It’s been a while since I did a post about physical health. Lately I’ve been mostly dealing with psychology. So here is a longer post to make up for this a bit.
To have good health doesn’t require adopting unusual or bizarre behaviours. Doing little things can make a big difference. (This is for those in normal health, if you have a major problem it may take major changes to address it.) Here I’ll deal with simple and easy changes in three areas: exercise, eating and thinking.
Image by MShades
1. Walking (or other moderate exercise).
Moderately strenuous exercise, about 30 minutes a day, can lead to enormous benefits in terms of your mood, health, weight and the ability to live an independent and fulfilling life. Studies have shown that simply walking at a brisk pace for 30 minutes or more on most days can lead to significant health improvements.
The January issue of Mayo Clinic Health Letter lists some of the benefits of 30 minutes of exercise a day:
- Lower blood pressure: A reduction of 5 to 10 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) is possible. In some cases, that’s enough to prevent or reduce the need for blood pressure medications.
- Exercise often increases the concentration of high-density lipoprotein (HDL or “good” cholesterol in the blood), especially when accompanied by weight loss. Exercise also helps reduce triglyceride levels.
- Prevent osteoporosis: Exercise may increase bone density and protect against bone mass decline, especially if weight-bearing activities are involved.
- Prevent cancer: Exercise has been shown to strengthen the immune system, improve circulation, reduce body fat and speed digestion. Each has a role in preventing cancer, particularly cancers of the colon, prostate, uterine lining and breast.
- Maintain mental well-being: Exercise may help reduce stress, improve mild-to-moderate depression and anxiety, improve sleep and boost moods.
- Increase energy and stamina: A lack of energy often results from inactivity, not age.
A Lot of Walking Can Assist with the Mental Symptoms of Menopause
Simply adding a brisk walking routine can reduce a variety of psychological symptomsfor post-menopausal women: symptoms such as anxiety, stress and depression . The research is published in the January issue of Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention. Temple University public health researcher Deborah Nelson, is the study’s lead author.
The researchers found that high levels of physical activity were the most beneficial to postmenopausal women and African-American women. This meant walking at a moderate pace (4 miles per hour) for an hour and a half at least five times a week.
While the study found mental benefits of exercise, it did not show that exercise reduced physical symptoms such as hot flashes.
“You don’t have to run 20 miles a week to reap the benefits of exercise. If you stick to a moderate-paced walking schedule, it can keep your body mass index down and lower the risk of stress, anxiety and depression,” said Dr. Nelson.
I love to walk but for those who don’t you can probably find an enjoyable alternative, such as a sport or recreation such as dancing. However it needs to be aerobic exercise (not quick bursts of energy such as sprinting) and done most days – if you aim for every day then it won’t matter if you miss one here and there.
Moderate exercise is pretty easy to judge. It means you are breathing more heavily but still able to talk. Another way is to picture a scale from 1 to 10. Where ten is absolutely flat out and 1 is flat out on your back (doing nothing at all). Moderate exercise is a seven on this scale. It is especially important to stick to the moderate range if you are taking up exercise after being sedentary.
Image by Savannah Grandfather
Below is a list of foods high in anti-oxidants which have major health benefits.
1. Dark Green Leafy Vegetable: Dark greens deter cognitive decline, heart disease and Alzheimer’s.
2. Tomatoes: Tomatoes are a massive source of Lycopene which has been shown to reduce risks of heart disease, improve mental functioning in old age, and most impressive reduce cancer by over 40% (highest success in prostate, lung and stomach cancers).
3. Garlic: Garlic has also been linked to reducing cancer risk, it can also reduce blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
4. Spinach: Second only to Garlic for anti-oxidants.
5. Think Red – Red Grapes, Red Grape Juice, and yes Red wine: red grapes have up to four time the anti-oxidants of orange or tomato juice. Red Wine (in moderation, up to 2 glasses a day) is equal to drinking grape juice or tea.
6. Tea: Black or Green tea is a powerful anti-oxidant. One cup of black tea a day has shown to cut heart disease risk in half.
7. Olive Oil: The oil, high in anti-oxidants, reduces death from cancer and heart disease. Folks regularly using the oil have HALF the death rate of folks on ordinary low fat diets.
8. Salmon and Other Fatty Fish: The fat in Salmon and other fatty fish (herring, tuna, sardines and mackerel) contains Omega 3 oils that fight virtually every known disease. They also increase brain and joint function, and improve mood disorders. Two servings of week is all you need.
9. Go Nuts: Most varieties are full of (yet again) good (monounsaturated) fats. 5 ounces of nuts a week reduce heart attacks in women by 40%. Almonds and Walnuts have been shown to reduce cholesterol.
10. Blueberries: Half a cup a day of blueberries has been shown to ward off declining memory.
You can find a huge amount of information on foods and aging at the Neurosciences Laboratory of the Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging (Tufts University in the US).
The easiest way I have found to change my eating is to make one little change at a time. Things like: substitute olive oil for another oil or add a new dish to my repertoir of meals. This stops me getting overwhelmed and giving up. Making one little change every month or two means a big change in diet in the space of one or two years.
3. Bigger Changes Can Add Up (Not Smoking and Moderating Drinking)
People who adopt four healthy behaviours:
- not smoking;
- taking exercise;
- moderate alcohol intake; and,
- eating five servings of fruit and vegetables a day
live on average an additional fourteen years of life compared with people who adopt none of these behaviours, according to a new study.
(The study is: Khaw KT, Wareham N, Bingham S, Welch A, Luben R, et al. (2008) Combined impact of health behaviours and mortality in men and women: the EPIC-Norfolk Prospective Population study. PLoS Med 5(1): e12. http://medicine.plosjournals.org/perlserv/?request=get-document&doi=10.1371/journal.pmed.0050012)
After factoring in age, the results showed that. over an average period of eleven years, those who did not undertake any of these healthy forms of behaviour were four times more likely to have died than those who did all of them. Furthermore, the researchers calculate that a person who engages in none of these behaviours has the same risk of dying as someone 14 years older who does all of them. This was independent of social class and body mass index.
4. A Simple Mental Exercise for Big Results.
Guided imagery is helping patients use the full range of the body’s healing capacity, according to the January issue of Mayo Clinic Health Letter.
Guided imagery is learning to:
- listen to someone’s voice,
- relax the breathing and
- consciously direct the ability to imagine.
The effect of guided vivid imagery is to send a message to the emotional control center of the brain. From there, the message is passed along to the body’s endocrine, immune and autonomic nervous systems. These systems influence a wide range of bodily functions, including heart rate, breathing rate and blood pressure.
Guided imagery has been shown to benefit patients by:
- Reducing side effects from cancer treatment
- Reducing fear and anxiety prior to surgery. Studies have shown that surgery patients who participated in two to four guided imagery sessions required less pain medication and left the hospital more quickly than those who hadn’t used imagery.
- Managing stress
- Managing headaches. Studies have shown that guided imagery may aid in reducing the frequency of migraine headaches as effectively as taking preventive medications.
All these things are pretty easy to do (though changing smoking and drinking habits can be hard). And they have big health benefits. This benefits not only ourselves but, if taken up widely, could have a major impact on making our countries health budgets more affordable. We can all win from doing things that, on the whole, are enjoyable to do.