Tuesday 16 January 2018

Get fit for life

Health fads come and go, but Deirdre Reynolds asks the experts how to make changes that last

Thinkstock Images
Thinkstock Images
Deirdre Reynolds

Deirdre Reynolds

One week Dukan, the next you can't. With so much conflicting advice when it comes to losing weight and staying healthy, it's little wonder that 61pc of Irish people are now obese -- and facing the very real prospects of cancer, diabetes and heart disease.

From low-GI diets to shed the pounds to flash-in-the-pan fitness trends to shape up, there have never been more ways to get slim and healthy and stay that way.

But is it finally time to forget the fads and get fit the old-fashioned way? We asked five of Ireland's top health and fitness experts how.

Berries, broccoli & green tea – the real anti-ageing secret

Dr Pearse Phelan

Anti-ageing Expert at Dublin Medical Centre


Throughout your life, the body produces a growth hormone (GH) that stimulates tissue growth and cellular repair -- peaking during childhood and adolescence growth spurts.

By the time you reach your mid to late twenties, however, this has slowed down -- and the only way to kick-start it is through proper diet, exercise, sleep or hormone supplements.

When it comes to sleep, it's quality not quantity that counts. A lot of people watch TV or read in bed to 'wind down' before going to sleep, but this only stimulates the brain -- resulting in brain wave activity that's not conducive to GH release or recuperative rest.

Smoking is one of the worst things you can do for ageing as it destroys the collagen in the skin, making it saggy and wrinkly. Watch for face creams containing 'Coenzyme Q10', also known as 'CoQ10' or 'Q10' to improve elasticity.

Antioxidant, vitamin and mineral-rich foods such as berries, broccoli and green tea are key to combating the ageing effects of free radicals. Vitamin supplements are likely to be needed to compensate for the deficiencies resulting from modern food production.

There's still a certain amount of controversy surrounding synthetic Human Growth Hormone (HGH) injections (which mimic the effects of natural GH).

Personally, I would only prescribe it to a patient with demonstrable growth hormone deficiency, not the decline due to ageing. If you still think you're deficient, ask your GP for a blood test.

Getting fit and staying fit is a lifestyle

Angela Lowth, Personal Trainer


If you love the idea of exercise but lack the commitment, something more stimulating might be what you need. Any form of dance is a fun way to incorporate exercise into your lifestyle.

As well as challenging your co-ordination, it boosts cardiovascular fitness while promoting long, lean muscle. Try Zumba, salsa or hip-hop and have fun!

It's a common myth that you need to lose weight before joining a gym -- that's what the gym is there to help you with and if you're treated any differently then you need to find another gym.

Nowadays so many gyms are competing for clients that you should be able to negotiate on membership fees.

Pick a gym close to where you spend most of your day, whether it's near your home, work or en route between the two.

Getting fit and staying fit is a lifestyle, so go easy on yourself at first. Always begin with a consultation with a trainer, who will help you draw up a programme. For best results, combine some cardiovascular exercise, such as running, with resistance training such as weights.

If the gym is not an option, why not make your own gym at home? You don't need lots of expensive equipment -- working out three times a week with light weights such as bottles of water will help achieve a super-sculpted body without losing your curves.

Drop the 'not enough time' excuse -- lots of gyms offer drop-in classes such as body-sculpt and Pilates throughout the day that can be squeezed in before work or at lunchtime.

Aim for a minimum of three 30-45 minute workouts a week -- but if twice a week is all you can manage then it's better than nothing!

You don’t have to join a gym – just walk regularly


Consultant Cardiologist at Tallaght Hospital


Exercise is the most obvious way to keep your heart healthy — but in these recessionary times, you don’t have to join a gym. Walking at a reasonably brisk pace for around 30 minutes five times a week is the best way to optimise the efficiency of the heart muscle.

It's difficult to measure the longterm effect of stress on the heart and I think people often overestimate it — you're unlikely to suffer from a heart attack from stress alone. However, research shows that major life stressors such as moving house or losing a loved one can raise blood pressure — so it's important to discover your own relaxation technique such as meditation and strike a work-life balance.

