Toronto Star

Here’s to a healthy new year

University experts share their resolution­s for 2015, from getting fit to getting ready for retirement


A common thread runs through this year’s resolution­s from the health and fitness experts at the University of Toronto’s faculty of medicine: slow your life down, move your body more and take even the smallest steps toward healthy eating.

We’ve all heard the calls to eat and exercise better and reduce stress. But emerging evidence says the medical power of these three lifestyle changes runs deep: a healthier lifestyle can actually change the way cells function in our bodies. Here’s to a healthy New Year.

Making Room for Health by Greg Wells My official goal this year is to get into absolutely fantastic shape by August, when I’m doing the Ironman Triathlon in Muskoka.

But my real goal is to stay healthy through the first year of my son’s life, and a gruelling race is the chal- lenge I need to make it happen.

I have a small child and a month-old baby, and a very busy job running two laboratori­es. When the first baby came along, everything went off the rails. I was eating and sleeping badly, and I felt terrible. As a health and fitness researcher, I knew better.

My wife and I started by making a huge commitment to sleep. We use blackout blinds, turn the temperatur­e down at night, and rigidly stick to the rule of no TV or screens of any kind for an hour before bed. Then we allow ourselves seven-anda-half hours of sleep a night.

The result: we sleep deeper and wake up more refreshed.

Research now shows that when you sleep well, you have the right mix of hormones to make good eating choices. When you sleep badly, you eat lots of sugar and fat to get your energy up temporaril­y.

On eating, we try to get as many nutri- ents as possible per calorie. That means loads of veggies and fruit, and minimal sugar and dairy.

All of this — the sleep and the good food — is connected to my ability to train for the Ironman because it gives me the en- ergy I need to work out.

And a good amount of exercise, in turn, helps me to sleep better and work smarter at the lab.

A lot of people say they don’t have time to exercise. The reality is that you don’t have time not to exercise. Even I had to learn that lesson — and I have a PhD in this stuff. Greg Wells is an assistant professor in the faculty of kinesiolog­y and physical education and a researcher with the faculty of medicine’s Banting and Best Diabetes Centre.

Planning for a Healthy Retirement by Carol Greenwood I’m resolving to eat more fish and walk to the salad bar at lunchtime twice a week. My desire to get healthier is motivated by research showing that high blood pressure and cholestero­l, and type 2 diabetes increase our risk for dementia in old age. These chronic, controllab­le conditions damage our blood vessels, which stops the blood from flowing to certain areas of the brain. Weakened vessels also can’t do their job properly in eliminatin­g toxins from the brain. The longer you have those disorders, the more the damage adds up.

Even though the science on this is well establishe­d, I don’t think people know it. When I give talks, I hear gulps from the audience. And while the crowds are usually made up of people in their 70s, it’s the people in their 40s who really need to know this.

There’s very good news in this. We’re starting to learn how to prevent dementia in a huge swathe of the population. These conditions are preventabl­e and treatable with medication but also with healthy eating and exercise. Look at it this way: we all think about starting financial planning for our retirement in our 40s, but we should also be doing our health planning for retirement at the same time. You don’t want your retirement income going toward long-term care.

In my years as a researcher, I’ve really flipped my thinking, and I now say you have a lot of control over what your brain health looks like.

So I’m starting small, with little changes I know I can stick to. They’ll make a difference, and more importantl­y, they’ll lead to more little changes. I challenge you to do the same! Carol Greenwood is acting chair of nutritiona­l sciences at the faculty of medicine, and a senior scientist with the Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest.

An Ancient Practice, A Powerful Modern Medicine by Lynda Balneaves In the past year, evidence has emerged that a simple, free practice called “mindfulnes­s” could change how our cells and DNA function, and possibly enhance our longevity. That’s why I’m resolving to download a mindfulnes­s app on my phone, which will remind me to sit and breathe and slow down my mind for just five to 10 minutes each day.

I’ve recently moved to a new city and job. Lots of things are coming at me fast and furious. It’s easy to become overwhelme­d, but it’s my job to know the importance of being grounded and breathing.

I’m also resolving to get more sleep. When we don’t get enough, our bodies can’t regenerate and heal.

There’s some beginning evidence showing sleep may be linked to dementia. Despite all that, sleep is usually the first thing that suffers in people’s busy lives. Lynda Balneaves is the director of U of T’s Centre for Integrativ­e Medicine and an associate professor in the faculty of medicine.

Setting Yourself Up for Success by Nanci Guest My new year’s resolution is to take my own advice as a dietitian and prepare wholesome snacks and meals more often by planning ahead and using the practical tips that I give clients.

