Friday, 15 June 2012

The Health Benefits of a Good Night's Sleep

There are substantial health benefits in getting adequate sleep. A lot of research has been done and the main conclusions drawn from getting a good night’s sleep are as follows:
·   It helps the body make repairs to itself caused by stress and other influences, and strengthens the immune system.
·    It keeps your heart healthy preventing heart attacks and strokes.
·    It helps you to feel more relaxed next day and reduces stress.
·    It makes you more alert and bolsters your memory.
·    It makes you smarter and more productive, which can help your career.  
·   It can help prevent depression because it has an impact on the chemicals in the body including serotonin, which is needed to combat this disorder.  
·   It can aid weight loss because the hormones ghrelin and leptin. Important for the regulation of appetite, are disrupted by lack of sleep. 
·   It can help you live longer on the basis of studies done on groups of people.
How much sleep does a person need? The answer to this question can vary dependent upon your age and circumstances. Some people can make do with 6 hours or less per night, while others sleep for 8 or 9 hours. The average for most people is about 8 hours.  
Research has also been done on what helps you get adequate sleep with the following conclusions:
·  Make sure the room you are going to sleep in has been well aired during the day and is not too hot come bedtime. A room temperature of 18 degrees Centigrade (65 Fahrenheit) is about right. Make sure the room is as dark as possible when the light is switched off and noise-free. Do not have things like a computer, TV set or mobile phone in the bedroom.
·  Make sure the bed you are sleeping in is of sufficient size with the head adjacent to an internal wall. The mattress should be as comfortable as possible.
·  Do not eat or drink anything in the two hours preceding going to bed. Do not drink coffee, tea or alcohol in the 8 hours before you go to bed.
·  When you take exercise during the day, do it outdoors if at all possible.
·  Make the time you go to bed at night and get up in the morning a regular time if at all possible, to enable your body to adjust to this schedule.
·  If you miss some sleep for any reason, then a 40 minute nap next day is okay to compensate. Otherwise do not nap during the day.
·  Engaging in a relaxation technique, such as deep breathing or listening to relaxation music, in the hour before you go to bed can induce sleep.
·  Avoid any strenuous activity in the two hours before bedtime.  
In giving advice on sleep, I do realise that peoples’ circumstances can vary enormously. However, the above is the best advice that I could muster on the important subject from a health point of view of getting a good night’s sleep.

Friday, 8 June 2012

How to Control Your Weight to Prevent Health Problems

Taking control of your weight is one of the most constructive things that you can do concerning your health.  Excessive weight can lead to health problems such as: a stroke or heart attack; developing type 2 diabetes; developing cancer of the colon, kidney or breast; having arthritis; becoming infertile; developing cataracts; or just having a poor quality of life.

While experts still debate precisely what constitutes an ideal weight, the weight to height ratio appears to be the best. This ratio is called the BMI (body mass index), and takes account of the fact that taller people have more mass area than shorter people, and therefore tend to weigh more.  You can calculate your BMI by going to this website and inserting your height and weight in either metric or imperial measurements. Most experts agree the following concerning BMI readings: a reading of under 25 is healthy; a reading between 25 and 30 is overweight; and a reading of over 30 is obese.
If you are in the obese category, then you may have already compromised your health to such an extent that you are at serious risk of developing one or more of the conditions referred to in paragraph one. Obese persons should try to reduce their weight under the supervision of a doctor and/or dietician. People who are just overweight can address this state by paying attention to their diet and the amount of exercise that they do on a daily basis. The equation is simple: calories in – calories out = weight gain if a positive number, or weight loss if a negative number.  A calorie is a measurement of the amount of energy that is obtained from food, and is usually expressed as a number in labelling per 100 kg of food (in EU countries).
The best approach to weight loss is to concentrate on a low carbohydrate, high protein and high fibre diet; and set an overall desirable weight that you want to get to. It is best to set achievable goals like a 5% reduction in your weight over a certain period of time. If, for example, your starting weight is 76 kilograms (168 pounds) now, and your target weight is 69 kilograms (152 pounds), the first target could be getting to 72 kilograms (160 pounds) in six months; and your next target getting down to your ideal weight in a further six months.  If you didn’t achieve the first target within the stipulated period, then just extend the period. It wouldn’t matter much in the example given, if getting to the ideal weight took 15 months as opposed to 12 months.
Try and get half the protein you consume from vegetable or fruit sources such as beans, peas, lentils, kale, carrots, cabbage, apples, apricots, pears and bananas; and the other half from fish, wholegrain cereals or bread, low-fat yogurt,  eggs and meat in that order of preference. Other sources of protein worth considering are nuts such as almonds, hazelnuts, macedonia nuts or peanuts.
Avoid simple carbohydrates such as soft drinks, sugar, chocolates, cakes, biscuits, jam, corn flakes, pop-corn and syrup. If you have a tendency to snack in between meals, you don’t need to give them up completely. If you currently take two snacks a day between meals involving eating crisps or crackers, why not supplant them with a healthier choice such as an apple followed by a glass of water, and a pear and a glass of water ? Eating whole fruits in between meals fills you up and gives you fibre; while water also acts to fill you up and cleanses the whole system.
The other thing that you need to do is take regular daily exercise in order to burn off excess calories and get your weight down. My post in April titled  “Exercise Improves Health”  adequately explains what you need to do on a daily basis regarding this.
You now have a valid approach to achieving your ideal weight as a preventative measure against health problems. If you persist with the recommendations  outlined above, you will achieve your objective ! 

