Healthy choices for the over 40s

A recent report from Public Health England warned that middle-aged people in England face a health crisis because of their unhealthy lifestyles. Apparently 8 in every 10 people aged 40 to 60 years are overweight, drink too much or get too little exercise.

The world has changed so much in just a few decades and now desk jobs, fast food and the drinking culture have resulted in a generation that is unfit and largely overweight.

Those of us who are in our 40s and 50s are advised to look after ourselves, though it has been acknowledged that this may prove difficult when caring for children and ageing parents often takes priority. In addition, accessing healthy choices is not always easy, since we are surrounded by cheap, over-processed, high calorie, nutrient-poor food. 

Many people no longer recognise what a healthy body weight looks like and obesity is increasingly considered ‘normal’. A recent survey into British attitudes towards obesity (www.bsa.natcen.ac.uk) found that people could not correctly identify obesity in a series of pictures of men and women – only 54% correctly identified when a woman is obese and 39% correctly identified when a man is obese. This is concerning because obesity is recognised as a contributory factor to many diseases, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some cancers. The survey found that while there was some understanding of the health risks associated with obesity, with over 80% of people understanding that people who are obese are more likely to have heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes, only 34% understood that there is an increased risk of liver disease.

Since we are all living longer, we want those years to be as happy and healthy as possible. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle may also prevent dementia, disability and stigmatisation. People who are obese are still stigmatised, with 53% agreeing that “most overweight people could lose weight if they tried” and 75% believing that a person who is not very overweight would be more likely to be offered an office manager’s job than a person who is very overweight.

So, when faced with the daily grind of modern life what sort of choices could make the over-40s fitter, healthier and more energetic?

A recent study (National weight control registry) found that adults who have successfully lost weight and maintained their weight loss used a few tried and true methods:

  • 98% modified their eating habits
  • 94% increased their level of physical activity, especially walking
  • 78% had a healthy breakfast everyday
  • 75% weighed themselves at least once a week
  • 62% watched less than 10 hours of television per week

If we take personal responsibility for our health we can start living a healthier life. Take steps today to make changes that will help you to avoid preventable diseases and disabilities, like poor mobility.

The government and industry have a role to play in making healthy choices more accessible but the scale of the changes required means that they may take years to plan and implement. Plans to develop healthier food products and a healthier environment, including urban planning, food systems, agriculture, economics, governance and politics, law, business, marketing and communication, may take years to come to fruition. If we wait for government and industry to make a difference to our health we will all be storing up health problems and the future will be upon us long before we are ready for it.

Since the government and industry won’t act quickly enough to help the over-40s it is time to take personal responsibility and commit to a healthier future. Individuals and healthcare professionals can immediately start to expose and challenge unhealthy working environments, social and dietary habits rather than accept them as an inevitable part of modern life.

So start 2017 with a focus on making healthy choices that will have happy consequences for you and your family in the longer term.

Enjoy Good Food for Good Health.

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5 Goals for Good Health

Developing and maintaining good health need not be difficult. Take steps to achieve these goals that will be the basis of a healthy eating plan and pave the way to better health in the long term. Overall, the goal is to have a healthy lifestyle all year which is so much better for our health than embarking on a short-term diet for a week or two every summer.

Changing how, when and what we eat can help us to look and feel better, provide us with the energy we need to be happy and productive, as well as stave off all manner of illness. When considering ways to improve our eating habits we should think about mealtimes, snacks and drinks, our choices at the supermarket, the recipes we use at home and eating out.

Choose healthy meals – what do healthy meals look like?

Foods from each of the five food groups can be eaten throughout the day. Eating a wide variety of foods will provide the important nutrients we need for good health.

See the Eatwell Guide for information on eating a variety of foods.

