The secret of good health? Here’s what the doctors say...
We asked three doctors for their top five tips on living a healthy life
Dr Elva Dalton, GP in Stillorgan Medical Centre, Dublin
1. Maintain a healthy body weight: Obesity raises blood pressure, increasing the risk of stroke and many cancers. It also worsens asthma symptoms and increases joint problems such as osteoarthritis. A healthy diet consists of lots of fruit and vegetables, chicken and fish, brown carbohydrates and not too much refined sugar, fat, red meat and alcohol.
2. Aerobic exercise for 30 minutes a day: Exercise reduces blood pressure and lowers blood sugar, thereby cutting cardiac and stroke risks. It also makes you feel good by releasing happy endorphins reducing the incidence of anxiety and depression by 40 per cent. The leading cause of sick leave is stress and mental health problems.
3. Maintain core strength and flexibility: The number two cause of sick leave is back pain, most of which results from weak core muscles and tight hips caused by a sedentary life. You can improve these with by doing Pilates, yoga, tai chi, or just by practising a third world squat for two minutes every day.
4. Expose skin to sunlight for 15 minutes / day between April and October. To have an adequate store of vitamin D in northern hemisphere countries we must stock up in summer. Taking care not to burn, be sure to get your 15 minutes of sunshine without sunscreen in the morning or the evening. Vitamin D is necessary for strong bone to prevent the onset of osteoporosis. There is now some evidence that it improves immune system functions, decreases the risk of cancer as well as heart disease and MS, and may improve mood.
5. Don’t smoke: By not smoking you’re cutting the risk of various illnesses such as heart disease, stroke and cancer- the top three killers in Ireland- by 50 percent.
Dr Ray Walley, chairman of the Irish Medical Organisation’s GP committee.
1. Diet, weight and activity: The single most important part of maintaining your weight and good health is your diet. You are what you eat, so learn about food. Start your day with a fibre wholemeal-based breakfast cereal. Too much saturated fat can increase cholesterol in the blood, which increases your risk of developing heart disease. Sugary foods and drinks, including alcoholic drinks, are often high in energy, and could contribute to weight gain. They can also cause tooth decay, especially if eaten between meals. Also, be sure to get your five per day of fruit and vegetables.
2. Drink more water: An indication that you may not be drinking enough is the colour of your urine- try to keep it clear. A good trick is to have at least one glass of water with every meal. For family meals, fill a jug of water. The European Food Safety Authority recommends that women should drink about 1.6 litres of fluid and men should drink about 2.0 litres of fluid per day. That’s about eight 200ml glasses for a woman and 10 200ml glasses for a man. Also, dehydration can cause fatigue, headaches, constipation and many other ailments.
3. Drink less alcohol: Drinking five pints of lager a week adds up to 44,200kcal over a year, equivalent to eating 221 doughnuts. Many women don’t realise that two large glasses of white wine not only puts them over the recommended daily limit for regular alcohol consumption, but also provides them with nearly 20 per cent of their recommended daily calorie intake, at approximately 370kcal in total. Alcohol contains a lot of calories, seven calories a gram in fact, which unfortunately gets stored on our waistlines. Know the maximum advised amounts that one should drink. Men should not regularly drink more than 3-4 units of alcohol a day, and women should not regularly drink more than 2-3 units a day.
4. Get your blood pressure checked: High blood pressure has no symptoms and is referred to as the silent killer. It is easy to diagnose and in the majority of people and also easy to treat. It is an independent risk factor for stroke, heart disease and dementia. High blood pressure is found in 48 per cent of older men in Ireland.
5. Get a good night’s sleep: Most healthy adults need 7-9 hours. If you get this it will affect your health, your relationship and your work positively. Make sure you get a good routine for sleep and take the following steps:
- Set a regular bedtime - our bodies love routine.
- Wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends.
- Nap to make up for lost sleep rather than sleeping late.
- Be smart about napping - it can make insomnia worse.
- Fight after-dinner drowsiness. If you give in to the drowsiness, you may wake up later in the night and have trouble getting back to sleep.
1. Don’t just exercise, stretch: While Irish people have improved vastly in the amount of exercise they take, such as walking, running or cycling, stretching has been somewhat forgotten. The scourges of osteoarthritis and degenerative conditions of the hips, neck and spine can be much reduced by good posture and regular stretching. Pliates, Tai-Chi, yoga, swimming or any set of exercises you remember from sports training days that move most of the joints through their range of movement are good. If you have an illness, injury or already suffer arthritis, your physiotherapist will give appropriate advice.
2. Make fresh fruit and vegetables the centre of your diet: Less fat, less sugar, more fibre, less salt, low cholesterol, less meat, less carbohydrate….. you’ve heard it all and it can get so confusing. Yet you shouldn’t have a diet that spurns fruit and vegetables. Keep it simple, and ensure your shopping trolley contains more fruit and vegetables than any other edible.
3. Focus more on a good lifestyle than on health checks: The BMJ editorial in their recent July 9th edition is entitled “General health checks don’t work”. There are some national screening programmes which are based on good evidence, such as cervical screening, bowel check and breast screening, and I don’t at all dissuade people from using proven health checks. But this editorial actually stated, based on evidence from a Cochrane review in 2012 and the Inter99 trial, that “doctors should not offer general health checks to their patients, and governments should abstain from introducing health check programmes”.
4. The benefits of stopping smoking may be greater than you realised: Once you have stopped smoking for two years, your cardiovascular risk is the same as someone who has never smoked. If you can stop smoking before your 40th birthday, it is unlikely that smoking will cause your death. While we understand how difficult it is to stop, a few practical tips help. My favourite is the three Ds to cope with the three minutes of acute withdrawal (which is as long as it lasts)- take Deep breaths, Distract yourself, or Drink a glass of water.
5. Exercise is the key to maintaining all systems: For good mental health, get out under the big sky! To quote Dr Nick Cavill, a health promotion consultant, “if exercise were a pill, it would be one of the most cost-effective drugs ever invented “.