Category Archives: stress

Six reasons to add exercise into your day

Your body was made to move. But because of the hectic pace of 21st century living, many of us don’t fit enough exercise into our day.

Research from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare shows that 56 per cent of us don’t get close to the recommended 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity on most days of the week[i].

If you make time for exercise you’ll benefit not just your body, but your mind, too. Sports and exercise help boost your mood and blast stress. As you know prolonged stress can lead to serious health problems.

Different exercise, different health benefits

Aerobic or cardiovascular exercise helps to protect your heart and lungs, improve endurance and builds your fitness, strength and stamina.

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Strength training (working with weights) will sculpt your body because it builds muscle and burns fat. By the way, ladies, don’t worry that weight training will make you look like a man – you don’t have enough of the muscle building hormone testosterone so weight training will make you look slender – not manly!

If you have a lot to lose or have stiff joints, swimming is a great low impact-exercise. And walking is a great workout too, especially if it’s brisk.  All types of exercise burn kilojoules, helping you manage your weight.  And if you want to lose a few kilos, exercise also helps you to focus your mind on your healthy plans so it’s easier to get to a healthy, happy weight!

Not convinced? Here are six super reasons you should fit exercise into your day! 

  1. Burn those kilojoules

Dieting 101: Consume more kilojoules than you burn and you’ll gain weight. Burn more kilojoules than you consume and you’ll lose the kilos. But whether you want to lose weight or not, exercise is vital to help you get lean and stay that way. Though beware, if you’re exercising to lose weight – the exercise will need to be intensive and prolonged.

Not seeing the results you want? You may not be burning off as much as you think. For example, if you weigh around 60kg and you eat a 50g chocolate bar (1,130 kilojoules) you’ll need to cycle at a moderate pace for 35 minutes or walk for over an hour to burn it off! So, think about what kind of exercise you do and your exercise intensity so you become an active exerciser and not a distracted dieter!

  1. Boost circulation

When you exercise your working muscles produce chemicals, which leave the muscle cells and dilate (widen) tiny capillaries (blood vessels). This makes it easier for blood to reach your body and brain cells, bringing more nourishing oxygen-rich blood to your cells. Another benefit of better circulation is that you’ll nourish your internal organs. So you feel good on the inside – and on the outside, too!

  1. Support the muscles that support your joints

Exercise helps to build strong bones and maintain strength and flexibility. Strength and flexibility is important at every stage of your life but especially as you get older.

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  1. Shape up!

Ever heard that if you build lots of muscle that it will turn to fat if you don’t exercise as much? Not true. Muscle and fat are two completely different tissues so it’s not possible to replace one with the other. But you can build muscle and reduce body fat with weight training and strengthening exercises. Muscle burns more kilojoules than fat because it needs a lot more fuel to simply exist, compared with fat, which is a storage material. Exercising helps your body use up fat stores and gives a sleeker shape. That’s because muscle and fat take up a different amount of space in your body.

  1. Tone up the right places

Everyone has target areas they’d like to tackle. Aerobic exercise blasts fat from all of you, but you can target your problem areas. Fat from around the exercising muscle is used for energy as the muscle grows, enabling you to trim down and firm up trouble areas.

Lifting weights can really help to tone up! Aim for strengthening exercises with weights at least twice per week for up to 30 minutes, to slowly build up your body’s muscle. If you haven’t exercised for some time, speak with your doctor first and get the help of a qualified personal trainer who can help you get your technique, posture and balance right.

Your posture is about the way various parts of your body align in relation to one another. Good posture can help to prevent fatigue, headaches and chronic muscular tension. Perfecting your posture can also help to boost circulation, aid digestion and may help you sleep more soundly.

For good balance, you have to be able to control a number of muscles in order to prevent falls, which may help prevent injuries as you age.

  1. Feel good about you!

Australia’s Black Dog Institute says, ‘Numerous studies have shown that people who exercise regularly experience fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety than those who do not exercise regularly. Several trials have shown that regular exercise of moderate intensity can be an effective treatment by itself for mild-to-moderate depression[ii].’

One of the reasons is that exercise boosts the release of endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers and feel-good chemicals, which helps to boost your mood[iii]. And as regular exercise helps to tone and shape your body, you’ll have another reason to feel good!

So go on, get moving!

This health information is brought to you by the health and wellbeing team at rt health fund.

*The advice provided is for the average adult and should not be interpreted as being applicable to children, the elderly or those with a chronic medical condition necessitating prescribed diets and physical activity regimens.

[i] Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Risk factors to health. http://www.aihw.gov.au/risk-factors/ 

[ii] Black Dog Institute. Diet & exercise – Exercise  – Getting help. http://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/public/gettinghelp/exercise.cfm

[iii] Black Dog Institute. Diet & exercise – Exercise  – Getting help. http://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/public/gettinghelp/exercise.cfm

So what is stress really doing to your body?

It’s a buzzword – one that you hear all the time. But what exactly is stress? Why do you feel it? And what is it doing to your mind and body?

Stress is a whole range of reactions to danger – it’s one of the ways your body protects itself. In the face of ­threat, a range of stress hormones are released. One result of this is the release of glucose, to provide energy for the large muscles that you need to use to fight or take flight. Your heart beats faster and your blood pressure rises to ensure that oxygen and nutrients in your blood can reach every cell in your body. And, the systems that aren’t needed to fight or take flight are turned down a notch or two – such as your digestive system. This is one reason why stress and depression are sometimes linked with digestive problems.