Friday, 1 June 2012

Why Standardised Food Labelling is a Good Aim

The UK’s Heath Secretary, Andrew Lansley, last week announced a UK-wide consultation on standardising food labelling, with the aim of making it “ easier for consumers to compare the nutritional information on the food they buy“. At present in the UK, there are numerous food manufacturers all doing their own thing when it comes to displaying nutritional information for consumers to follow. The stated objectives of the consultation with the regional governments in the UK are as follows:
1.Maintain and extend the use of front-of-pack labelling across the widest possible range of food and drinks products. 2.Achieve the greatest possible consistency in the content and presentation of front-of-pack nutrition labelling, in a form that is clearest and most useful to consumers.
 I think standardising food labelling is a good idea. Anything that enables a consumer to make a healthier choice at the purchase stage should be encouraged. What I am confused about in the consultation launched is the reference to “front-of-pack”. What needs to be displayed somewhere on the package, tin, container or bottle, as far as I am concerned, is first a clear list of all the different ingredients in the product; and then the nutritional information provided in a clear way indicating the energy, protein, carbohydrate/sugar, fat, fibre and sodium content.  In addition to that, the amount of calories, sugar, fat, saturated fat and salt (sodium) in a product needs to be stated by the manufacturer in relation to the size of the container that the product comes in.
If a product, such as baked beans for instance, comes in a round tin, I cannot see at all that that it makes a difference where the relevant information is placed on the tin as long as it is legible and capable of being understood. In a round object what exactly constitutes the front and the back ? The same question could be asked of foodstuffs that that come in rectangular cardboard cartons. I suppose the drafters of the consultation document are calling where the name of the product is written, together with the depiction of the product, the front and the opposite side the rear. It is not always possible to put all the information consumers need to know about the constituent parts and nutrition value of a product on the same side as the name and the picture; although a very brief overview of this information might be accommodated there.

Having a list of list of ingredients somewhere on the packaging, which only some food manufacturers do at present, is crucial. I went over to package surrounding the porridge oats that I ate for breakfast this morning and on the ingredients list it said: “Rolled Oats (100%) “, in other words it is unprocessed as there are no additives listed at all. The healthiest choice is always the product that is either unprocessed, or has received the least processing; you can easily assess how much processing a product has received, and therefore compare different products for health worthiness, by reference to the ingredients list.  
A clear indication of the ingredients and nutritive value on packaging is a start in the right direction, in order to enable the consumer to make an informed choice when purchasing. However, you will still need to work out for yourself the health implications of some substances listed in the ingredients list. If, for example, nasty substances like sugar (found in abundance in the regular version of soft drinks), aspartame (found in the diet version of soft drinks) and hydrogenated oil (found in tinned meats) are listed, are there equivalent products available in the store without these health hazards ?
Any problems with how and where the information on products is to be displayed can be worked through as everything is still subject to the consultation process, and only needs to be finalised before there is a recommendation made at the end. Hopefully, if Britain adopts standard labelling of food products, other counties will follow suite. As lots of products such as rice, pasta, canned meats and canned fish cross international borders, a common way of displaying nutritional information on these products is desirable.  
If you have any views on this, use the comments box below to air them.  If you are a UK resident, you can make your views known to the Department of Health by going to the following website:  , and then following the links.

