It doesn’t take a health expert to know that smoking, drugs and consumption of alcohol are bad for you.

Cigarette smoke is full of organ destroying chemicals such as Acetaldehyde (toxic to the body), aromatic amines, Benzene (poisonous), chromium, cadmium (toxic metal), tobacco and nicotine (the addictive substance). It has been scientifically proven that cigarette smoke leads to numerous cancers but particularly lung, throat, mouth and skin cancer. A study found that one cigarette can shorten life expectancy by as much as 11 minutes[11]. Additionally, this has been shown to cost our healthcare upwards of £ 5.7 billion pounds per year on cigarette related ill health [9,10].

Alcohol is particularly dangerous to the liver and throat. Excessive alcohol can cause liver cirrhosis or fatty liver disease which creates a loss of vital function. Alcohol costs the NHS £21 billion due to alcohol related harm (accidents, driving and fighting) and £3.5 billion due to alcohol related ill health[12].

Lastly, drug taking has encouraged a lot of press and media health scares, whether it be crimes conducted under the influence of them, celebrities taking them or worse children taking them. A 2014 statistic showed that 2.7 million people had reported using illegal drugs, however, this includes the small percentage willing to report they had. Yet 1.2 million people were affected by drug addiction.

Drugs, Alcohol and smoking can all lead to a multitude of disease such as heart disease, high blood pressure, liver cancer, reduced fertility, miscarriages, pancreatic disease, cancers, depression and anxiety[13].

8.“Get your 8 Hours”

We have been told since childhood that getting adequate sleep is essential for our health and productivity. Sleep is restorative, our brain and organ systems are responsible for so many processes in just one day, they need recovery time. Sleep allows time for the essential rest and recuperation that your body requires. Sleep is essential for emotional well-being, cognition, alertness, food cravings, energy requirements, attention and depression.

There are a number of clinically proven essential tips to consider when getting a good nights sleep.

  • No stimulants beyond 4pm. Coffee, tea, cola or energy drinks
  • Put all technology away at least an hour before sleep, e.g phones, laptops and tablets
  • Stick to a routine of sleep and awake times
  • Don’t nap in the daytime
  • Try relaxation techniques to wind down before bed time, e.g music, meditation, exercise or reading
  • Try not to eat past 7pm and avoid late night snacking as digestion can keep the body awake
  • Alternatively, you could try natural supplementation to the diet. One popular sleep aid is called 5-HTP (5-Hydroxytryptophan) and has been hugely beneficial in sleep disorders[14].

9. Reduce stress and take care of your mental health

Stress is one of the biggest influences on health albeit physical, behavioural or psychological. Typical stressors in one’s life may include money worries, relationship worries, or problems associated with work. Also, high levels of stress during childhood is associated with depression in later years.

The stress response is basically the feeling that the body is under attack in some way or another, much like the flight-or-flight response. When in this high-pressure situation the nervous system stimulates the adrenal glands to produce hormones. These hormones include Adrenaline which causes the heart to beat faster causing early damage to the heart, breathing rate to increases and blood glucose concentration to hover above normal.

Those most prone to stress are classified as “Type A” behaviourists, this is associated with stress, competitiveness and high unattainable standards. Friedman and Rosenman conducted a longitudinal study on “Type A” behaviours that found a strong link between lifelong “stress reactions” and heart disease [15].

The best way to reduce stress is to ask who, what, when, where and why? Simply locating the cause, person, or situation you feel stressed in and accounting for this stress, preparing for it, or making coping mechanisms for them can reduce the physical manifestations of stress. Coping mechanisms may include, breathing exercises or visualisation. Two useful supplements that have been shown to have calming effects on mood and anxiety are Dong Quai and Ginseng.

10. Do what you enjoy, treat your self.

A study found that happy people with a more positive psychological outlook on life were linked with a lower risk of coronary heart disease, body weight, and lipid profiles in the blood. “Unhappiness” or low mood is associated with different brain chemicals to being in a state of “happiness”. These chemicals are associated with obesity, atherosclerosis, diabetes and cardiac function. Increasing those happy hormones can be achieved by spending time with people you love, taking up a sport or hobby, or simply taking a walk [16].

Do what makes you happy as long as it is a healthy and sustainable activity it will be sure to benefit your health today and forever more.

  1. Popova.M. (2016). How Long It Takes To Form A New Habit. .Available: https://www.brainpickings.org/2014/01/02/how-long-it-takes-to-form-a-new-habit/.
  2. Deurenberg.P. (2009). Body Composition. In: Gibney.M, Lanham-New,S et-al Introduction to Human Nutrition . 2nd ed. Sussex: Wiley and Sons. Pg. 12-30.
  3. WCRF. (2016). Ways to Reduce Cancer. Available: http://www.wcrf-uk.org/uk/preventing-cancer/ways-reduce-cancer-risk.
  4. Public Health England. (2014). New National Diet and Nutrition Survey shows UK population is eating too much sugar, saturated fat and salt.Available: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/new-national-diet-and-nutrition-survey-shows-uk-population-is-eating-too-much-sugar-saturated-fat-and-salt.
  5. NHS. (2015). Food Labels. Available: http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Goodfood/Pages/food-labelling.aspx.
  6. Mcintosh, J. (2016). Urology / Nephrology Water - Air Quality / Agriculture Nutrition / Diet Why Is Drinking Water Important?.Available: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/290814.php.
  7. NHS. (2016). Health and Fitness. Available: http://www.nhs.uk/livewell/fitness/Pages/Fitnesshome.aspx.
  8. Highfield,R. (2007). Fitness, not fat, determines life expectancy.Available: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/science/science-news/3317338/Fitness-not-fat-determines-life-expectancy.html.
  9. NIH. (2014). Harms of Cigarette Smoking and Health Benefits of Quitting. Available: https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/tobacco/cessation-fact-sheet.
  10. Nursing times. (2009). Smoking costs NHS £5bn a year. Available: https://www.nursingtimes.net/smoking-costs-nhs-5bn-a-year/5002585.article.
  11. Shaw,M. (2000). Time for a smoke? One cigarette reduces your life by 11 minutes. BMJ-British Medical Journal. 320 (7226), Pg. 53.
  12. PHE. (2014). Alcohol treatment in England 2013-14. Available: http://www.nta.nhs.uk/uploads/adult-alcohol-statistics-2013-14-commentary.pdf.
  13. PHE. (2014). Alcohol and drugs prevention, treatment and recovery:Why Invest?. Available: http://www.nta.nhs.uk/uploads/why-invest-2014-alcohol-and-drugs.pdf.
  14. NIH. (2012). Why Is Sleep So Important?. Available: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/sdd/why.
  15. Mcleod,S. (2014). Type A Personality. Available: http://www.simplypsychology.org/personality-a.html.
  16. Harvard Education. (2011). Happiness and Health. Available: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/magazine/happiness-stress-heart-disease/.

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