Simple strategies for living well

Take a piece of string, measure your height with it and fold it in half, does it fit around your waist?

Waist to height measurement is a pretty good indicator of whether you really need that extra helping of… cake/pie/favourite foodstuff!

A balanced diet is made up (thanks to Paul Chek for this simplification) of food with eyes (protein and fats) and food with no eyes (carbohydrates). Avocados and nuts are exceptions to that rule but generally vegetables growing above ground like leafy greens will be less starchy than vegetables grown below ground: potatoes, sweet potato, beetroot, parsnips and carrots to name a few.

Why does all this matter?

There are a growing number of people that believe the gut is at the heart of most disease. Hippocrates got there first over two thousand years ago but a growing number of people alive today are also questioning the quality of the food we eat nowadays and are looking for simpler/less procesed foods to eat. Stuff that our bodies have evolved to digest over multiple dozens of millennia.

There are many different versions of the ‘Just Eat Real Food‘ sentiment. Eat food, not too much and mostly plants is the simple guideline given by journalist Michael Pollan in his book In Defence of Foods.

Food = Epigenetic information. Which is a new way to think of our morning break fast.

Every piece of food we eat ‘talks to’ the cells in our body. These conversations can shape how our bodies continue to exist in their environment. I think but am not fully read up on the research yet, that what we eat over time can impact how our bodies respond to everything around us. And our decendants!

Epigenetics is a fascinating area of research: A 2nd WW dutch famine had repercussions for the grandchildren of those who lived through it. Our DNA forms the building blocks of who we are but those building blocks can be shaped by the world around us, too.

This nutrition lark seems to be far from straightforward!

I attended an online summit called the Evolution of Medicine at the end of September 2014. In it a number of functional medicine experts and enlightened ‘regular’ doctors were interviewed and issues were identified that needed to and were beginning to change in mainstream medicine.

We have a slew of chronic disease – much of it could be considered to be mediated by the way we live. Type II diabetes is better dealt with by addressing what you eat and how you move now rather than waiting for a profoundly reduced insulin response to turn into heart disease, stroke, nerve damage, wonky eyes (my wording)… the list goes on.

We eat a diet so far removed from what our bodies have been designed to cope with, no wonder they’re ‘slipping up’ and creating disease in us. It’s not just GM foods that could be storing up trouble for us and our children. Food is just one aspect of how we can make our lives a little better.

Small changes to how and how much we move can have surprisingly satisfying results. Getting outside and going for a walk every day is good for the soul as well as our heart and lungs. I’ve been performing my own version of HIIT (high intensity interval training) on my exercise bike. I can’t walk very far and have a wheelchair for events that call for more walking than say, getting round a supermarket with a trolley to hold onto so it’s not often that I can achieve a change in my heart rate.

There are a wide variety of websites I visit and gather what I hope is useful information to me and I assume others including a number of strands of research from around the world. Change in my body (including not getting out of breath so quickly) seems to be happening… slowly but I think getting the heart rate up must get more blood pumping round the body and that includes the brain so, a handful of 30 second bursts on the static bike every other day with the resistance turned up is giving my brain a treat. It also has a happy side effect of warming perpetually cold hands and feet!

To a continually pumping heart the brain is just another extremity (like hands and feet) that the pressure and circulation doesn’t always reach. Gravity works against the brain here, unfortunately.

Always low blood pressure can be as problematic as high BP resulting in fatigue perhaps partly because the brain isn’t getting enough glucose or oxygen to function optimally.

I read this in a fascinating book Why Isn’t My Brain Working by Datis Kharrazian. He has used a similar functional approach to identify strategies to improve an underperforming thyroid.

It’s always a good idea to get an MOT from your gp to check that your body can cope with the changes you’d be asking of it with a new exercise regime. I never used to be much of an exercise person but I was also a smoker as a youngster so i wasn’t really caring what my body may have been trying to tell me!

Small things can make a difference and some simple strategies have got to be worth a go, no?

Learning for life

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Until we have a need to access professionals who can ‘fix’ us, healthcare’s all a bit fuzzy and indistinct in our minds. We’re built to not spend time on things that aren’t immediately concerning to our continued existence. We imagine if at all, everything will be working in our favour. Caregivers at all levels from consultants to care assistants are there primarily for our benefit. This article from the American Academy of Neurology explains why that may not always be the case.

It’s heartening to see this acknowledgement from a trusted player in the field. Some of the ground troops of various chronic conditions have had questions along these lines for a good few years.

One of our foundations in life is no longer the reliable anchor we once assumed it was. We have spent perhaps decades taking our health for granted. We are now calling on the skills of others to help us however they see fit.

We can choose to take a passive role in our functioning day-to-day but we are now given the opportunity to think differently by learning lots of new stuff. A lot of stuff we assumed was safe as houses we have now learnt, isn’t. Post 2008, is not the time or place to question that particular truism.

Here is one TED talk that highlights the vested interests involved in developed nations’ unquestionable truths about human nutrition.

Reading for ourselves is different now we’re not at school (honestly). For a start, we don’t have to do any of it if we don’t want to. We don’t have to hand our books in to be marked. No one is asking us to do it, we are doing it for the benefit of ourselves.

Doing this sort of activity luckily, is very good for our brains. In this 11 minute talk, Sandra Chapman PhD highlights how our brains relish and thrive on feeling challenged. When given something to get its teeth into our brain will do its best to rise to that challenge and become smarter and more effective which ultimately ends up benefitting us (Sudoku it seems isn’t the answer).

Here is another TED talk giving a refreshing, scientifically backed up way to look at how to change behaviour. It’s not suggested we rely on willpower rather, research has been undertaken to look into methods which allow us to be more aware of ourselves. In it Zoe Chance, a tutor at Yale University in the US lists the 5 qualities an activity needs to possess to have a chance at becoming habit forming. We are all works in progress so if we want to change something about ourselves, we can.

TED talks are great for taking (usually) less than half an hour of our life to tell us stuff we didn’t know and may well help make life a little better. I have a link to this particular TED talk somewhere else on this site. It’s such an important and relatively easily addressed area of our lives. Getting better sleep to reap a better experience of life is within most of our grasps. It all depends on how much we want it.