Friday, 25 May 2012

How Consumers Can Influence Food Choices

I am of the opinion that consumers can collectively influence what foods and beverages retailers make available for purchase in their stores at affordable prices. If people continue to buy things detrimental to health, such as foods and soft drinks laden with sugar for instance, then that is what will take up the majority of the space at the retail outlets concerned.

The main shift detected in consumer habits over the last twenty years or so has been away from conventional foods and drinks towards organic produce. However, over the last two or three years this movement away from conventional produce has come to a halt mainly because of increasing price differentials; the indications are that people are prepared to pay 10-20% more, but not 50% or 100% more, for organic produce.
Whilst organic foods are healthier than conventional ones insofar as they are produced without the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides or the help of artificial products, it is not necessary to qualify for that particular accreditation in order for foods and beverages to contain more nutrients than what is generally available at present. My February post titled  “Beware Of White Processed Foods “  highlights unnecessary processes that go on in the production of white flour and white rice that takes away a large part of their nutritive value.  
One of the main derivative products of white flour is white bread. If a significant number of consumers switched from buying white bread to wholemeal bread, for instance, that would force retailers to make the latter available in bigger quantities to meet the increased demand. The same logic applies to white rice and pasta; retailers would make more brown rice and wholegrain pasta available on their shelves if there was an increased demand for them.
In the soft drinks section, any movement away from products containing ingredients detrimental to health like sugar, or sugar substitutes (which includes descriptions in the ingredients list like “corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, aspartame etc”),  would be detected by the retailer and their stocking policy would be adjusted accordingly.
If you cannot find a product in your local store to meet your requirements, what can you do about it ?  You could make suggestions to your retailer that there is a market for the product you are seeking by making comments to the staff in the store, or via the internet. My local Asda supermarket in Edgware, England enables me to go online after a visit and make comments or suggestions on anything quoting my receipt number as a reference. 
One possible suggestion you could make to retailers is to provide a healthy alternative to the soft drinks generally on display in their stores, which are a health hazard because of the added sugars or sugar substitutes. Couldn’t an alternative sweetener like stevia be used instead ? Stevia, which is a collection of herbs much sweeter than sugar originating from the Americas, was approved by the European Union last year for use in member countries. Stevia has an alkalising effect on the body as opposed to the acidic influence of sugar in all its various guises.

The present attitude of retailers will not change unless a significant amount of consumers take steps to improve the availability of healthy foods and beverages at reasonable prices. From once a healthier range of produce is available, the retailers’ systems will detect, almost immediately, any change in sentiment due to the bar coding systems linked to computers they have in place. Therefore the first objective is to get a healthier choice of products than exists at present on the shelves in the first instance ! 

Friday, 18 May 2012

How to Build Good Health

Everybody needs to take action sometime in their life to prevent health problems or disease. The best way to do this is by taking positive steps to build good health, paying particular attention to such things as diet and exercise in order to achieve this goal.   Good health can be built over time with the right attitude, right information, perseverance, and a will to succeed.