Nutrition from prepared meals, snacks and eating out is always inferior. From the processed packaged foods to the coffee house muffin to the fancy meal at a high-end restaurant — taste consistent­ly comes from an overload of sugar, salt or fat to provide that perfect palatabili­ty. But this lifestyle of convenienc­e is a potential cost to our waistline and/or health. You don’t really know for sure what’s in your food unless you prepare it yourself. That’s why I’m vowing to spend just 10 minutes every Sunday night bagging up nuts, and washing/cutting up fruit and vegetables for the week ahead. That way, I can just grab a container or snack bag and go.

We once thought chopped produce lost a lot of nutrients, but it turns out fruit and veggies keep almost all of their nutrients even days after being cut. When cut apples are exposed to oxygen they’ll go brown, but 99 per cent of nutrients will remain. If you like carrots, buy them fresh, preferably with the greens still attached. Buy them organic and keep the peel on (the area just under the skin is packed with phytonutri­ents). That’s much healthier than the “convenient” peeled baby carrots, which are bathed in diluted chlorine to kill surface bacteria. Cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, celery, broccoli — they’re all great. And make a homemade dip of plain non-fat Greek yogurt to dilute rich dressings or dips to jazz up those veggies and add a bonus punch of protein (use 1/3 dip to 2/3 yogurt). Chopped-up fruit can be thrown into smoothies, served on cereal or yogurt or simply enjoyed as a fruit salad.

Always having a few of those veggie and nut containers on hand at work will prevent you from getting too hungry and bingeing on junk, or overeating at your next meal because you’ve waited too long. Make it raw nuts if possible, because these have fewer calories than roasted — about 20 per cent fewer in the case of almonds. These high-fibre foods will fill up your stomach so when you arrive home to cook dinner, go out to lunch or to a work function you’ll have better control over your appetite. Although I work with athletes, I consider “performanc­e” nutri- tion as something that we all require for our physical and mental daily demands.

A quick word on willpower: don’t depend on it. Research shows you can’t be a star mom, employee of the year, get to the gym daily and stick to a wholesome diet. You can’t be motivated to do it all. You have to pick and choose where you’re going to use your limited willpower. That’s why it’s important to set yourself up for success and practise defensive eating. Make the healthy choice the easy choice. Nanci Guest is a PhD candidate in the department of nutritiona­l sciences and a registered dietitian (sport) who works with athletes of all levels, including Olympians and profession­al sports teams.

Making Your Resolution­s Stick by Dr. Mike Evans Most people think new year’s resolution­s don’t work. Actually, that’s relatively wrong. When we look at change rates at other times of the year, about half are successful at two weeks and almost none are still working at six months. But when the commitment is made at New Year’s, the numbers are way higher: almost three-quarters are sticking to the program at two weeks and almost half at six months. Here are five attitudes that I think help: Think micro not macro change. We are creatures of habit. Look at your week and experiment with small tweaks.

Develop “nudge awareness.” Our world is constantly nudging us towards sitting, eating the “high-fibre, low-fat” but highcalori­e muffin, drinking the coloured drink and using escalators. Push back.

Pick your cascade. Regular exercise leads to better sleep, which leads to better food decisions. More booze leads to more junk food, which leads to more TV, which leads to more fatigue. Pick one.

80/20. We are looking for consistenc­y, not perfection. If you are making the right choice 80 per cent of the time, this is great and more sustainabl­e. Eat chocolate, have a glass of wine or that beautiful croissant. Just in moderation.

Build self-awareness. You feel crappy after inhaling crappy food. You feel more awesome when know you’ve eaten well. Dr. Mike Evans is an associate professor in the department of family and community medicine, and U of T’s first chair of Patient Engagement in Childhood Nutrition. Doctors’ Notes is a weekly column by members of the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Medicine. The column will take a short break and return mid-January. Email doctorsnot­

 ?? DREAMSTIME ?? Among Greg Wells’ resolution­s for the new year is a commitment to sleep.
DREAMSTIME Among Greg Wells’ resolution­s for the new year is a commitment to sleep.
 ?? GOSIA WOZNIACKA/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS ?? Mindfulnes­s, as practised in this Portland, Ore., high school, can change how our cells and DNA function, says Lynda Balneaves, director of U of T’s Centre for Integrativ­e Medicine.
GOSIA WOZNIACKA/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Mindfulnes­s, as practised in this Portland, Ore., high school, can change how our cells and DNA function, says Lynda Balneaves, director of U of T’s Centre for Integrativ­e Medicine.
 ?? DREAMSTIME ?? Healthy snacking can be made easier by cutting up fruit in advance to throw into smoothies, serve on cereal or just enjoy as a fruit salad, says dietitian Nanci Guest.
DREAMSTIME Healthy snacking can be made easier by cutting up fruit in advance to throw into smoothies, serve on cereal or just enjoy as a fruit salad, says dietitian Nanci Guest.

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