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  • Writer's pictureMollie Maxwell


THE BIG FIVE. cancer, dementia, diabetes, heart disease and stroke

These are the main causes of death that are largely preventable by lifestyle.

They often are responsible for years of suffering and have huge impacts on families.

There are five simple things you can do to reduce your risks.

  1. Food: Never underestimate the power of food to both harm and heal. What we feed our bodies has the biggest impact on our health, it influences every mechanism within the body and affects every function. The more attention we pay to our food, both what we eat and how we eat, the more benefit we receive from it. Our food has become more altered, refined and lacking in nutrients than at any other time and we almost have to go foraging for the nutrients our bodies need to thrive, not literally foraging in the woods but reading food labels and searching out what we require. The closer that food is to its natural state the better it is for us and the less denatured by chemicals, refining, preserving and treating. Eating a wide variety of fresh foods, lots of brightly coloured fruit and vegetables, whole grains, fish, beans, pulses and olive oil with a healthy dash of inflammatory reducing herbs and spices such as ginger, turmeric and cinnamon. Avoiding heat treated oils, highly refined foods, E-numbers, food that is greatly changed from its original form, highly salted foods and lots of sugar is a great place to start. How we eat affects our response to food and how our digestion works. Setting a table (even if it is only for one person) is like setting the scene and prepares our mind for eating. For families, this is especially important as it teaches children the benefit of sitting together, appreciating food, company and conversation. Avoiding sitting in front of the TV, focuses the mind on the food and not the distraction. Taking five deep breaths before taking the first bite slows the breathing, which slows eating, using a smaller plate, smaller fork and putting your fork down between bites, chewing slowly and attempting to really notice the flavours allows the stomach time to deal with the food it is being bombarded with. The brain takes about 20 minutes to recognise that the stomach is full, which is why it is easy to overeat if we are in a hurry. We all have times when we almost inhale our food because we are under time pressure or extremely hungry. It is what we do 80% of the time that is important. Instead of sitting down after a meal, a gentle walk will increase metabolism and allow for better digestion.

  2. Sleeping : We all know how great we feel after we are well rested and have had a great sleep as well as how awful we feel when we are lacking or have had a bad night’s sleep. Sleep deprivation from a long haul flight, a new baby or a partner who snores is debilitating and that is why it is used as a form of torture ! Good sleep habits, known as sleep hygiene encourages good sleep and is worth practising to get the full benefit from it. There are several important things to do to encourage good sleep and any parent will know that with a baby or young child, setting the scene to prepare for bed is a large part of settling down at the end of the day. We tend to forget this as adults, but it is nonetheless just as important to signal to the body that we are preparing for sleep. This is a very individual process and there are some useful tips that can help. Our sleep hormone, Melatonin is suppressed during daylight hours and bright lighting, whereas we want it to be produced near bedtime to assist with sleep. Our ancestors would have gone to bed at dark and got up at daylight according to the time of year and this regulates the circadian rhythm and melatonin production. For some, especially young people it might need to be an hour before bed of avoiding bright light or LED blue light and dimming the room lights help with this. A warm (not hot) bath or shower can be very calming as can having quiet, dark, cool bedroom with an inviting space for sleep. Staying in a nice hotel, with fresh sheets, low level lighting and blackout curtains is very inviting for sleep and it is not hard to create a nice inviting bed-space at home. It should be a sanctuary. For some people a warm drink without caffeine or alcohol may help and some foods high in potassium such as bananas and dates induce sleep. Going to bed at the same time most nights and taking the time to prepare fully adds to a good routine and encourages sleep. Having enough exercise and fresh air during the day is essential for the body to feel ready to rest.

  3. That brings us to exercise, a very individual need and personal choice and most of us know how much and how often we need to feel tired without being exhausted. The Goldilocks effect of not too much to induce extreme cortisol release but enough to feel tired having had a period of cardiac exertion of about 30 minutes a day minimum.

  4. Reducing stress : Stress is very ageing and it negatively impacts our bodies in every aspect. A small amount of stress now and then is good for us and we become more resilient from it, but ongoing high stress is a killer . Learning to de-stress by whatever means , switch off and walk away from high stress situations has a profound effect on the body and many easy to learn activities will reduce the damage. Yoga is well documented as one of the best ways to destress, as is Tai Chi, breathing exercises, walking in the fresh air listening to the birds, dancing to music, even knitting !

  5. Socialising : Having a good network of family, friends, social clubs, religious groups or however you like to connect with people. There is nothing wrong with being self-sufficient and enjoy our own company but being lonely is not good for our mental health and making the effort to make contact with people is essential for our wellbeing.


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