We welcome back Tracy Tredoux, nutritional therapist to discuss further how we can take a part in managing our health care to prevent and combat disease and illness. Moving on from nutrition, she takes a closer look at the other pillars to good health that you’ll be documenting in your health diary. If you feel like you’re struggling with staying on top of your health diary, she’s some great suggestions to help with that too.
Last week we took a look at identifying nutrition-related patterns in your diary and how they could be having an impact on your health. Hopefully you have succeeded in maintaining your food diary. Journaling every item of food you eat over a period of several weeks can be time-consuming and cumbersome but free apps like DailyBurn or MyFitnessPal will help if you are struggling to keep track of what you are eating. Taking photos of the food you are eating throughout the day, to be recorded properly at a more convenient time can be very helpful. Remember though, to make sure you note down how you feel during the course of the day, especially after each meal, in order to gain awareness of coinciding patterns.
The four pillars of good health are: nutrition, sleep, stress and exercise. Let’s take a closer look at the parts sleep, exercise and stress play in your health care.
Studies show that, next to nutrition and exercise, sleep is paramount to disease prevention and weight control. Not only does poor sleep make you feel uncomfortable and less productive, it actually wreaks havoc on your health, particularly on your hormones.
The hormone cortisol is regularly secreted by the adrenal glands, rising rapidly in the morning to provide us with energy to start the day and dropping at night while we sleep. When this daily pattern is disrupted (due to stress or irregular blood sugar levels), our sleep patterns are also affected. If cortisol levels are too high at night, you will have difficulty falling asleep. If your blood sugar plummets while you are asleep, your cortisol levels will rise in response, to correct it. It is often a sudden increase in cortisol that wakes us up in the middle of the night. Crash dieting and having too few calories or nutrients also increase cortisol, causing poor sleep.
Importantly, sleep clears the brain of toxic proteins at night, preventing them from building up and destroying our brain cells. Imagine what would happen if you put the garbage out every night and it was never collected.
Symptoms of sleep deprivation include:
- Decreased alertness
- Daytime tiredness
- Mood swings
- Difficulty concentrating
- Impaired performance
- Impaired short-term memory. The link between sleep and memory has been around a long time. During sleep, the brain moves short-term memories collected that day, into long term storage. If you don’t get enough sleep, those memories may be lost.
- Weight gain or difficulty losing weight. There are a few reasons why this happens when we are sleep deprived. Firstly, when we are tired and exhausted we tend to crave the foods that give us energy the quickest. These are high sugar foods that flood the bloodstream with glucose. We tend to do less exercise and the hormones which regulate appetite i.e. ghrelin and leptin become affected. Ghrelin is the hormone that tells you when to eat. When you are sleep deprived, you produce more ghrelin. Leptin is the hormone that tells you to stop eating. When you are sleep deprived your body produces less of this.
Tips to help you sleep better
- Develop regular rhythms of sleep and regular bedtime routines. Try and get to sleep no later than 11.00pm on evenings when you are at home and wake up at the same time every morning.
- Let there be no light. Start to dim the lights a few hours before bedtime. In general, darkness or dim light stimulates melatonin and its resultant drowsiness enables you to sleep. Exposure to light early in the day stimulates the body and mind encouraging feelings of wakefulness, energy and alertness. Light exposure during the evening makes it harder to fall asleep and insufficient darkness throughout the night can lead to frequent and prolonged awakenings.
- Limit caffeine, especially later in the day. Caffeine may be great to stimulate you and keep you awake during the day, but too much caffeine throughout the day can make you sleep worse at night.
- Avoid alcohol. It may help you fall asleep but alcohol tends to create interruptions in your sleep patterns, resulting in poor overall sleep quality.
- Have an Epsom salt bath to relax you and calm you down or take 200-400mg of magnesium citrate or glycinate before bed. Most people are magnesium deficient and magnesium helps to relax muscles and the nervous system.
- Refrain from using any electronic devices for one hour before you go to bed.
