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We know a healthy lifestyle is vital to ward off several health conditions, but with more information out there than ever before, it can be overwhelming and confusing to know what’s right for you. It can also be difficult and daunting to change our not-so-healthy habits. “For some people, any change – no matter how small – can just feel too hard,” says GP Dr Huey Loke, a member of the Best Doctors global network of specialists. “However, most guidelines around nutrition and exercise are purposefully broad so you can adopt them successfully,” she adds.
Whether you need to get started or back on track to a healthy lifestyle, we’re here to help. We spoke to the experts – an accredited practicing dietitian, an exercise physiologist and a GP for nutrition, fitness and general health advice. Think of it as your back-to-basics health plan.
“Eating a well-balanced diet is key to feeling your best, both now and in the long-term,” explains Milly Smith, accredited practicing dietitian. “Eating a range of our core food groups helps to reduce the risk of high cholesterol and high blood pressure, and chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some types of cancers.” Need to brush up on the five core food groups?
“These food groups provide us with a huge range of essential nutrients,” says Smith. “Since no one food can offer us all of those, it’s important to eat a mix of them every day.”
Smith shares a daily sample menu of nutritious meals that are easy to shop for and simple to cook.
Breakfast: Porridge “Cook ½ cup oats with your milk of choice, then add ¾ cup Greek yoghurt, 1 tablespoon peanut butter and ½ cup sliced strawberries. This provides foods from four of the five core food groups and keeps you fuller for longer with great sources of dietary fibre and protein.”
Lunch: Vegetable soup “Use a chicken stock base, add cooked onion and garlic for flavour and any vegetables you have in the fridge. Include legumes for protein and fibre (my favourite right now is cannellini beans). Serve with a piece of crusty grain toast and it’ll fuel you for the afternoon.”
Dinner: Pan-fried salmon with vegies “A quick, healthy and tasty meal is pan-fried salmon with steamed asparagus and roast sweet potato.”
Snacks: “If you’re ever hungry between meals, try to include foods from the core food groups like vegetable sticks and hummus, yoghurt with fresh fruit, a small handful of nuts and seeds, hot miso soup, or some grain biscuits with cottage cheese and cucumber.”
Highlighting the importance of exercise, American researcher and cardiologist Frank Booth once said, “We know of no single intervention with greater promise than physical exercise to reduce the risk of virtually all chronic diseases simultaneously.”
While it’s likely you’ve heard the government’s recommendations that adults should aim for 150- 300 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity on most days of the week, for some people this can be unachievable. “If you can’t meet the guidelines, how close can you get?” asks exercise physiologist Andrew Schwartz. “Some is better than none and more is better than less,” he says.
In finding motivation to move, Schwartz believes we need to set ourselves up for success. “Let yourself succeed. Feel like you’ve achieved something and have your head in the right space to continue,” he says. That can mean starting off small, with a simple walk around the block or star-jumps at home, and building from there. Encouragingly, this can provide big health improvements. “Research indicates that the greatest health benefits are for those who are currently moving from no activity to some (any!) level of activity,” adds Dr Loke.
And remember to mix it up. “Variation is probably the most important part of exercise,” says Schwartz. “Without that we can’t get fitter and stronger.”
If you don’t exercise already, or want to get back into it, there are plenty of options out there that don’t involve a gym. “Find something you like, whether that’s salsa dancing, basketball, soccer, tennis or yoga, and give it a crack!” says Schwartz. “If you’re just starting out, walking can be an easy place to start. “It’s not daunting and doesn’t need equipment or a membership,” says Schwartz.
Step one: find a doctor, no matter your age. “It’s important that everyone develop a relationship with a GP,” says Dr Loke. While there are specific tests needed at different stages of life, many factors that contribute to overall wellness happen throughout life and should be monitored regularly. “Assessment of smoking status, weight, nutrition, alcohol use, physical activity, sexual health, depression, and even immunisation status, is made throughout your lifespan, not just from a specific age,” says Dr Loke.
And while it’s wise to have a good doctor, it’s also important to note that being healthy is more than just avoiding illness. “A healthy life is more than just a disease-free life,” says Dr Loke. “It’s also a life in which we are both physically and mentally well, and able to thrive and realise our full potential.”
This means eating well and exercising aren’t the only things to indulge in. “To live a healthy life we need to pay attention to more than just nutrition and movement,” says Dr Loke. “Stress management, (including sleep), developing and maintaining social support, and environmental impacts also need to be on our radar.” It’s this holistic approach to living that keeps us feeling good.
Here are some of the major health checks to add to your diary at your milestone birthdays. “One of the more important checks for those over 40 years old is the cardiovascular risk assessment and associated cholesterol and diabetes check,” advises Dr Loke. “Depending on the results, this may be repeated every two to five years.” Once you turn 50, there are other suggested scans. “Screening for colorectal and breast cancer commences from age 50, while screening for cervical cancer continues every five years until age 70,” she adds.
Here’s some extra advice from the pros for living your best life.
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