Archive for Healthy Lifestyles

Relaxation

Escaping from the stress and strain of the daily routine has a positive influence on the health and wellbeing of both women and men.

Taking some time for yourself by simply reading a book or magazine, taking a long bath, gardening, enjoying beauty care “rituals” (such as getting your hair or nails done), and participating in a hobby or recreation are all marvellous forms of relaxation.

Personal pleasures

Every day do something that you enjoy like reading, listening to music, gardening and sewing.

Aromatherapy, Tai chi, a warm bath, sauna or spa to relax your body, meditate or pray.

Laughter

Laughter produces endorphins in the body which help you relax and feel good about yourself.

  • Bring laughter into your life by being with friends who have a good sense of humour, and watching comedy shows.

Positive thinking

Practice pushing away negative thoughts and replacing them with positive thoughts – and enjoy the relaxing effect.

  • Negativity – for example ‘I fail more times than I get it right’. Try and catch yourself when you think in this unhelpful way and challenge yourself
    ‘I do get things right sometimes’.

Physical activity

Physical activity decreases muscle tension and improves concentration and self esteem.

 

Walking is simple and effective, and particularly appropriate if you are starting an physical activity program.

Massage

This can be a simple hand or neck massage by a partner or friend.

 

Indulge yourself occasionally or regularly with a body massage from a professional masseur.

Yoga

There are many forms of yoga, some more physical than others.

The focus, here  is on the combination of meditation with body stretches and gentle physical activity.

Meditation

Mediation requires practice.

  • Sit comfortably in a quiet environment.
  • Breathe deeply and close your eyes.
  • Focus on a word, chant or image and push away all the day-to-day thoughts intruding into your mind.
  • 15 to 20 minutes daily promotes an inner calmness.

Consider attending meditation classes.

Relaxation exercises

These exercises include tensing and then relaxing each limb in turn, then your torso and face.

  • Sit down in a comfortable chair or better still lie down on your back.
  • Think about your toes – concentrate on them and wiggle them then relax them.
  • Slowly move your mind to your legs – first the left leg, tense and relax and then the right leg, tense and relax.
  • Same with each arm – tense and relax.
  • Think about your breathing, take some deep breaths then fully exhale and breathe gently and relax.
  • Move your mind now to your head and tense up your facial muscles then relax. Clear your mind.

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Recreation

There is a definite and clear link between health and physical activity. But if you are not into organised sport what can you do? As long as you manage to undertake some physical activity of at least 30 minutes a day you will reap the health rewards.

Community

There is also a clear link to improved health in anyone who has good links and support in the community. Being part of a family is great for support but for those of you without immediate family life can be a challenge.

Your local council or community health centre is a great place to begin to find groups with various activities that may interest you and that you might enjoy.

Such activities may include:

  • Reading groups
  • Craftwork, sewing or cooking groups
  • Cards, chess or other and board games
  • Activities such as painting, writing or computing
  • Bird watchers or
  • Friends of parks and gardens groups.

Giving Up Smoking

People can usually list many good reasons for giving up smoking. However, often they are the very people who cannot seem to stop, even when they know there is no safe level of smoking.

The benefits

According to Quit Victoria, you will feel the benefits of quitting straight away as your body repairs itself. Depending on the number of cigarettes you smoke, typical benefits of stopping are:

  • After twelve hours almost all of the nicotine is out of your system.
  • After twenty-four hours the level of carbon monoxide in your blood has dropped dramatically. You now have more oxygen in your bloodstream.
  • After five days most nicotine by-products have gone.
  • Within days your sense of taste and smell improves.
  • Within a month your blood pressure returns to its normal level and your immune system begins to show signs of recovery.
  • Within two months your lungs will no longer be producing extra phlegm caused by smoking.
  • After twelve months your increased risk of dying from heart disease is half that of a continuing smoker.
  • Stopping smoking reduces the incidence and progression of lung disease including chronic bronchitis and emphysema.
  • After ten years of stopping your risk of lung cancer is less than half that of a continuing smoker and continues to decline (provided the disease is not already present).
  • After fifteen years your risk of heart attack and stroke is almost the same as that of a person who has never smoked.

How do I quit?

