30 December 2015

Advice for Healthy New Year's Resolutions


It's easy to finish the year incredibly determined to start the next one off on the right foot. January is the busiest month for gym memberships. It shouldn’t be surprising that when it comes to New Year’s Resolutions, those relating to health and fitness represent the majority of declarations. Here are some of the more interesting statistics on New Year’s resolutions are taken from Details and Statisticbrain. Thankfully, the internet makes it pretty easy to request, gather, organise and analyse social data of this nature.:

  • 45% of people make New Year's resolutions
  • 1 in 3 people ditch theirs by the end January
  • 2 in 3 people who make resolutions include health as a goal
  • 73% give up before meeting their goal
  • 21% resolve to lose weight and this is the most common resolution (improve finance and getting organised round out the top 3)

Why New Years makes for a such an appropriate time for prompting health and fitness changes makes a lot of sense. People like timelines and our brains function according to schedules, times and dates for substantial events. It's important however to remember that health and well being isn't a short term ideal. All the “new year new YOU!” motivation in the world doesn't mean much if it doesn't last but a couple of months. The star that burns brightest often burns out fastest. It would be great to lose 10kg in 10 weeks and just worry about the long term as it approaches, but without that big picture mindset, it'll be difficult to ever get where you truly want to be which is a self-sustaining long lasting lifestyle approach health and wellness.

It's not about being on a diet or losing weight as much as it is about being healthy. That being said, there aren't many times where turning over a new leaf by making some widespread goal orientated lifestyle changes is better sparked than the new year. Here are some things to keep in mind when putting together your New Year’s resolution.

New year, new you!
Some things may have to be drastic
Deciding on what aspects of your new lifestyle should be jumped into with both feet as opposed to a slow transition can be quite difficult. That being said, while easing into healthier eating or exercise may seem smoother and more comfortable, it’s important to respect the difficulties temptation and convenience bring to the table. WIll power is an area of academic study gaining a lot of attention lately. While willpower and determination are inherent traits which cannot be concretely quantifiable, there is an increasing body of psychological and sociological research discovering that willpower is limited in strength.

The American Psychological Association explains that willpower is like combination of skill and physical capacity. Willpower can be learned and developed the same way cardiovascular endurance, or reading efficiency can be improved as well. However, the most pertinent aspect of this is that willpower depletes as it is tested. In other words, the more temptations and conveniences you have around you, the more your reserves of willpower are taxed and your self-control weakened. Keeping sugary treats or coupons for fast food around increase the likelihood of broken diets in the short term and drastically weaken the long-term success of any healthy lifestyle change.

As uncomfortable or wasteful as it may seem, it therefore may be the best thing in the long term, to go through a dramatic kitchen cleanse and get rid of all highly processed, carb-rich foods, pre-packaged sugar sweets, and toxic convenience-meals and snacks. If you don’t see them, you don’t need to rely on self-control to not eat them.

Regarding exercise, the notion of self-control can also be aided by including others into your plans. The peer-pressure effect of obligation has shown to work wonders for helping people commit to their workout plans. Rather than rely on your own willpower to go to workout on your own, not wanting to bail on a friend or trainer, or waste a membership you’ve already paid for can be a powerful motivator.

Some things can be eased into
Where some things should be made drastic as discussed above, others should be eased into to prevent yourself from feeling bad for falling short. Missing a gym session isn’t really that detrimental if overall, you’ve been living a more active lifestyle by walking more, opting for the stairs rather than the elevator, and taking the kids to the park, and playing with them, rather than spending the afternoon in front of a screen.

Likewise, and this is a big one for me personally, healthy eating doesn’t have to be 100%. Christmas season just ended, which means there are plenty of people out there, that despite all the willpower in the world, practical circumstances made it near impossible to perfectly adhere to their usual healthy eating regimen. The same can be said for times of illness, emotional distress, the busy times at work, or any of the million other situations people find themselves in where they have less time, energy or motivation to exercise perfect discipline.

This means that, the goal, shouldn’t be to perfection or strictness with your new healthy lifestyle. When enjoying unhealthy holiday treats, or satisfying a fast food craving because of a crazy work period, do just that - enjoy it. Embrace the momentary lapse in wholesome living as just that - momentary - enjoy it, be mindful of what it means for your gut, temperament, energy levels and the rest of your body, and move on. Full awareness, no guilt. You’ll pick back up, when you can. It’s far too easy to let things go at the start of december with first offering of rum balls and shortbread, and to go from there, to a guilt-induced over-dramatic New Years resolution after 4 weeks of chocolate, cake and hot cocoa.

