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10,000 steps – sometimes easier said than done

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If you’ve read my profile you’ll know how easy it is for something to get in the way of my leading a more active life than the one I have planned in my head.  So after achieving my 10,000 steps per day for a whole week just a short while back, my children were absented from school for 14 days(!) to enjoy a mid-term break and to allow the school to move premises.  This upset to what I would now like to call ‘my routine am walk’ led to a decline in the number of steps achieved to such an extent that I stopped wearing the pedometer altogether.  Midterms included a trip to Kent, a 5 day stay with a friend in Newcastle, heaps of kids, bottles of red wine, shared strawberry cheesecake, then lime cheesecake,  doritos and chocolate.  Thank goodness those boys are back to school because whoever was living in my head whilst I was away forgot all about the healthy lifestyle to which she aspires.  And having gotten out of the habit of wearing my pedometer I then forgot to clip it on first day back to school.  Never mind – it’s on now!  And we can only plan the future, not the past.

Planning

My planning for the future includes a commitment to my pedometer for 2 weeks this time.  I figure if I can achieve 10,000 daily steps for 1 week I can certainly achieve it for 2 – and I suspect you can also should you so wish. The school moving premises has in fact made this a whole lot easier.  I clocked 3,000 steps through my drop off, and another 3,000 with my pick up.  I am sitting at under 8,000 here at 4:30p.m. showing me the little movement that was achieved the rest of the day as I sat at my computer.  I figure if I add a detour after drop off in the am I can add another 1,000 steps in pretty easily.  Determined. Determined. Determined.  It’s just for 2 weeks, so we’ll see how I go.  Getting excited about it now.  Here I come with another star chart for myself.

Top tips for best pedometer usage

1. Wear your pedometer every day  – you know it makes sense.  You will capture a picture of how inactive/active you are day to day.

2. After your first week of clocking your steps calculate your average.  If not meeting your 10,000 steps quota for healthy living increase your current output by 1,000 steps per day for one week.

3. Draw out a chart and work yourself with time towards the 10,000 goal.  Don’t think about how long this will take – just think day by day, and week by week.  Then work yourself towards the big number.

4. Reward yourself at the end of each week with a non-food treat. Before you know it the summer will be here and you will be a walking machine – just like me in my head!

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Healthy Lifestyle

10,000 steps. These feet were made for walking.

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While breakfasting on Monday (Feb 4 2013) and listening to early morning radio I learned it was World Cancer Day.  As a dietitian I am always shall we say ‘harping on’ about the merits of being active, but sometimes statistics really sink in.  The expert discussing cancer prevention remarked ‘being active for just 30 minutes every day would  halve our risk of developing some of the most common cancers’.  Maybe because it was my birthday this week, and I was reminded when looking in the mirror that yes indeed I really was another year older I set myself a challenge.

10,000 Steps

Since Monday I have clipped on my pedometer each day and once I have dropped my kids to school, but before sinking into my work chair, I have headed to my local park.  One good circuit of brisk walking will tick my 30 minute target.  It’s Friday today and I am feeling good.  I have 5 stars on my chart.  One day I even found myself breaking into a run. That was a particularly cold day and my legs decided for me.  So my pedometer is clocking around 5,000 steps by 10am with another 5,000 by the end of the day.  The 10,000 steps per day programme, based on a Japanese proverb, has been explored and validated through research as a useful tool to get sedentary populations moving. Recent research has also validated the use of a pedometer as a useful way to get individuals to do more (Sports Medicine, 2009). Those using the pedometer walk more, have a lower weight to height ratio, and have lower blood pressure than those not using  pedometers in the research (JAMA, 2007). And as mentioned above, there’s the link to cancer prevention too.

Top Tips

  1. Buy a pedometer
  2. Track your steps on a chart or calendar.
  3. Find a walking partner or a set of headphones to keep you busy.
  4. Walk 30 minutes every day.
  5. Buy a good pair of trainers if you need to.
  6. Establish a routine to meet your 30 minute daily goal.

Get walking. Get Healthy.

Healthy Lifestyle

Big Plate. Little Plate.

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Apart from when you bought them have you ever thought about how big your dishes are? Or indeed your  glasses?  I have, mainly because of the work of Professor Brian Wansink at Cornell University, New York State.

His team delivers research around the notion of ‘mindless eating’ – where we don’t really make decisions about how much we eat, we just eat! And it’s not just because we’ve been taught to clean our plates.  Many other things come into play when looking at portions sizes. Those of us who have visited or had friends visit the U.S. can all tell tales about how big the restaurant portions of food are; something which has not happened in Europe.  But we may not have been aware that our dishes have increased in size such that the dishes and glasses we now buy for dinner are more than 30% bigger than they were 50 years ago.  You might not think this too much of an issue but to a dietitian this is endlessly fascinating. This small change can subtly make a difference to the number of calories we eat every day, and the quality of calories we eat, both of which will have an impact on our weight.  