There are several methods and aids available to assist with giving up smoking:

1. ‘Cold turkey’ (stopping completely without aids)

2. Nicotine gum / patches

3. Prescribed medication – discuss with your doctor if you are suitable for use of these

4. Other – acupuncture, hypnotherapy (may be helpful in some people, however there are limited studies available as to whether there is any scientific evidence of benefit)

Smoking Facts

  • Women who smoke only 1-4 cigarettes each day double their cardiovascular disease and stroke risk
  • Smokers have an earlier menopause by 1.5 to 2 years
  • Smokers have a higher incidence of osteoporosis
  • Smokers have increased skin ageing and wrinkles

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Drinking Alcohol

drinking_alcoholWomen and alcohol

Due to size, body type and the way in which our bodies process alcohol, women become affected by alcohol far quicker than men. As a result women are also more vulnerable to the acute and chronic effects of alcohol misuse.

What is a standard drink?

One standard drink contains 10 grams of alcohol. When keeping track of your alcohol consumption it is important to count the standard drinks consumed, rather than cans or glasses. This is because the alcohol content of alcoholic beverages can often be higher than one standard drink. For example, pre-mixed drinks can be equal to 1.5 or more standard drinks and cocktails can be equal to two or more standard drinks.

All pre-packaged alcohol cans or bottles have the number of standard drinks listed on the label. Drinks such as wine, beer and spirits are sometimes served in glasses, so care must be taken. Ask bar staff if you are uncertain.

Standard drink guide

  • 30ml spirits = 1 standard drink
  • 100ml wine = 1 standard drink (Be careful! An average glass of wine contains 150-200ml; which is 1.5 – 2 standard drinks)
  • 375ml (one can) full strength beer = 1.5 standard drinks (An average pot-glass of beer is 285ml (1.1 standard drinks) and an average pint-glass of beer is 425ml (1.6 standard drinks))
  • 375ml light beer = 0.8 standard drinks (An average pot-glass of beer is 285ml (0.6 standard drinks) and an average pint-glass of beer is 425ml (0.9) standard drinks))
  • 60ml fortified wine (e.g. port, sherry) = 1 standard drink

Low risk drinking

In 2007 the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council defined low risk alcohol consumption for women as, on average, no more than two standard drinks per day and at least two alcohol free days per week. Low risk consumption of alcohol (at or below the guidelines above) in conjunction with a healthy lifestyle does not appear to be associated with long-term illness. However, there are times during illness and when taking medication when you should not consume any alcohol. Your doctor can provide advice at these times.

High risk drinking

High risk alcohol consumption is best defined as anything that exceeds the consumption of more than two standard drinks per day. High risk drinking, including binge drinking (the consumption of excess alcohol over a short space of time) can put your health at serious risk.

Drinking excessively (four or more drinks at a time) even once or twice per week, such as on weekends, may cause health problems, increase risk of injury and accidents, and affect relationships with those close to you, even when you do not drink for the rest of the week.

Short and long-term effects of high risk drinking

The short-term effects of high risk drinking include:

  • Poor sleep
  • Change in mood, (often affecting relationships)
  • Headaches
  • Dehydration
  • Problems with day-to-day functioning, including clear decision making
  • Irritation to the lining of the stomach, intestine and pancreas, which may cause nausea, vomiting or diarrhoea
  • Accidents, injury

The long-term effects of high risk drinking include:

  • Depression
  • Relationship difficulties
  • Decline in quality of life
  • Weight gain
  • Permanent liver damage
  • Dementia
  • Ability to think clearly
  • Alcohol dependence
  • Low vitamin B, zinc and magnesium, especially when combined with irregular eating
  • Increased risk of some cancers, particularly breast cancer

Alcohol and young people

According to the National Alcohol Guidelines, young Australian adults have the highest consumption of alcohol and are most at risk of alcohol related injuries such as road trauma, sexual coercion, falls, violence, accidental death (e.g. drowning, overdose) and suicide. Binge drinking (drinking to excess over a short space of time) is most common among 14-25 year olds.

It is important for young adults (and adults as well) to carefully weigh up the risks involved before drinking alcohol above recommended guidelines.