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Tracking your activity and progress is handy, but there's not real finish line to healthy living.

Emphasise actions over results
While being goal-orientated is often a positive way to tackle new challenges, it’s important to remember that being fit and healthy doesn’t involve an end goal. Declarations such as “lose 10kg” may be a useful way to track and measure success, but the actions that bring that result about are what are more significant.

In other words, if “lose 10kg” or “fit into this size jeans” is the goal you have mind, it may lead to a lack of satisfaction or motivation once that goal is reached. Instead, frame your goals around the actions you want to make in the new year. Rather than run 5k, focus your motivation on running weekly. While bench pressing your body weight may be the ultimate check box you’re out to complete, improving or establishing a better chest routine may add a deeper angle to your workouts.

The main difference is in the approach. A smart and measurable goal makes it easier to judge success - am I swimming every week or not? Anyone with an organisational, logical or business-orientated mind can see obvious benefits in this. However, how absolute this approach is can cause motivational problems. After 3 weeks of missing your weekly swim, the logic that made the resolution so sound, actually adjusts to make bailing on the goal of hitting the pool every week seem more reasonable. There’s no point in telling yourself you’ll do something you just can’t at the moment because of work, illness, laziness or whatever other balls that spontaneously are added to those we have to juggle.

Instead, reframing the resolution to be more flexible, action-based and focused on the lifestyle change avoids these traps. A 3 week stint of not being able swim because of a hectic schedule isn’t as detrimental if the goal is simply to swim more often. While “swim more” may sound vague, and harder to track, than “swim 30 minutes each week”, it definitely allows for more an open ended pursuit of a healthier lifestyle. At its simplest angle, unless you’re perhaps a competitive swimmer, or signing up for a charity team-triathlon, warranting a dedicated swimming program, any measurable benchmark may be irrelevant. For the average person, the overall goal isn’t to swim every week, it probably isn’t even to swim more, but is really just to be more active, and stay more active for an undetermined amount of time - as long as possible. Focusing your attention on the action, may allow you to forget about the measurable checkboxes and instead make the balanced, diverse and varied adjustments to your life, as you live it.

A summary and example
First, depending on where you’re starting point is, some changes you make to move toward a healthier lifestyle may need to be drastic. Keeping these simple and visibly identifiable helps. Large one-off prompts may help jolt you into action and relieve you of conflicting engagements or taxing bouts of willpower.

Second, it’s important not to go overboard with too many deliberate and quantifiable goals. Life is complicated for most people which mean that meeting rigidly planned commitments can be near, or literally impossible in the complicated juggling that goes on. Feeling like a failure and then giving up, can often make the tactile goal more trouble than it’s worth.

Lastly, focusing on the actions rather than end-results serve to stabilise any changes you make. Even though benchmarks can make progress tracking easier and provide a nice sense of achievement, they can make thinking long-term aspirations difficult and when it comes to adopting healthier practices, the long-term is really all that matters.

In our house, we’re in the process of increasing our intake of quality animal products - namely bone broth and fatty meats. The commitment to going shopping almost every other day in pursuit of fresh, local and wholesomely produced food is a pretty big step and has taken some serious adjustment regarding how we plan our days. Trying to lift weights more is a slight yet high-impact adjustment we’re trying to make. Gym memberships have been paid for, but there’s no strict program or class-commitment. Half an hour, twice a week is the loose goal we’re trying to hit as a minimum standard. Sprinting more is the last health related change we’re hoping to make going forward. The killer Australian heat makes it tough for about half the year, so winter has never been a problem, but 4 or 5 100m dashes once or twice a month on average throughout the year seems reasonable to me. Regularly moving at maximum exertion (for short instances) is incredibly beneficial, and far more time efficient.

That’s as far as it goes for in terms of 2016 health resolutions. Three very simple and deliberate changes to make, but neither is set up as a finish line to succeed or fail at reaching. Again, the act of incorporating these into our lives for the long-term is absolutely more important than to what standard we meet these within the next 12 months. Stopping once success is reached to go back to normal is not success at all. Success is establishing a new normal.