You can't change a family history of heart disease — but you can become more aware of it. It's a good idea to sit down and make out a ‘family tree' of conditions like stroke, cancer and diabetes — your family doctor should be able to help you with this. Coronary heart disease often takes years or even decades to develop — so even children as young as 10 should be monitored for early warning signs.

Although high cholesterol is usually associated with being overweight, lots of slim, active people have high cholesterol. Irrespective of your size, reduce your intake of red meat, fatty foods such as cake and processed foods which are often laced with salt. Don't rely on cholesterol-lowering foods such as Flora pro.activ or Benecol alone to keep your total cholesterol below 5 mmol/L (millimoles per litre).

Women tend to develop coronary heart disease around 10 years later than men as the female sex hormone oestrogen is believed to slow down production of the fatty deposits that build up on the arteries. However, Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) used to treat the symptoms of menopause doesn't have the same protective factor as natural estrogen — and has actually been associated with increasing the risk of CHD — so it's not advisable to stay on it for more than five years.

Look at your body in the mirror rather than relying on scales

Michael Cantwell

Holistic Nutritionist and Therapist

(01) 6616195

Keep a food diary for around six months -- it will teach you more than any diet book. In a small hardback notebook, write down everything that passes your lips with complete honesty on one side and how you're feeling on the other -- mood, skin and so on. This will help you become more aware of what you're eating and gradually implement changes in your diet.

If you want to eat less, simply chew slowly and put down your knife and fork between mouthfuls.

Quite often we mindlessly wolf food down while focusing on something else -- remember that the first process of digestion starts with the enzymes released in your mouth, so allow yourself a period of time for each meal to sit down and enjoy it.

Aim to keep your blood sugar levels even throughout the day. Sugary foods can increase the production of insulin -- causing blood sugar levels to spike and crash dramatically.

A mid-morning snack such as a piece of fruit and mid-afternoon snack such as mixed nuts will help beat the munchies.

Throw away the scales and think 'fat loss' rather than 'weight loss'. Too many people are hung up on their weight, when really they should be concerned with building and maintaining lean muscle mass -- the body's biggest calorie-burning machine.

Look at your body objectively in the mirror rather than just going by the scales.

By cutting back on salt and processed foods, you can help flush up to 3lbs of the retained excess water from your body.

We need to get away from the idea of being on a 'diet' for a limited of time and get back to basics with good nutrition. If you're trying to lose weight, aim for 2lb a week -- any more isn't sustainable.

Most sexually active women will one day get the HPV virus

Dr Derek Power

Consultant Medical Oncologist at Cork University Hospital


Despite various health promotion campaigns in recent years, many Irish people are still confused about cancer -- with one in five thinking their lifetime risk of cancer to be non-modifiable, according to UCC research.

Age is one of the major non-modifiable risk factors for cancer, but others such as obesity and exposure to sunlight are very much modifiable.

Smoking is the number one risk factor for cancer -- responsible for 90pc of lung cancers, as well as cancers of the mouth, bladder and cervix.

It's even more dangerous when combined with alcohol -- which has been linked to cancers of the larynx, breast and bowel. If you must drink, limit it to two drinks for a man and one for a woman per day.

Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is a virus passed on by direct skin contact during oral, anal or genital sex -- which, if left untreated, can lead to cancer of the cervix, tongue or tonsils. Most sexually active women will get it at some stage in their lifetime -- so be sure to go for regular smear tests, while young women aged 9-26 should get vaccinated against HPV.

Maintaining a healthy weight throughout your life may be one of the best ways to protect against cancer. Excess fat may increase the risk of bowel, pancreas, womb and breast (postmenopausal) cancers.

Excess weight on your belly (over 94cm in men and 80cm in women) in particular is very metabolically active and secretes hormones into the blood which can increase cancer growth.

Limit your consumption of energy-dense foods (anything with 225-275kcal per 100g) and avoid sugary drinks to help prevent cancer.

Plant-based foods are generally low in energy-density, high in nutrients and fibre. Reduce your intake of red meat (beef, pork and lamb), processed meat (meat preserved by smoking, salting or chemical preservatives) and be sure to get your five a day.

Irish Independent

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