- Use a blue light filter on electronic devices such as f.lux for laptops/desktops, Bluelight Filter app for Android and built in filters on iPhones. Blue light inhibits our production of melatonin, making it more difficult to sleep.
Other problems that can interfere with sleep include food sensitivities, thyroid problems, menopause, stress and depression and it may be necessary to consult a health practitioner if you are still struggling to sleep. Being more mindful of your sleep patterns, and making notes in your health diary will help you identify possible factors preventing you from having a good night’s sleep.
Man was designed to move. Think of the hunter, gatherer days when man was on the move all day long, collecting fruits and berries, collecting firewood, building shelters, fleeing or hunting. Today, however, many people are sedentary for a large part of the day.
“Lack of activity destroys the good condition of every human being, while movement and methodical exercise save and preserve it.” – Plato.
If, like the majority of people, you spend most of your day in a sitting position (commuting, sitting at a desk all day, watching TV) evidence shows that this prolonged inactivity actively PROMOTES chronic diseases, even IF you are very FIT. In fact, studies are highlighting that prolonged sitting can reduce lifespan even for those who do exercise regularly. In other words, if you spend one or two hours a day in the gym, and the rest of the day sitting, those one or two hours in the gym cannot counteract the accumulated ill effects of sitting eight to twelve hours a day.
Movement and exercise:
- help you live longer,
- help you have a better quality of life,
- help improve and boost your brain health,
- release endorphins which make you feel happier,
- make you look and feel younger,
- improve your skin,
- shrink your fat cells,
- help you recover faster from chronic illnesses,
- lower blood pressure,
- help regulate blood sugar,
- improve mental functioning,
- improve quality of sleep,
- improve cardiorespiratory functioning.
You can make big improvements to your energy levels and health by making small and deliberate lifestyle choices that involve moving more every day. Here are a few tips to help you become more active:
- Walk part of the way to work, even if you simply get out the tube, off the bus, out a taxi etc. a few blocks away.
- Climb stairs instead of using a lift, or get out the lift one or two floors below your floor.
- Standing is better than sitting. Take a closer look at your day and work out ways of sitting less. For example, if you are on a call using your mobile, pace up and down rather than remain seated.
- Avoid sitting longer than 50 minutes out of every hour. Stand up and move around for a few minutes before sitting down for the next 50 minutes.
- Emphasise fun. Shape your activity around something you love such as taking a dance class that incorporates music you love, or simply dancing for 10 to 20 minutes, listening to your favourite music, in your sitting room at home.
- Combine high-intensity training and non-exercise activities like walking, aiming for 7000-10000 steps a day. If you are doing no exercise at all, walking daily is a good way to start.
- Track your progress using a pedometer app on your phone. How many steps do you take on an average day at work? How many steps do you take on the weekend?
“Walking: the most ancient exercise and still the best modern exercise.” – Carrie Latet.
Next week we look at stress and how chronic stress could be impacting on your health, from lowering your immunity to causing hormonal havoc. What is chronic stress? How does it impact on health? What are the signs and symptoms to look out for? Chronic stress has become epidemic in today’s society. However, a lack of awareness and understanding of the connection between chronic stress and your present state of health, is often the stumbling block to good health. Cravings, weight gain or weight loss, frequent infections, low libido, infertility, high blood pressure, menstrual changes, fatigue, digestive problems, insomnia, emotional changes and high cholesterol are all symptoms that stress is affecting your health. Next week’s article will focus on helping you recognize whether any of your health conditions are linked to stress. Making the link between a disease and one’s lifestyle, thereby creating awareness, is often the greatest motivation for change.
Tracy Tredoux is a Nutritional Therapist, working in London. When not consulting with clients, she posts health articles, tips and recipes on her website, at https://tracytredoux.com. Follow Tracy on Twitter: @TracyTredoux Wilmot EG, Edwardson CL, Achana FA, Davies MJ, Gorely T, Gray LJ, Khunti K, Yates T, Biddle SJ (2012) Sedentary time in adults and the association with diabetes, cardiovascular disease and death: systematic review and meta-analysis. Diabetologia 55(11): 2895-2905.