For example, a main meal might include:

  • Lean protein – like chicken, fish, eggs or tofu
  • Starchy carbohydrates – such as a small baked potato, brown rice or a wholemeal roll – choose wholemeal or wholegrain options whenever possible
  • Vegetables – try broccoli, spinach or a salad

When shopping at the supermarket choose foods that will make it possible to prepare healthy meals and snacks at home. I like to look out for recipes that encourage me to use ingredients that I haven’t tried before, like different beans and pulses, since I am currently trying to eat less meat for health and sustainability reasons. When eating out choose meals that include proteins and vegetables – for example, a Sunday Roast at the pub is a great choice.

Maintain your energy levels

When we eat the right foods and drink plenty of fluids we can sustain good energy levels throughout the day. A good variety of foods will include a combination of  protein, complex carbohydrates and fibre – for example:

  • Breakfast – wholegrain cereal with milk, fruit, juice, tea or coffee
  • Lunch – an egg sandwich made with wholemeal bread, yoghurt, fruit, water
  • Dinner – Jacket potato with beans and side salad, fruit, water, tea or coffee

Healthy snacks between meals may help us to avoid hunger, fatigue, food cravings and energy slumps. Healthy snacks should consist of a drink and a small amount of food that also incorporates a combination of  protein, complex carbohydrates and fibre – for example:

  • fruit, a small piece of cheese, water, tea or coffee
  • crackers with homous or nut butter, vegetable crudités (eg cucumber or carrots), water, tea or coffee

Keeping your fluid intake consistently high is a surprisingly effective way to maintain your energy levels, so we should aim to drink at least two litres of fluid every day (includes water, milk, juice, tea, coffee).

Eat a proper breakfast

Don’t skip breakfast since your energy levels will already be low after a night’s sleep.

Eat a healthy, filling breakfast that includes protein – such as milk, yoghurt, nuts and seeds, beans, eggs, or meat. Don’t forget your starchy carbohydrates and fibre, as found in cereal, muesli, porridge or wholemeal toast. Whenever possible avoid highly processed foods with added sugar (such as some breakfast cereals).

When short on time grab a yoghurt and fruit before leaving the house and eat these while travelling or at work.

Choose good fats for great health

Some fats are beneficial to the body and it is necessary to have fat in our diet for optimal health, including good hair, skin, nails and a well-functioning body.

Healthy fats are naturally found in a range of foods, including:

  • Oily fish (salmon, mackerel, tuna steaks, trout, and sardines)
  • Avocadoes
  • Olives
  • Raw nuts and their oils (eg: walnut oil)
  • Seeds
  • Wheatgerm

Choose healthy fats instead of saturated fats (like butter) for better health.

Treat yourself occasionally

If you choose healthy options at least 80 percent of the time it is possible to eat the occasional dessert or enjoy a party without feeling guilty. If there are times when chocolate becomes a necessity, have a few squares of good quality dark chocolate – preferably with more than 70% cocoa (the higher the cocoa content, the lower the sugar and fat content).

As long as treats are occasional (that is, not every day) and do not become a habit, we can indulge occasionally.

Learning about healthier options and establishing good eating habits can help us to develop and maintain better health. The goal of good health is within our reach.

Enjoy Good Food for Good Health

Keep a well-being diary for better health

Keeping a well-being diary may help you to track your path to better health. A well-being diary can help you to record progress in many areas of your life, including your eating habits but also improvements in your physical activity achievements, sleep patterns, stress triggers, weight, waist measurement, blood pressure, resting heart rate, your emotions and any other aspects of your general health that you would like to improve. Keeping track of where you started and your progress over weeks and months may help you to maintain your motivation and continue to work towards your goal of a healthier lifestyle.