I have used the headings of diet, exercise and other measures to outline in the following paragraphs what needs to be done in order to build good health.
The foods and drinks we consume on a daily basis determine the nutrients our body receives. If the quality, quantity, variety of the foods and drinks we consume daily aren’t correct, then our bodies can become deficient in nutrients, which can lead to health problems. Our body needs sufficient amounts of protein, complex carbohydrates , essential fats, fibre, vitamins, minerals and water on a daily basis.     
The main sources of animal protein are meats, fish, eggs and dairy products. Sources of vegetable protein are seeds nuts, beans, lentils, peas and green vegetables. Fruits and whole grains also contain protein but in smaller amounts. An average person needs about 70 grams (2.9 ounces) of protein per day. It is best to get most of your protein from non- meats; and to limit your intake of meat protein to three times a week.       
Simple carbohydrates are found in such things as sugar, sugar substitutes, jam, chocolate, cakes and soft drinks and should be avoided at all costs, as they cause a rapid rise in blood sugar levels and acidity. Complex carbohydrates are found in peas, beans, lentils, wheat, barley, brown rice, corn, fruit, dried vegetables, wholegrain bread and potatoes. A person needs on average about 175 grams (7 ounces) of complex carbohydrates per day.   
The body also needs 25 grams (1 ounce) of each of the following types of fatty acids on a daily basis: saturated fatty acids; mono-unsaturated fatty acids; and polyunsaturated fatty acids. Saturated fatty acids are found in peanut oil and in animal- derived products such as meat, eggs, butter, cream, cheese and yogurt.  Mono-unsaturated fatty acids are found in olive and colza oil, peanuts, olives, almonds, avocados, and duck and goose meat. Polyunsaturated fatty acids are found in corn oil and grape seed oil, margarine, fish, shellfish and fish oil.
You should consume on average of 50 grams (2 ounces) of fibre per day. Fibre comes from a variety of sources. You can work out from the table produced in my post titled “Why Fibre Is Crucial In The Diet”   how you are going to achieve your daily requirement.    
In addition to eating a varied diet in order to receive all the nutrients that are required for optimum health, it is prudent, in most cases, to take a multivitamin and mineral supplement as well to make sure there is no deficiency in the diet The reason for this is there are such variables with the nutrient value of food dependent upon the following: the state of the land that it comes from; how fresh it is; how it is stored; and how it is cooked.  For further information on this see my post titled “Why Whole Food Concentrates & Supplements Are Necessary “.
The best beverage to drink is water, as outlined in a recent post titled “ Water Is Essential To Health“. Other drinks to consider are coconut milk green and herbal tea. Coffee and soft drinks (sodas) should be avoided.
The reasons why exercise is so important to overall health are outlined in my post titled “ Exercise Improves Health”.  
Other Measures
The other steps you need to take are as follows:
·  Maintain a positive mental attitude at all times; and try and reduce stress in your home or at your place of work.
·  When the sun is shining, safely expose yourself to it in order to reap the benefits of the healing power of the sun. For more information on this particular topic, go here.
·  Engage in laugher with your family, neighbours and work colleagues as often as possible. For more information on this, go here.
·  If appropriate to your particular circumstances, keep a pet or pets to improve your overall mood and reduce stress. For more information on this subject, go here.  
·  Quit smoking because of the detrimental affect it has on health, as acknowledged by various governments across the world in the measures they have introduced to persuade people to quit the habit.
·  Take firm control of drinking alcoholic beverages. Limit your intake to no more than two units of alcohol per day.  
 If the above steps are taken, good health should naturally follow as a consequence, thereby greatly reducing the need for a doctor, hospital or prescription drugs.

Friday, 11 May 2012

The Healing Powers of Pets

I have long admired what professionally trained guide dogs for the blind do for their owners in getting them around the place in order to negate certain aspects of their disability. The average domestic pet, such as a cat, dog (or even a goldfish), can provide lots of health benefits for their owners.  The therapeutic effects of having a pet can be listed as follows: it can reduce loneliness in certain circumstances; reduce stress; provide social interaction; encourage exercise and playfulness; and provide love and affection without any qualification.

