Am I ‘healthy’ enough?

With magazines, newspapers, television, radio and social media providing constant reminders to make healthy choices, it is easy for us to doubt our own efforts and question our choices.

“If I don’t eat chia seeds and kale, am I healthy enough?’

‘Healthy enough?’ For what. What would be your reason for making healthier choices? To feel better? To have more energy? To have better skin or hair? To stop those niggly coughs and colds from visiting so often? We will all have different goals and therefore a different idea of what ‘healthy’ might mean. The best idea is probably to decide on some health priorities and make choices that suit our own circumstances.

Most of us are probably honest enough to admit that we could make improvements to our lifestyle, by way of healthier foods, more activity or less stress, but what are the basics? Can we establish a healthy baseline and move on from there, little by little?

The ‘5-a-day’ message (eat more fruits and vegetables) might be an easy and obvious place for many of us to start, as fruits and vegetables provide vitamins, minerals and fibre that bring a range of health benefits. But what if we have more specific concerns?

Digestion – digestive problems can affect the absorption of nutrients and our immune systems. Some foods are gut-friendly, meaning that they can improve the functioning of the digestive tract. Fibre-rich foods, like oats and beans, probiotics (‘good’ bacteria), like yoghurt, and prebiotics (that feed the ‘good’ bacteria), like onion, garlic and bananas, can all contribute to a healthier digestive system that uses nutrients effectively and is less likely to experience other discomforts, like bloating or constipation.

Blood-sugar balance – with more and more people at risk of developing Type 2 diabetes (previously known as adult-onset diabetes) it is important to maintain a healthy weight, since overweight can be a factor in increasing the risks of diabetes. While having sugary foods and drinks is not directly responsible for the development of diabetes, excess calorie intake in the form of sugary foods and drinks may lead to overweight, which can put us at risk of developing diabetes. Eating foods that make us feel fuller for longer, like fibre-rich and protein-rich foods, may contribute to weight maintenance and reduce diabetes risk factors. Checking your waist measurement to determine if you might need to lose weight (aim for a waist measurement that is less than half your height measurement). Your GP can assess your diabetes risk with a simple blood test.

Bone and joints – children, teenagers and older adults should all be aware of the importance of building healthy bones and maintaining them throughout our lives. Foods containing calcium, including dairy foods and calcium-enriched products, should be a part of our diets. Vitamin D also helps us to maintain healthy bones and the government has recommended vitamin D supplements for all in the UK, especially in the winter months, because we don’t get enough sunshine (and therefore vitamin D) for healthy bones.

Heart health – our blood pressure and cholesterol levels are indicators of our health as we age and we can eat heart-healthy foods such as healthy fats, fibre and nutrient-rich foods, like fruit and vegetables, for improved heart health. Your GP can check your cholesterol with a simple blood test and a blood pressure check is often available in pharmacies around the country.

When we discern which aspect of our health is the priority then it is possible to decide where to start looking for answers to the question ‘Am I healthy enough?’ Is my heart healthy? Is my blood-sugar OK? With a starting point we can move towards our own ‘healthy’ baseline.

Healthy choices can be simple and inexpensive choices. Walking more often. Eating less salt. Drinking more water. It is not necessary to eat chia seeds and kale to be healthy. It is necessary to be aware of our health status, so that we may establish a baseline, decide on our goals and then make healthier choices as and when we can.

For more information about checking your health status and improving your health look for information from

Our health: Are we a nation addicted to excess?

It’s time for each of us to take control of our own health and weight, but can we control our excesses? Too much food. Too much snacking. Too many soft drinks and energy drinks. Too many coffee-shop visits. Too much convenience food. Too many take-aways. Too much alcohol. Too much sitting around – at work, in the car, in front of the TV, computer or games console.

I recently came across an opinion piece regarding obesity written in 2004. The author, Janet Street-Porter, thought that Britain as a nation was addicted to excess. Apparently Tessa Jowell MP had asked advertising executives to encourage consumers to eat a balanced diet and to promote “everything in moderation” (presumably the advertising executives worked for large companies producing all manner of calorie-laden products). The author opined that Britain is not a nation where people are the slightest bit interested in moderation, that nowhere is the addiction to excess more apparent than in the area of eating and that the idea that as a nation we would start to eat sensibly and “in moderation” was doomed; she concluded that  that there should be tough measures to deal with the public health crisis that was obesity.

