Autumn is well underway and the nights are drawing in. Is that an excuse to bundle your body up under layers of clothes and forget all about what's underneath it? It certainly shouldn't be if you want a long and healthy life.
There's little doubt that your diet makes a major difference. The Mediterranean diet has been linked for decades with a long and healthy life - with good reason. A study published this year (1) showed lower levels of heart disease among people eating a Mediterranean-type diet, including at least:
- Three servings a week of nuts
- Five portions a day of fruit and veg
- Three portions a week of fish (especially oily fish)
- Four tablespoons a day of olive oil
- Less than one serving a day of red meat
- Limited pastries, cakes, butter, spread fats and fizzy drinks.
Healthy living doesn't need to mean drastic changes to your lifestyle. In fact, it may be easier to maintain small changes, building them into your routine one at a time. For instance, the huge INTERHEART study showed that regardless of other factors, eating more fruit and veg every day can cut your risk of heart disease. (2)
Winter is the season of Christmas parties and family celebrations, and it can be hard to keep your alcohol intake to safe levels. But a few tips can help over the festive season:
- Try to have at least a couple of alcohol-free days a week
- Know how much alcohol there really is in your drinks . For instance, many of my patients assume that a glass of wine is one unit, when in fact a large (250 ml) wine bar serving contains three units. Likewise, the 'one pint of beer is two units' rule only applies to 3.5% strength beers - even 'standard' lager contains more and some extra-strength lagers have almost three times more alcohol
- Don't start drinking until you sit down to eat
- Offer to be the designated driver. Most people are pretty responsible about not putting pressure on others to drink if they're getting behind a wheel, and you may find you have less urge to drink if you know you can't do so safely
- When it's your turn to buy a round (and ideally every other drink), make yours a soft one
- Read the patient.info top myths on alcohol and see if you're kidding yourself!
Keeping your weight down can be harder over winter too, but don't forget that any weight you gain will be there for all to see when spring comes and you shed the winter woollies. As well as type 2 diabetes, heart attack and stroke, being overweight increases your risk of many cancers and a host of medical conditions. Don't be tempted by 'quick-fix' diets - the best way to keep weight off in the long-term is to make sustainable changes to a more balanced diet.
Exercise, along with a healthy diet, can really help you get (or keep) your weight to healthy levels, but there are other benefits too - more energy, more stamina and a lower risk of depression to name a few. Don't let shorter days be an excuse not to venture out to exercise - there are lots of ways to build exercise into your daily routine.
There's one exception to the 'small changes slowly' rule, of course - the deadly weed. Stopping smoking completely is a must if you're serious about a long and healthy life, and while smoking is highly addictive, you can become a non-smoker.
I hear every day from my patients that they'll start looking after their health when they have more time. But prevention is better than cure, and many of them are kidding themselves that they'll ever make the effort if it's not a priority. By logging on to MyHealth and working out how healthy your life really is, you can access sensible, practical advice on the sort of changes which would benefit you most.
But if you need some fresh ideas or new inspiration to help you and your family's health and wellbeing, then the Healthy Living Expo could be just what you're looking for. Held on 19-20 October 2013, at the Ricoh Arena, Coventry, the show will feature a wide range of health-related activities to watch or join in with including yoga, t'ai chi and 'dance yourself fit' Bollywood-style exercises, plus plenty of stands showcasing fitness and healthy living products, beauty demonstrations and celebrity presentations.
I'll be there, talking about 'Diet, lifestyle and healthy living - letting the facts get in the way of a good headline.' Come on down and get your dancing shoes on!
Estruch R et al. Primary prevention of cardiovascular disease with a Mediterranean diet. NEJM 2013. http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1200303.
Salim Yusuf et al . Effect of potentially modifiable risk factors associated with myocardial infarction in 52 countries (the INTERHEART study). Lancet 364 9437 11 Sept 2004.
Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. EMIS has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.