Every day the world of science releases new findings in the fields of food, fitness and fat loss. But how do we know which ones are most important and how do we choose priorities to help improve our health and quality of life?
1. Take 10,000 steps a day
A recent study looked at what would happen to overweight, inactive people if they accumulat ed 10,000 steps every day for eight weeks. The results were astounding, including lowered blood pressure and improved glucose tolerance. Improved glucose tolerance reduces the need for insulin, which helps prevent fat storage over the short-term, and diabetes over the long-term. What’s more, using a pedometer to measure total steps taken increased the participants’ daily activity levels by 85 per cent.
A pedometer clips onto your waistband or belt, and registers the number of steps you take. Pedometers may help to motivate you to become more active by offering you feedback on your activity.
They also help you track your incidental movement in addition to your planned exercise. It might seem like a challenge to reach the 10,000 steps each day, but a few small changes to your routine can make a big difference.
Look for opportunities to include more movement in your day, such as standing while talking on the phone, using stairs instead of the lift, or walking to the next office rather than emailing a coworker.
You could also try going for a short walk in your lunch break, or parking your car at the far end of the car park. That way, you can accumulate little bits of activity throughout the day.
2. Exercise—don’t think it, just do it
When contemplating exercise, a new study suggests the best strategy is to get into it straight away, rather than thinking about it first.
The study examined people’s thoughts about exercise, and their degree of participation in physical activity. The most important strategy used by people who were physically active on a regular basis was to just start exercising, rather than talking to themselves about it first.
According to the researchers, thinking about it can undermine your resolve— and those who thought about it first often talked themselves out of it.
Another important factor was if the self-talk was either negative or positive.
Those who told themselves to focus on the benefits of exercise were among the most active. They tended to be middleaged women who were self-motivated, and did not depend on anyone else to make them exercise.
Middle-aged men, on the other hand, were less self-motivated, often saying things like, “I should be doing this” or “I can’t actually do this.” By telling themselves they didn’t want to exercise, this resulted in lower levels of participation. Older men who questioned the benefit of exercise at their age were least likely to be active.
While a pre-match psych-up might work for elite athletes, it seems non-com petitive adults are better off just to start instead of thinking about it.
3. Dark chocolate a healthier choice
In what can only be described as great news for chocoholics, researchers have discovered that people who eat dark chocolate may reduce their risk of heart disease and deep vein thrombosis, and possibly even prolong their life.
Dark chocolate is rich in flavonoids, which raise the level of antioxidants in the blood, and helps counteract free radical damage. This helps prevent illness and protect the cardiovascular system by reducing the risk of blood clotting, and dilating vessels that allows a better flow of blood through the blood vessels. Other studies have shown that flavonoids have antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antiallergenic and even antiviral properties.
The flavonoids in chocolate were identified as fast acting, and appeared to give the same blood-thinning benefits as aspirin, which could help reduce the incidence of deep vein thrombosis Dark chocolate has been shown to contain twice the levels of antioxidants of milk chocolate, while white chocolate contains no antioxidants. Although the exact reason for this is unclear, it may be that milk interferes with the absorption of antioxidants from chocolate.
Dark chocolate is high in fat and kilojoules, so it’s not ideal for your waistline.
Obviously you would still get more nutrients by eating fruits and vegetables.
But dark chocolate is more concentrated in flavour, so it’s easy to savour, and keep your portion sizes small.
4. Weight loss for arthritis
Survey findings have revealed that people with knee, foot and ankle problems tend to weigh more than people who don’t. Being overweight, particularly the extra load from excess body fat on the knee joint, is linked to the early development of arthritis, which is common in older people. It seems that if you gain weight, your knees, feet and ankles will suffer the consequences.
However, losing just one kilogram of body weight can reduce by four kilograms the load placed on the knee joint each step you take. If someone takes 10,000 steps a day (now recommended for weight loss), that would equal 40,000 kilograms less compression weight on your knees each day.
Losing weight has been shown to reduce arthritic knee symptoms, and help to slow its progression. One study showed the improvement from weight loss was even more effective than some drug treatments, such as paracetamol, and without the known side effects of anti-inflammatories.
People with arthritis face a difficult situation, in that exercise may cause pain, but inactivity can lead to weight gain and more pain. The pain can also interfere with everyday movement and functional capacity.
Fortunately, studies on people with arthritic knees who lose weight by dietary changes alone show similar benefits to people who lose weight through exercise. What’s more, weight loss has other benefits as well, such as a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and some cancers.
5. Activity cuts Alzheimer’s risk
Staying active, both mentally and physically, may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, according to recent research. Alzheimer’s can progress slowly or quickly, but always robs sufferers of their memory, and eventually their ability to care for themselves.
A new study found the odds of developing Alzheimer’s were nearly quadrupled in people who were less active during the ages of 20 and 60. This was true regardless of the type of activity, although spending time in intellectual pursuits appeared to be most beneficial. Another study found that people in midlife who exercised at least twice a week had about a 60 per cent reduction in risk of suffering from dementia than more sedentary people. Exercise included walking at least 10,000 steps, or eight kilometres a day.
The brain is an organ just like your heart, muscles and lungs, and physical activity is also important to keep your brain healthy. The connection between exercise and mental health has been linked to an increased blood flow to the brain, which helps maintain healthy oxygen levels. Regular physical activity is also believed to stimulate nerve-cell regeneration and reduce levels of stress hormones such as cortisol, which are both associated with improved mental functioning.
6. Low GI diet better than low fat
When foods are digested and broken down, they are absorbed into your bloodstream at different rates. The glycaemic index (GI) ranks foods on their ability to raise blood-glucose levels. It’s helpful to know the speed of glucose release and absorption because of the hormone insulin. The body releases insulin to control and store glucose, helping to reduce blood-glucose levels. Importantly for weight control, insulin also triggers your body to store fat. Foods that release glucose slowly (low GI foods) trigger little if any insulin release, while foods that release glucose quickly (high GI foods) triggers a strong insulin response. Low GI foods are also more filling, and provide sustained, longer-term energy.
The GI classifies carbohydrates more accurately than calling them simple or complex. For example, white rice (once thought of as a complex carbohydrate) is absorbed faster than honey (previously known as a simple carbohydrate).
More than just another food fad, a low GI diet has been hailed by scientists and nutritionists as the most effective path to long-term fat loss.
Research has shown that low GI diets can be more effective than low-fat diets for weight control, because they are easier to stick to. While it can be difficult to keep low-fat eating palatable and interesting over the longterm, a low-GI diet encourages you to eat “good” fats, such as avocado and olive oil, which add taste and flavour.