Don’t stress, eat more fruit and veggies, sleep on it, drink more water and get off the couch, writes
IT’S THE start of a new year and there is no doubt that this year will be as saturated with just as much nutritional nonsense as last year.
The start of the year seems like a good time to establish what are the best things to do to support your health in 2019:
1. Eat more fruit and veg
Last year saw a sharp rise in the number of people adopting vegan and plant-based diets. The scientific jury is still out on a completely vegan lifestyle but eating more fruit and vegetables has always been high on the list of positive things to do for your body.
A growing area of interest is the impact of diet on brain function. One big review of studies published last year reliably demonstrated that for every additional 100g of fruit or vegetables eaten, there was a 3% reduction in the risk of depression.
The last couple of years have also seen increased interest in polyphenols – particularly flavonoids. These phytochemicals are naturally occurring in fruit and vegetables and are responsible for helping plants to stay healthy. Unlike vitamins, they are not essential but help to prevent disease. It is thought that they benefit the immune system and have an anti-inflammatory effect. This means they can play a role in the prevention of progression of many diseases.
2. Do less sitting
Research shows that exercise can not only help reduce our waistlines but reduce the risk of colon, womb and breast cancer. This is thought to be because of the improvement in hormone profiles in those who exercise regularly. There is also strong evidence to show it is a great way to improve our mental health.
3. Get more sleep (but not too much)
There were several interesting breakthroughs in research last year in linking the “dose” of sleep we get and our health. It turns out that too much as well as too little increases the risk of heart disease, diabetes and obesity. Healthy adults need between six and nine hours of sleep a night.
New research has also revealed how lifestyle interventions can help to extend people’s sleep – and how a better night’s sleep might help to improve dietary intake during the day. The same research also found that partial sleep deprivation can lead to people craving higher energy foods and consuming more than 400 additional calories over the course of a day.
4. Make a stress management plan
Modern life can cause huge stress and this has a detrimental effect on our health. Establish an effective stress management plan for the year ahead. This should include an understanding of the cause of your stress and a plan in place for how to reduce your hormonal response to these stresses.
5. Drink more water
Did you know that being just 1% dehydrated can impair your ability to concentrate? On a busy work day, forgetting to drink enough and then becoming just slightly dehydrated can really impair our performance and increase stress.
Make sure you keep a reusable water bottle with you to keep topped up. You’re looking for your urine to be the colour of pale straw throughout the day. Don’t fall into the trap of adding lemons to your water either – lemon juice is more damaging for tooth enamel than Coca-cola.
Ultimately, focus on your overall wellness and not just one aspect of it. This is important, because a strict diet that adds to your stress because you can’t find anything to eat, or an exercise regime that has you up at five in the morning every day is going to have many of its benefits offset by detrimental health effects. Rather than adopting a strict new diet or intense daily workout regime, aim for small achievable health goals.
Sophie Medlin is a lecturer in nutrition and dietetics, King’s College London