According to my Healthy Forever followers, about 50% of people set health and fitness related New Year's resolutions.

24 December 2015

Is it healthy? Exercise

Here's a witty quip from The Guardian back in 2010, “since the days of the Green Goddess, we've known that the healthiest way to lose weight is through exercise. It's science, isn't it?

Well, science has some bad news for you. More and more research in both the UK and the US is emerging to show that exercise has a negligible impact on weight loss. That tri-weekly commitment to aerobics class? Almost worthless, as far as fitting into your bikini is concerned.”

While it may be outrageous to those spending hundreds of dollars and close to as many hours a month on classes, early wake ups, equipment, workouts and memberships, but at the end of the day, this is excellent news. For those that don't love strenuous, boring, painful or expensive exercise, science is on your side - you don't need to put yourself through torture just to be healthy.

The key to steady, long term health is food by a large margin. As the Guardian points out, there is an astounding amount of research pointing out to the relative insignificance and ineffectiveness exercise has compared to diet when seek health gains. Even further (and better), exercise that is typically more time consuming, boring and taxing on the modern  routine is even less worthwhile and especially if the main goal is weight loss.

Interestingly enough, this is not commonly believed. The unfortunate truth is high strongly the food industry tries to downplay the important of healthy eating as it promotes sugar drinks, carbohydrate-rich cereals, and whatever other chemicals or preservatives behind modern industrial food production. It’s been highly publicised that US First Lady Michelle Obama’s once admirable national healthy campaign was lobbied and negotiated down to emphasising physical activity and undercutting any message toward reducing sugar, processed foods and healthy eating all together. Out of curiosity, I posted a survey on Google+ asking people how important they believe exercise is in relation to food. While the science points to food being the definite key factor, the public believe otherwise. In other words, only about 20% have it right. Exercise is not as important as food when it comes to maintaining long-term health.

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Nutrition (i.e., food) is way more important than exercise
There are many surveys and studies out there that create a clear cross-section of the research around the “diet vs exercise” relationship. “Which is more important - food or exercise?” is a fairly common Google search and the results seem to be definite. Of course both are necessary for good health, but food is way more important. A general rule of thumb seems to be evident where food intake dictates at least 75% of body composition with everything else (not just exercise) making up the rest. When thought about more deeply, the ratio is even less in favour of exercise. Many push this more towards an 80:20 rule. Food is 80%, and the remainder is exercise, plus things like sleep, stress, chemical and environmental exposures,

This 80% is largely influenced by insulin, the master hormone which is the engine behind metabolic and hormone function by transporting nutrients such as cabs, proteins and fats through the bloodstream to cells and organs throughout the body. Insulin response is almost entirely controlled by food intake and especially carbohydrate intake when it comes to weight management. The logic behind this makes sense when examining the numerous studies evaluating the effects of various levels of exercise when nutrition levels are equal across controls. If nutrition is the same, exercise doesn’t change much, but when exercise is the same, different food plans have immense effects.

Casual everyday activity is most of what’s necessary
Life is becoming increasingly sedentary these days. Few would argue against the growing difficulties in finding regular daily time for large chunks of traditional exercise like recreational sports, an hour to jog, or early morning or gym classes every other day. As a response, many take on the “weekend warrior” lifestyle of making up for 5 or 6 days of being seated in front of a computer with 1 or 2 hours of punishment via running or cycling. As much as people would like to think you can make up for a work-week of inactivity with a weekend of torture, most research suggests not just that this is ineffective, but also more harmful than good.

At first glance, walking may not seem to all too important as a form of exercise, but the body benefits most from activity - any activity, if done comfortably as much as possible - much more than prolonged painful exertion interrupted by days of inactivity. Walking intermittently totally up to an hour or two each day is far better than not, but running an hour 3 times a week.

More strenuous workouts can be quick and sparse
When it comes to exercise, frequent, slow and comfortable physical activity, such as walking is absolutely the most important ingredient. However the body also thrives when pushed to extremes. Strength training (Law #4 Lift heavy things) and high intensity workouts (Law #5 Sprint once in awhile) have their place as well and should be done regularly, but not nearly to the frequency most expect. Hitting the weights 5 times a week, each for a different isolated muscle group has it’s benefits to body builders and sculptors, but for those who would rather spend time on other things, a 30 minute set of pushups, pullups, planks and squats (modified for personal ability), once or twice a week is all that’s needed to be healthy and look great.