It’s like a healthy eating diary

A well-being diary is similar to a typical healthy eating diary though with a little more information. Design your own diary (use a notebook or your computer) that will help you to keep track of your overall health. Write down the things that you think affect your well-being. Are you tired? Stressed? Drowning in ironing? Write down anything that you think is affecting your well-being and ways in which you could make improvements. Take advantage of apps on your smart phone that can help you to count calories, monitor your sleep patterns, track how many steps you are walking everyday, and many other things, then write it all down at the end of the day.  When exercising I keep track of the reps I can manage when doing push-ups and sit-ups. I am trying to build my strength so I do an extra rep in each set every week and I have improved over time (eg: week 1 = 5 reps/set, week 2 = 6 reps/set – I am now up to 15 reps/set). When I recognised that looking at a pile of ironing was stressful I made plans to change my wardrobe and now I choose clothe that need little ironing.

If you are concerned about the food you are eating (how much or how often) keeping a diary will help you to identify any areas that may be making it difficult for you to achieve your goals. Consider calories, nutrients and hydration. Perhaps you feel uncomfortable when exercising in the mornings, or you can’t lose that last bit of weight? Keeping a record of what you have eaten for breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as snacks and drinks may help you to identify any problems or inconsistencies with your eating habits. For example, if you have reached a plateau with your weight loss progress you might decide that replacing your late night snack with a healthier option is the next step towards your overall goal. If you are always tired you might not be getting enough iron and you could decide to eat more meat or take an iron supplement.

Consider keeping a shopping list of all the foods and drinks that you want to keep to hand and stock up on when you get to the supermarket. Having your favourite healthy choices available will often help you to avoid unhealthy choices. Eating a balanced diet, containing all the nutrients you need is easier when your cupboards and refrigerator contain a wide range of foods – including fruit and vegetables, wholegrains, protein foods and dairy/alternatives. Keep a record of recipes that are your favourites or that you might like to try. Experiment with new foods even if you have to look to the internet to find out how to cook them – I suspect many of us have tried quinoa by now.

Keep track of your activity

Do you want to be fitter? Faster? Stronger? Leaner? Keep track of your daily activity. Consider keeping track of the time of day you are exercising, the time spent exercising, distance, cardio/intensity, weights/sets/reps, strength and performance. Write down your overall thoughts – did it work for you today? Was it a bad day?  Try to do some activity every day and write it all down, so that you can assess your activity levels at the end of each week and each month. Compare your activity with your food intake, your sleep patterns or your stress levels. Can you see any patterns emerging? Do you need to make some changes?

Recent research has identified that our sedentary lifestyles are not healthy, so even keeping track of how many hours you spend sitting down and on your feet might provide useful information. Being more active is as simple as walking 10,000 steps a day, which is easier to achieve if you don’t use the car for short journeys (less than one mile). If you are feeling a bit sluggish in winter maybe it’s because you are a bit less active when the days are shorter and colder. In establishing a reason for the way you are feeling you can make a change and take some action to ensure that you start to feel better again.

Write down your goals, both short-term and long-term. A short-term goal might be to go for a 20 minute walk every day this week and then go for a hike on the weekend. A long-term goal might be to improve your blood pressure, run 5km in three months time, or lose weight. In establishing your long-term goal you can decide on the short-term goals (daily and weekly) that will keep you headed in the right direction.

What inspires you?

It can help you record your inspirations too. Did the Olympians inspire you to be more active? Perhaps your friends marriage inspires you to communicate better with your own family. Look for people who are working towards being happier or more grateful or more committed to their cause. Perhaps you have seen a quote that inspires you to make changes or keep going? Anything that helps you to maintain your focus on your goal is useful. Continue to look for inspiration as the weeks progress. Many people have experiences similar to yours and it can be incredibly useful to know that they continue to make progress, with good days and bad days a part of their journey, just as they will be in all of our journeys.

Your time is precious and you may not want to record everything you do or feel, but if the alternative is to go round-and-round in circles with little progress, then investing time in a well-being diary may be worthwhile. Try to keep a diary for three months and see if it is useful. Monitoring your progress as you work towards improved well-being can be very useful and you will inspire yourself when you can see the changes that you have managed and maintained.

Enjoy Good Food for Good Health