Consider these examples of outcomes from ‘mindless eating’ research:

We serve more from big cereal boxes than from small cereal boxes.

We serve more onto big plates or bowls than small plates or bowls.

 We serve ourselves more food if provided with big serving spoons than smaller ones.

Further research has demonstrated that having this information at our fingertips is not enough even for the highly educated. We need to physically change our environment if we want this knowledge to work in our favour.

Use these tips for easier healthier living.

1. Serve your main course on a smaller plate

2. Use your big glasses for water.

3. Serve wine in your smallest glasses.

4. Serve puddings and desserts in small bowls or cups.

5. Serve healthier salads on larger plates.

Simple steps to a healthier lifestyle.  By improving your environment through smaller dishes, smaller wine glasses and bigger water glasses you won’t have to make decisions towards ‘choosing’ the smaller portion of food.  Those decisions will be automatically made for you as we generally stop serving when our plates our full (yes we all do this!). This concept buys in nicely to the blog on will power.  By eliminating yet another food based decision from our daily lives we keep our willpower reserves in good order for when have to make the more difficult food based choices. So big plate? Little plate?  Now you know…

p.s. I tested this theory out at my book club dinner the other night.  I managed to serve way more water than normal using my big water glasses; I can’t say the same for the wine as didn’t have any small glasses.  Oops! Just off to the shops.

Healthy Lifestyle

Coffee: 4-5 cups allowed

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Coffee has had a bad name in health circles for a long time due to outdated science. I am here to help you enjoy your coffee and feel confident that you are starting your day in a healthy way! Drinking 4-5 cups (cup = 8 ounces or 230ml) throughout the day is a good thing and if you like your coffee should be enjoyed, not disregarded as another thing on the list of things to try to change.

Hydration

It’s a myth that coffee is a diuretic. Coffee promotes hydration. Depending on how hydrated you are the body will retain almost all of the fluid contained in your cup. Healthy guidelines from around the world all advocate coffee as being a drink which can contribute to your fluid intake for the day.

Cognitive Function

When we are tired and feeling low this is when coffee holds most benefit for raising our levels of alertness, as well as feelings of positivity and wellness.  Having a quick coffee break at work can help you be more alert and productive.  All that advice from road safety organisations about stopping and having a coffee break if you are tired, is based on sound scientific evidence.  It really does work.  Everyone responds slightly differently to caffeine though.  Some people will be more sensitive to caffeine than others. If you find it difficult to sleep after a late night coffee either change to a decaffeinated version or don’t have coffee late at night.   I am a first thing in the morning , but not after 6pm drinker, unless I’m staying up late.

Blood pressure

Some people think coffee is associated with an increase in blood pressure. If you don’t normally drink coffee and suddenly start drinking quite a lot, your body will respond with an increase in blood pressure, but will also accommodate the increase after about a week.  Unless you have been specifically advised not to drink coffee by a health professional there is no reason for you to drink other drinks if you prefer coffee.

Type 2 diabetes

Brewed coffee is associated with a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes. Coffee contains chromium and magnesium both of which help the body use insulin; these may be the mediating factors. As diabetes carries an increased risk of coronary heart disease and stroke, drinking your coffee means you simultaneously reduce your risk of these conditions.

Cancers

Historically people thought coffee led to cancer but this is old science and associated with imbibing ridiculous amounts of caffeine on a daily basis – not the 4-5 cups that we talk about here.  Drinking coffee is associated with a reduced risk of many different types of cancer including breast and endometrial cancer, liver cancer and liver cirrhosis, bowel and aggressive prostate cancers.

Parkinson’s Disease and Alzheimer’s Disease

Coffee has been shown to reduce incidence of Parkinson’s Disease and reduce risk of early onset Alzheimer’s Disease.  For those who have already developed Parkinson’s Disease it may in some cases even reduce the ‘shakes’.

Coffee is a complex drink containing many thousands of different compounds and the health benefits of coffee are numerous and varied.  It’s difficult to link particular compounds with particular effects but the benefits are associated with moderate  drinking of 4-5 cups per day, and throughout the day.  Brewed, no-sugar, Americano, espresso, and non-fat versions preferred.

Healthy Lifestyle

Skinny cappuccino and more willpower please!

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If you have made any new year’s resolutions this year you may be calling upon your willpower right now to keep you on track.

We wake refreshed and ready to take on the world, be productive, and make healthy decisions about what we eat and how active we are.  By eleven o’clock some of these decisions have been scuppered as we find ourselves walking into some coffee-house lured by a ‘skinny cappuccino and (‘willpower, willpower’) blueberry muffin please’!  So how can we make our willpower work better?