The effect of sprints or high intensity interval training (HIIT) is also incredibly useful. These extreme instances of distress jolt all of the body’s metabolic processes into high gear. The key is not to prolong them. Hill sprints, cross-ft, spin class and any other type of extreme heart-pumping session should be capped at 15-30 minutes with plenty of rest throughout to keep the body from going into survival mode. Sprint sessions that are too long lose their benefits and tend to risk injury, induce hunger, and deplete energy stores for more than is optimal.  Crafting a balance of these forms of physical activity that fits with personal circumstance is key, but the point still stands regarding which one is first.

For the majority of people that believe strenuous, painful, time consuming, boring and expensive exercise is a necessary evil in the pursuit of long term health, it’s not. For those that believe they have to eat tiny, unsatisfying meals that are pre-planned every 2 hours or risk headaches, starvation and irritability at the severe risk to your own and your co-workers’ well-being, is a necessary evil in the pursuit of long term health it's not. Despite conventional wisdom, while exercise is an important part of healthy living, it’s nowhere near as important as food and is actually insignificant and ineffective when it comes to managing weight.

It may be anecdotal, but many fall into the trap of eating a certain way so that they can workout as hard as they believe they need to in order to be healthy. A sugary bowl of carbs in the morning on the way to a torturous gym session is usually followed by a protein shake and meticulously planned fuel packets to make sure the next workout goes well. If this sounds harder than it should be it’s because it is. Optimal health is not about being able to run the fastest or the furthest. Nor is the person who wakes up an hour before sunrise 5 days a week for a 30km bike ride the epitome of physically fit. If you’re a competitor, or you love it, or a bit of both - then by all means do what makes you happy.

17 December 2015

Is it healthy? Saturated Fat

Western governments, led by the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) has recommended a diet rich in complex carbohydrates and low for decades, peaking with the release of the 1992 USDA Food Pyramid. “The Food Pyramid” which now is the colloquial staple of all assumed nutrition discussion replaced what existed before it - the “Basic Four Food Groups”. The transition from one blanket system to another was the most drastic and detrimental condemnations of dietary fat. As a result of the pyramid, food retailers, producers, families, schools and businesses of all sorts started minimising all types of dietary fat and placed breads, cereals, rice and pasta at the foundation of their eating habits. On top of this, fats, primarily saturated fats in meat and dairy were reviled.
Over 20 years later, the attitude is rightfully turning. The typical belief is that new research is coming in with health scientists discovering the hazards with excessive carbohydrate consumption, and the dangers of a lack in fat intake. Below are two covers from Time Magazine. The first, from 1961, was a feature on Dr. Ansel Keys, who, in the 50s published a University of Minnesota study and concluded that consuming saturated fat found in meat and dairy lead to high cholesterols and this was positively associated with higher incidence of cardiovascular disease (CVD).  

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Time Magazine in 1962 and 2014
The cover on the right ran in 2014. In this issue, Time magazine themed much of the issue to overturning the decades-long anti-fat culture sparked in the 1960s by ending the war on fat. Throughout this ground-breaking retraction, the realisation that the trend toward fat (and off of carbs) isn’t really based on new research at all. Science may be building in recent years due to the increased market perception toward the important of fat in a healthy diet, but the evidence of this is time-tested. In fact, the original Ansel Keys’ paper was actually immediately criticised by health scientists and entirely discredited decades ago. The problem was that the USDA backed it, education embraced it, and it became deeply integrated into normal culture and lifestyle. People had to stop eating butter. Even though it was a wrong decision, the decision was made and once that government-business machine runs it’s incredibly hard to stop. If it’s a lie, then we fight on that lie.

So, saturated is good now? Yes. What this terrible (yet fascinating) blend of science, politics, economics and governance means is that the banishment of butter was less about the science and more about the other three. For neurology (brain health) as much as weight loss if not more so, the benefits of saturated fats in all its forms are immense and here are some of the strongest reasons why.