Handy hints for drinking responsibly

  • Set a maximum number of drinks for the night and make a pact with your friends to help you keep to it
  • Start and finish with soft drinks or water, or alternate between alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages
  • Choose drinks with a low alcohol content – e.g. light beers, top mixed drinks with extra soft drink or soda
  • Do not skip meals when going out and drink alcohol with food to slow absorption
  • Avoid salty foods that make you thirsty and make you drink more
  • Avoid home-mixed drinks such as punch where you cannot determine the alcohol content
  • Be careful of friends or waiters topping up your drinks for you – this makes it much harder to gauge how much you have had to drink
  • Make sure your friends stick with you, all night
  • Absolutely no driving and never accept a lift from a drunk driver
  • Eat sensibly through the week, get some exercise and proper sleep

Alcohol and breast cancer

Regular alcohol consumption increases a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer. This risk rises with the level of alcohol consumed; therefore a reduction in alcohol consumption by women who drink alcohol regularly may reduce their breast cancer risk.

Alcohol and pregnancy

The 2007 guidelines advise pregnant women not to drink alcohol. High level drinking during pregnancy can cause a range of health problems for the unborn child, and can increase the likelihood of miscarriage. Alcohol in the bloodstream also passes through into breast milk which can in turn cause irritability, poor feeding and sleep disturbances in the child.

Alcohol and Stress

Excess or regular alcohol consumption may be an indicator for stress and can also worsen stress and depression

Alcohol and menopause

For women around the time of menopause, alcohol intake can exacerbate hot flushes

Questions and Answers

Q: Are there long term side effects for women who regularly drink small amounts of red wine?

The guidelines are based on the best available evidence to date. Until we have evidence to the contrary drinking quantities within the recommended guidelines, does not appear to cause any long term effects.

Q: How do you advise women to reduce alcohol intake when it is such an ingrained part of many people’s lives?

This is a complex question. If alcohol consumption is affecting your health then immediately ceasing intake is important. If you find this difficult, talk to your GP and seek expert help.

Many women may wish to modify their intake, where alcohol has become a habit. Expectations or pressure by friends or family to drink, frequent exposure to alcohol in social situations can interfere with good intentions. Practical tips such as setting a maximum number of drinks for the evening or taking a limited amount of money with you, making a pact or have a competition with your friends or family to see who can reduce intake. Alternate alcoholic beverages with water are just some ways to reduce your alcohol intake.

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Informed Decisions

Gathering information, thinking about options and knowing what it is you value, will help you make decisions that are appropriate for you. When is comes to issues about your health and wellbeing, talking with your health practitioner can assist you in making an informed decision.

Choosing a health practitioner

Developing a partnership with your health practitioner will depend on a level of trust that insists on:

  • Mutual respect
  • Clear communication
  • Shared responsibility

While it may take time and effort to establish this partnership, in the end it will be in your best interests to choose carefully. When choosing a health practitioner you might take into account:

  • Their expertise
  • How accessible they are (e.g. location, appointment times and fees)
  • Their ability to listen, empathise and communicate skilfully
  • Their willingness to involve you in the decision making process around your healthcare

Why evidence matters

Information about health can be obtained from a variety of sources: family, friends, the media and health care professionals. With the advent of the World Wide Web, information is available more readily, making it increasingly hard to judge competing claims. The task is even harder when health claims are made with the underlying purpose of promoting a particular product.

To greatly assist in comparing treatment options and deciding what is right for you, ask yourself a series of questions:

  • What could happen if I did nothing at all?
  • What treatment or intervention choices are available to me?
  • What are the possible risks and benefits of the different choices?
  • How do the benefits and risks weigh up for me?
  • Have I now gathered enough information to make my decision

You need to assess the choices available to you based on best evidence from clinical trials against:

  • The resources available to you (such as access to services and cost)
  • Your own personal values (does a particular treatment fit with my lifestyle and how I choose to take care of myself?)

Interpreting clinical trials

It is more difficult than you would expect to prove that a particular treatment prevented something from happening or relieved a particular condition. The results from using a particular treatment should be better than no treatment at all or using something that is already known to be helpful. Remember there are all kinds of reasons why people recover or do not get sick (such as spontaneous remission and ‘strong’ genes).