I distinctly remember from my childhood, when I lived with my parents in a countryside location, the very special bond that existed between an old man, who lived in the neighbourhood on his own, and his dog. Even hardened criminals in prison have shown long-term changes to their behaviour after interaction with pets; some of them as a consequence experienced mutual affection for the first time in their lives.
 Pets, such as cats and dogs, fulfil the basic human need to touch. Recent studies carried out in both the UK and USA have confirmed that some of the health benefits to humans of interaction with pets are as follows:
·  Pet owners are less likely to suffer from depression than those without pets.
·  In stressful situations, people with pets have lower blood pressure than those without pets.
·  Playing with pets has a calming and relaxing effect on the body.
·  Pet owners have a lower incidence of heart disease than those without pets.
·  Heart attack victims with pets survive longer than those without.
·  In the over 65 age group, pet owners make 30% on average fewer visits to their doctor than non- pet owners.
Having a pet can encourage you to make healthy lifestyle changes. Examples of these are as follows:  do more exercise, such as taking the dog for a walk; provide companionship to combat isolation, loneliness or depression; help meet new people, such as other pet owners; the companionship of a pet such as a dog can help reduce anxiety; provide a certain structure to your day in having to exercise or feed the pet; and provide stress relief in the form of the mutual benefit received from cuddling a pet.
Pets can provide the following health benefits for the elderly:
·  They can bring new meaning and joy to your life in situations such as after you have lost the companionship of work colleagues due to retirement, your children have left home, or you have lost your spouse.   
·  They can help you stay connected in your neighbourhood. For instance, you can easily engage in conversations with people while taking the dog for a walk in the local park.
·   Pets can help boost your vitality; they can encourage playfulness, laughter and exercise, all of which can boost your immune system and increase your energy levels.
Children can also greatly benefit from being raised in pet- owning families. Studies have shown that children who grow up with pets have less allergies and a lower incidence of asthma; many also learn responsibility, compassion and love from interaction with their pets. Pets can also occupy a child’s attention constructively when mum and dad aren’t present.
There is evidence to support the view that a pet can be an aid to learning for a child, in that it can stimulate a child’s curiosity and imagination. A kid who, for instance, trains a dog to do a new trick also benefits from the accomplishment. Looking after a furry friend can also fulfil a child’s need to be caring and the end result can be immense joy.
Owning a pet may not be for everyone as they cost money to maintain, and require time and attention. However, the benefits of owning a pet can be great for those who can afford both the cost and the time.

Friday, 4 May 2012

The Health Benefits of Laughter

Laughter is strong medicine for both mind and body. You can depend on it to bring your mind and body back into balance if they are out of kilter. Laughter lightens your burdens, inspires hopes, connects you to others, keeps you grounded, focused and alert. The ability to laugh easily and frequently is a powerful way of overcoming problems, enhancing your relationships, and providing support for your physical and emotional health.

Laughter is good for your physical health in the following ways: it relaxes the whole body by relieving physical tension and stress; it decreases stress hormones and increases immune cells, thereby improving your resistance to disease; it releases endorphins, which are the body’s feel-good chemicals, to give you an overall sense of well-being; and it protects the heart by increasing the function of blood vessels which helps increase blood flow to that vital organ.
The mental health benefits of laughter can be listed as follows: it adds joy and zest to life; it helps ease anxiety and fear in most situations; it relieves stress; it improves overall mood; and it enhances resilience. The mental health benefits work hand-in-hand with the physical ones.
There are further benefits to engaging in laughter regularly in group situations, as follows: it strengthens relationships; it attracts others to us; it enhances teamwork; it helps defuse conflict; and it helps promote group bonding. I have heard of some good football and rugby union coaches in the UK who use it regularly to lighten the load and increase overall team spirit.
You can take some constructive steps to bring laughter into your life. These are examples of situations where it can be used positively: smile as often as you can at people, or in funny situations; count your blessings rather than your woes, which create negative thoughts and are a barrier to laughter; move towards people in a group who are engaging in laughter; seek out and spend time with funny people; bring humour into your conversations with people.
Moreover, you can do the following:
·  Laugh at yourself by highlighting embarrassing moments.
·  Attempt to laugh at situations rather than bemoan them; strive to look for the funny side of absurd situations.
·  Surround yourself with reminders of people or events that help to lighten your thoughts.
·  Keep things in their proper perspective and don’t go around as if you had the weight of the world on your shoulders.
·  Deal promptly and correctly to resolve any stress issues in your life.
·  Actively play with your children or grand- children in a light-hearted manner in order to create an everlasting bond with them that they will remember for the rest of their lives.
I hope you now realize what humour and laughter can do for your physical, mental and emotional health. I will conclude this post with a quote that I recently heard from somewhere:  “ everything in life in moderation except laughter”.