Saturated fats are an excellent source of energy
It’s a bold statement in the face of widespread conventional wisdom and mass misinformation, but there is no convincing, long-term evidence in evolutionary biology or nutrition science adequately justifying a requirement for dietary carbohydrates in human health. Humans can live on minimal to no carbohydrate intake from prolonged periods and have done so throughout history and this is largely due to fats. As the body becomes attuned to no longer looking to carbohydrates or glucose as it's fuel source, it begins the optimal process of energy utilisation called ketosis. Fat is a more effective fuel source as it's slow burning, and produced within the body itself. Further, there is the added bonus of spreading unwanted, and undesirable flab from the body - something that is made ironically more difficult by high-carbohydrate consumption.

On a carbohydrate-rich diet, the body burns glucose as its main fuel source. While this is most conventionally known to be the main source of energy and thus justifying the advocacy of high-carb, diets with full servings of grains and sugary drinks every 2-3 hours to maintain stable energy levels, this is not at all optimal. Eating food this heavily processed, this often and this regularly was not possible before modern civilisation. If this were truly the path to optimal health and strength, humans would’ve died out long ago because of winter, drought, darkness or anything else related to not being able to have shelf-safe food on hand all the time.

Saturated fats strengthen the brain
Special fats called ketones have been by far the most important fat for brain energy utilisation. This is why a ketogenic diet (high in beta-hydroxybutyrate or eta-HBA) has been a treatment for epilepsy since the early 1920s and is on being reevaluated as a very powerful therapeutic option in the treatment of Parkinson disease, Alzhemier’s disease, ALS, and even autism. It should also be noted that the brain is made up of mostly saturated fats. Cutting back on animal fats, butter, and quality oils like olive and coconut deprive the brain of the raw materials it needs to function, repair and develop optimally.

Saturated fats satiate you
One of the most important, yet underrated aspects of healthy eating is the satiating feeling food gives you. This is the problem diets rich in carbohydrates cause as identified in the ever popular Sweet Poison by David Gillespie. Saturated fats as part of a meal slow down nutrient absorption and energy burning which translates to feeling full for longer. As part of the ketogenic process, once the body becomes accustomed to not longer seeking out quick carbs for quick burning fuel, it looks to the body’s own fat stores for its energy which is more efficient, stable and long-lasting. This is why ancestrally, humans have burned fat as their primary source of energy throughout human evolution, right up until the abrupt establishment of the grain-based agricultural society 10,000 years ago.

Saturated fats make healthy living easier
The most damaging part of conventional wisdom regarding health and nutrition is the widespread belief that exercise is the cornerstone to long-term health and vitality. It’s not. While living an active lifestyle is valuable, with or without deliberate exercises as a part of it, nutrition is absolutely the most important aspect of maintaining good health and saturated fat is a big part of this.

Coconut oil, ghee, olive oil, full fat milk and cream, avocado
Integrating the body’s preferred energy source, brain building properties, and foods that satisfy your taste buds and appetite combine to make life easier. Consuming quality full fat dairy products, olive oil, anything made with coconut and the fatty cuts of meat will transform your body into the “fat burning beast” it's evolved to be. Energy levels are constant and balanced, mental clarity and attitudes are balanced, lucid and alert, and food becomes something to enjoy, rather than a laborious means to an end.

13 December 2015

Historic Paris Agreement - 195 Nations set path to keep global temperature rise well below 2 degrees celsius

News like this epitomise the idea behind my entire approach to live, and the name of this blog.

Source: Climate Council Australia on Google+ - https://plus.google.com/+ClimatecouncilOrgAu

"It is the best outcome we could have hoped for, not just for the Least Developed Countries, but for all citizens of the world." 
Key pointsThe measures in the agreement included: 
- To peak greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible and achieve a balance between sources and sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century 
- To keep global temperature increase "well below" 2C (3.6F) and to pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5C 
- To review progress every five years 
- $100 billion a year in climate finance for developing countries by 2020, with a commitment to further finance in the future.
Source: BBC - http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-35084374

We must remember however that this agreement is just the first step. The success of this pursuit is of course dependent on all federal governments to design policy sophisticated and direct enough to regulate the change that is needed. The deal seems to have allowed flexibility for nations to do so which is important as not only is this agreement legally binding, but resistance from old energy supporters will undoubtedly identify complex problems.

For the full release from the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, click here.