Researchers believe that by structuring our lives so that many of our decisions are automatic rather than active,  we can strengthen our resolve around goals. We spend about a quarter of our waking hours making decisions, using up our well of willpower.  When  tempting decisions come along we may already have reached ‘decision fatigue’, where we choose the easiest option. This may of course be ‘blueberry muffin and no exercise with that thank you’!

Learning how to work with your willpower will help keep you on track for actually achieving your resolutions.

1. Avoid tempting situations.  Out of sight and out of mind really does work.  So if you are cutting down on biscuits then don’t buy any.  Or keep them in an opaque container in the back reaches of the cupboard. Or only buy the ones which your children or partner love but which you don’t favour.  Make it easy to say no.

2. Plan. And plan some more. Make an action plan as to how you will achieve this particular goal.  Write down all the steps to get you to where you want to be.  Walking more? Buy the trainers, the pedometer, the kit (including the waterproof jacket, the hat and the gloves). Schedule the activity into your diary.  Know the route you intend to take. Is anyone going with you?  Make it so walking more is no longer a decision, it’s just what you do Sunday mornings and Thursday evenings.  Keep a record and feel proud.

3. Pin it.  Whatever you are trying to do write it down and pin somewhere you will see it regularly.  Remind yourself all the time why you are trying to achieve this particular goal. Your goal can be your screensaver on your electronic devices.  It can be on the inside of your filofax; a note in your wallet or purse, in your make-up bag. You can pin it to your family calendar.  Wherever you are likely to see it, pin it. Reminding yourself regularly what it is you are trying to achieve, and why, will strengthen your motivation and your ability to get there.

4. Think your way there. Be confident of your goal. Be confident you will achieve it. Rehearse what you will say if others are trying to tempt you from your good intentions. Prepare your answers in advance e.g. “I no longer drink during the week.  I save it all for the weekend.”  It doesn’t matter if this is a goal you are working towards for the hundredth time.  Believe this time is the right time.

5. Eat regularly.  Though food may have nothing to do with what you are trying to achieve eating regularly will help you get there. Because your brain runs on glucose skipping meals and trying to resist temptation can leave your brain depleted of its willpower.  By eating regularly we not only fuel our brains we also fuel our willpower too.

6Choose wisely. Really think about what you are trying to achieve with your healthy lifestyle. Then choose one great habit to work on to begin with. Focus on this particular habit within your bigger picture to improve your chances of being successful.  Consider how this habit will fit with your daily life. Break it down into really small steps.  When you feel this habit has become part of your normal routine, you can move onto the next habit for the bigger picture.

“Skinny cappuccino please”.

Healthy Lifestyle

A litre or more of water

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Fulfilling a 2012 New Year’s resolution by the skin of my teeth. About 8 hours to go till 2013. Hurrah!

As a dietitian I am often asked questions regarding fluids e.g. how much should I drink? Does tea and coffee count? And what about carbonated beverages? Where do they fit in? So I thought my first blog post should be all about this very simple thing: fluid.
How much fluid should we drink every day?
We are all somewhat different and what we need is determined by 3 things. How much we eat. What the weather is like. How much activity do we do. The American Institute of Medicine gives guidelines suggesting women need approximately 2.5 litres per day of fluid and men need just under 3 litres. But this is not all from drinking liquids as we get some of our fluids from the foods we eat – around 20%. So working backwards this leaves women generally needing about 2 litres of fluid and men needing around 2.5 litres of fluid.
So now what should we drink?
Considering the options we have water, tea, coffee, milk, juices, and carbonated beverages as drinks which could contribute to our daily intake of fluids. The Harvard School of Public Health has helpfully put these into a list in just the above order. Ideally, we should drink about half of our fluid requirements as plain and simple water. So if we can all drink a litre or more of water everyday we will be well on our way to healthy hydration. Tea and coffee come next on the list with interesting evidence coming out regularly around the healthy benefits of these delicious drinks (but that’s for another post). Lower fat milks are an excellent way of getting fluid and other nutrition with a suggestion of one to two servings per day (250ml – 500ml) helping to meet calcium needs too. No more than one small glass (100ml) of juice per day is a good idea, particularly if weight management is topping your priority list. Lastly we have the carbonated beverages which although some may imbibe and consider delicious should really be drunk as a treat. The reality is that these fizzy drinks (diet and ordinary) are not contributing anything to your healthy diet and in fact may be doing some harm.  It is possible that fizzy drinks may stimulate high sugar cravings encouraging us to seek out sugary and high carbohydrate foods.

So drink and be merry this New Year’s Eve. Tomorrow is the first day of 2013. A day to consider water as a wondrous thing!