Public health in 2015 

In 2015 the foods we eat (and the way we eat) continues to contribute to poor health, including obesity, heart disease, diabetes and other chronic diseases. More than half of the adult population is now overweight or obese and there is no indication that the situation is likely to improve anytime soon. So where are the ‘tough measures’ required to overcome this public health crisis?

The obesity epidemic, affecting many people simultaneously and continuing to spread throughout our communities, cannot be contained through government efforts. In the last 10 years there have been countless reports and recommendations written and initiatives instigated, all aimed at containing and reversing the obesity epidemic but these seem to have made little impact.

Recently ‘public health’ in the UK was off-loaded to local councils who were asked to manage all public health issues according to the needs of their local population. So ‘stop eating kebabs’ competes for funding alongside ‘stop smoking’, ‘containing the spread of diseases in schools’ and many other public health issues. How much attention do you think that preventative healthy eating is really receiving? Do you recall the ‘Responsibility deal’, an attempt to get manufacturers to make healthier foods for us all (voluntarily)? It was concluded recently that mandatory guidelines for food manufacturers may be required. Oh, you think?

It’s time to take control

The government has not been able to implement a coherent policy to deal with obesity because there are so many factors contributing to the nation’s growing waistline – convenience, excess, wealth, changing family lifestyles and the media all play a part in turning us into the fat man of Europe (Careless eating costs lives).

When it comes to food and activity more than half of the population ‘could do better’. It is time to choose healthier foods for our families. It is time for more of us to become familiar with the benefits of eating a range of nutrients that are required for a long, healthy and enjoyable life. It is time to be more active and appreciate having a strong and capable body that can walk up a hill or run around the park with the kids and grandkids.

Most of us know that obesity and related diseases cost the NHS billions of pounds every year. That means it costs us, the taxpayers, billions of pounds every year. But more than that…it is costing many of us a chance to spend time with our families and friends. Obesity can contribute to mobility problems and has been linked with depression. In short, it can suck the joy out of life for many people.

It’s time to take control of our own health and think about our excesses. If we don’t I think we will be waiting a long time for government policy to make us healthier and, perhaps, happier.

Healthy choices: SPRING into action

Spring has arrived in the UK, bringing us longer days, lighter evenings and warmer temperatures (we hope). Therefore Spring time is a great time to re-examine our habits and make some healthy choices – a much better time than New Year, I believe. As well as making changes to the foods we eat, we can also consider making changes to our activity levels, since regular activity is known to make our lives healthier and happier.

So can you imagine springing up from the couch and throwing off your winter blanket? I have already dug my sports gear out of a box at the bottom of my wardrobe and been for a run (in truth, a rather slow trot) this week. And to my surprise I enjoyed it…though some muscles did scream their protest later in the day. I was glad to have taken the opportunity to go outside and DO SOMETHING rather than spend that hour in front of my computer. I don’t like to pay to go to a gym so I decided to run a few laps of the local football pitch. I am betting that my fitness will improve if I do the same thing a few times a week.

Just to be clear – to be active you do not need to kit yourself out in lycra and become a gym-bunny. Any activity that increases your heart rate and makes you break into a bit of a sweat counts as activity. That could be walking fast or up a hill (to work or to the shops), pushing a lawn mower, cycling with the children…even using the vacuum cleaner, cleaning the windows, or washing the car. According to Public Health England we should all aim to be active like this for an average of 30 minutes a day…easy enough if your default choice is to walk short journeys or always use the stairs. Taking an evening stroll after dinner is even a viable option now that we can all use catch-up TV to make sure we don’t miss our favourite TV shows.

Change 4 Life – Get going every day

NHS Choices – Health and fitness

There are so many benefits to being more active. If you feel tired, it can wake you up. If you have trouble sleeping, it may help you to sleep better. If you get short of breath easily, it can improve your fitness. If you are feeling down, it can perk you up. If you tend to suffer aches and pains, activity can alleviate these (always check with your doctor before making significant changes to your activity habits).

If you are still not convinced, all I can suggest is that you think of something that you like to do and which you can fit into your schedule (just three 10 minutes bursts of activity is enough). Oh, and turn off the TV – you can watch that show on iPlayer later.