To filter out effects NOT related to the treatment itself, high quality scientific studies known as Randomised Controlled Trials (RCT) must have a similar group (control group) that did not receive the treatment but are similar in most other respects (anecdotal evidence can be persuasive but not conclusive). The riskier or more powerful the treatment being considered, the more important it becomes to understand the results of scientific studies. Understanding scientific studies can then help you balance the risks and the benefits of a particular healthcare decision.

A good example of an RCT is the Women’s Health Initiative study in the US. (For more information about this study see Women’s Health Initiative).

Using the tools provided here, along with trusted sources of information, can help you make decisions that are right for you.

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Healthy Eating

How are you feeding your body and how is it affecting your health?

Poor eating has a direct impact on our physical health, weight, mental health and energy and in fact, impacts on every single part of your body.

The facts

On average Australian women are gaining six to seven kilograms every decade. It is easier to put in place measures to prevent weight gain than to lose weight already gained, so if you notice a small progressive weight gain of one or two kilograms per year, it may be helpful to make some simple lifestyle changes to prevent becoming overweight.

Some of the health problems related to poor diet / weight gain include:

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Gall bladder disease
  • High blood cholesterol and triglycerides
  • High blood pressure
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Some cancers
  • Impaired fertility
  • Lower back pain
  • Heart disease

Long-term lifestyle change is the most effective approach to keeping your health and weight at its best. This means taking care everyday to make some small changes to you diet and physical activity.

How do I start a healthy eating plan?

1. First ASSESS your current diet and weight. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Am I gaining weight, or have I maintained a healthy weight for the past six months?
  • What are the three most important changes I can make right now to the way I eat? Think about the things you do daily. Should you reduce your alcohol intake, have more low-fat dairy foods, or eat more fruit and vegetables? More ideas are listed below.
  • Can I maintain these changes for a week, a month or a year? Whilst it is good to make changes even for a little while (e.g. a month with no take-away food), the changes you make for a year will be more important. Try some changes for a week or two then re-assess how you are going with them.
  • How will those changes affect the people around me? Sometimes you may have good intentions but the rest of the family don’t share your enthusiasm for extensive changes to their usual meals. Introduce new foods, cooking styles or ideas gradually without too much fuss and you may be surprised how they all enjoy the variety.

2. Next plan and ACT
Try some new foods and recipes, set some small goals. Write out a plan, put it up on view, e.g. put a note on your fridge such as ‘My goal for this week is to eat fresh fruit every day’.

3. Finally REVIEW what you did and alter your plan
Did it work? What should you change? How could you improve your healthy eating plan or make it easier for yourself? Review your plan and write out your new goal for the week

Healthy eating tips

Foods to eat plenty of:

  • Eat plenty of vegetables and fruit – two to three pieces of fresh fruit and five to seven serves of fresh vegetables each day. These will provide fibre, vitamins, minerals and important antioxidants.
  • Drink plenty of water – six to eight glasses per day.
  • Eat plenty of fish – one to three serves per week. These will provide the important omega-3 fatty acids, which are powerful protectors of the heart and blood vessels. Seek your health practitioner’s advice regarding fish if you are pregnant.
  • Have plenty of calcium – three serves of low-fat dairy foods or substitutes (e.g. calcium fortified soy milks, or if you are unable to consume these products talk to your doctor about bone strength).
  • Include wholegrain foods daily such as wholemeal breads and oat cereals.

Foods to eat small amounts or limit:

  • Limit butter, and animal fat intake. Choose oils wisely e.g. include olive, canola, sunflower or safflower oils.
  • Small amounts of alcohol (no more than one to two glasses per day).
  • Take away or pre-prepared convenience foods such as frozen pies and desserts should be eaten only occasionally.
  • Limit snack foods such as potato crisps, corn chips, biscuits, cakes. Make them occasional treats not everyday foods.

Is there an important meal for the day?

Skipping meals is one of the biggest mistakes women make, particularly if you are trying to manage your weight. Regular meals will maintain your energy and provide the nutrients you need each day, so you will feel more like being active, and less likely to snack. Breakfast is important for improving mood and memory, boosting your metabolism and for weight control. A cereal containing oats, such as porridge, muesli or other wholegrain, high-fibre cereal is ideal with low-fat milk, fruit and wholegrain toast will provide a substantial amount or your requirements of calcium, fibre, B vitamins, zinc and many other nutrients. Those that are labelled low GI will give a slow release of energy and keep you satisfied longer. You may find you snack less which will help your weight.

Is following some of the current fad diets unhealthy?

It’s tempting to look at some of the strict diets that promise quick weight loss. These fad diets are difficult to follow and provide short-term results. Frequent use of these diets with weight gain between  use can cause dehydration, lack of adequate vitamins and minerals, weakness, fatigue, nausea, headaches and constipation. Carbohydrate foods, particularly the carbohydrates from wholegrain wheat, oats, rye, rice, fruit and vegetables, provide important nutrients and fibre, are important to your health and energy and should not be eliminated from your diet. You may however reduce the carbohydrates from sugar, found in biscuits and confectionery without harm.

What about alcohol?

Alcohol is high in kilojoules and, despite small amounts having some benefit, it can have risks if used in excess. One or two standard drinks per day are considered low risk for women. A standard drink is 100mL of wine, 30mL of spirits or 285mL of full-strength beer.

What else will keep my health on track?

If you are physically active, manage stress and avoid smoking and excess alcohol, you’ll feel even better – a great recipe for getting the most out of life.

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Healthy Lifestyles

We know we should eat a balanced diet, stop smoking, have at least two alcohol free nights a week and increase our level of exercise. We know what lifestyle options are better for our health and wellbeing, only sometimes it is really hard to make these health choices and changes. Or is it? Following are some guidelines about the influences and barriers that we all face when we want to make changes and some strategies on how to make these changes. Hopefully, reading this will make forming healthier lifestyle habits a whole lot easier!

What are the influences on our lifestyles?

In order to make changes we need to understand what influences our behaviour, how we function as individuals, what aspects of our environment can be used to support change and who can we turn to, to support these goals. In reality, for behaviour to change, we need to set up our lives to support this change.

What influences our thoughts, feelings and behaviours?

Many factors will influence how easy it is to make changes towards a healthier lifestyle.

Genetics

If you have a family history of certain health-related problems, like heart disease or breast cancer, then this may provide you with real inspiration to eat a balanced diet and exercise.

You may have been born with a health problem and so have always been aware of what is the best lifestyle for you. However, even though we know we have inherited certain risks, this doesn’t always make us do what is best for our health!

How can this be when we know the consequences are so serious?

Because we are human we often need more to motivate us to sustain healthier alternatives than fear. We may think ‘It won’t happen to me’, ‘I am not that overweight’, or ‘A few drinks every night won’t hurt!’

Personality

Personality also influences how well we are able to make healthier choices. Someone who is outgoing, active and motivated will be more likely to sustain changes to their lifestyle than someone who would rather stay indoors and stick to their routine. Some of us get bored easily and need variety, while others don’t like change.

Way of thinking

The way that we think also has a huge impact on motivation. If we only think in black or white, good or bad, then it becomes hard to find balance in our lives. For example, if you have this ‘all or nothing’ thinking pattern, you may swing from diets that cause you to starve yourself and then turn to bingeing. If you find that you are a more emotional and sensitive person, then perhaps this influences how much you turn to food, alcohol or drugs, particularly as a comfort when you feel challenged. We know that people who are depressed can put on a lot of weight, or alternatively they find it difficult to eat and see their weight drop below a healthy range.

Support

Support is vital to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. For instance, we know that people who have a supportive social network are less likely to suffer depression, stress and heart disease. This seems to work in two ways. On the one hand having people who care for you and nurture you is generally good for your wellbeing. It makes you feel good about yourself. Having support also means that there is someone to talk to, offload to or seek help from, when you are trying to make changes in your lifestyle. They may provide you with words of encouragement, divert your attention, boost your self-esteem, or they may give you strategies to call on should you need.

Support can come from friends, family, partner, children, health professionals, counsellors and also from your own inner reserve (if there is any left!).

Of course sometimes people who should be supportive can sabotage our best efforts. It may be helpful to think about the people in your life who you turn to for support and ask yourself “Do they have my best interests in mind?”

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