Although your stress hormones play a vital role in keeping you ready to protect yourself – or others – too much of them circulating for too long can trigger physical and emotional problems over time.

And, it doesn’t have to be a major danger that triggers your stress response. It can be anything from a niggling neighbour to a frustrating experience online. If you don’t address your stress, the result can be problems with …

  • Anxiety and depression
  • Memory and concentration
  • Tiredness
  • Headaches, aches and joint pains
  • Digestive problems
  • Heart disease
  • Sleep problems and more.

Hello belly fat!

When stress hormones such as cortisol hang around in your body for long periods and aren’t burned off, changes in your weight can result – particularly weight gain around your middle. Cortisol orders your body to release glucose from cells raising the amount in the blood. And, when there is too much glucose in your blood, your body tries hard to normalise it and return it to within safe levels. One of the ways it does this is via the action of your liver, which converts the excess glucose into fat. Fat that’s processed in the liver tends to be laid down near the liver i.e. around your middle – hello belly fat!

Belly fat is different to the fat on other parts of your body. It is linked with many chronic (long-term) conditions such as heart disease and cancers[i]. Belly fat has four times as many cortisol receptors as other types of fat[ii] which moves fat from areas such as your bottom and thighs (fat in these areas is relatively inactive) and transports it to the belly. Belly fat is much more metabolically active and triggers inflammation. And, since belly fat has more cortisol receptors, your cortisol levels rise and rise and rise.

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Also on the rise …

Your blood pressure jumps every time you feel stressed. And, over time, high blood pressure damages your heart and is a major risk factor for heart disease. You can’t tell whether you have high blood pressure – this is why regular medical check-ups are important. Your GP can check your blood pressure quickly and easily and guide you about what’s needed.

How’s your emotional health?

As well as the effects on your body, high levels of cortisol are potent risk factors for anxiety and depression[iii]. Both can contribute to physical symptoms such as altered sensitivity to pain, tiredness, headaches, poor sleep or excessive sleep. Emotional problems can also trigger digestive problems and vice versa, as there are nerve cells all along your intestines which send signals to your brain in a two-way communication[iv].

So what can you do?

Find out what presses your buttons. Make a stress diary and keep it for two weeks or so. Make a note of what triggers your stress – times, places, people and situations. Then write down how you felt and how you reacted to the stress. Looking back at your stress diary can reveal some interesting insights into your personal stressors.

Then think about how you can reduce your stress. If it’s lack of time, there is no option but to start earlier. If it’s people, think about how you can see less of negative people and more of people who lift you up. And if you can’t do this, try to counter negative comments with positive or neutral ones. Decide what kind of pain you’re willing to bear. For the vast majority of us, it isn’t possible to have it all – at least not at the same time. So consider what you’re willing to give up or reduce. This isn’t a forever decision – review your views periodically to make sure you’re making the right decisions for you at the right time.

Follow Elsa’s lead. Although everyone feels guilt, too much can drag you down. The next time you feel guilty, try to pinpoint exactly why you’re feeling it. Do you need to alter your behaviour? Do you need to apologise? Or, are you making too much of it? Do what you need to do and then try to let it go. Even Disney heroines such as Elsa from Frozen now recognise that they can’t do it all and get it right all of the time – and about the need to let it go. So learn from what happened, try not to do it again and move on. And if you can’t move on, talk to someone who can help you such as a trained psychologist or counsellor. Otherwise, your guilt could fester and interfere with relationships.

Nourish yourself. What you eat, when you eat and how you eat can relieve your stress – and can contribute to it, too. For example, too much alcohol, too much sugar and too much caffeine can all stress your body triggering the release of stress hormones. Try to avoid foods made from white flour – the process of making white flour not only removes the minerals and vitamins, but also the fibre. Fibre is important as it holds onto carbohydrates in foods, releasing energy slowly and in a way the body can control, which won’t stress it. With the fibre removed, glucose is released rapidly into the blood in a way that is difficult for the body to control and adjust to.

For a calmer life, be picky about what you eat and drink. Make meals rich in veggies (five or more servings per day) and try to eat two fruits per day – they’re rich in vitamins, minerals and plant pigments. Plus, the fibre they contain helps to ensure that the energy inside is released slowly. Choose lean meats such as skinless chicken and turkey, opt for fish a few times a week and use pulses (peas, beans and lentils) in your cooking. Pulses are rich in fibre and protein but low in fat and calories. Add them to casseroles, stews, soups and salads. Be careful about how much alcohol you drink, too. This can stress both body and mind and rob you of restful sleep, too. If you’re drinking too much alcohol, do what you need to do to cut down or cut it out altogether. Talk to your GP for help.

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Remember stress isn’t just about your mind – it can have a whole host of physical consequences and in the long-term, trigger serious chronic conditions. So do what you can to beat your stresses today. Your mind and your body will thank you for it. And your friends and family probably will too!

Ravinder Lilly
Ravinder Lilly, Dietitian at rt health fund

 

[i] Harvard Health Publications. Abdominal fat and what to do about it. http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/abdominal-fat-and-what-to-do-about-it

[ii] University of New Mexico. Stress Cortisol Connection. https://www.unm.edu/~lkravitz/Article%20folder/stresscortisol.html

[iii] Mayo Clinic. Chronic stress puts your health at risk. http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress/art-20046037

[iv] Harvard Health Publications. The gut-brain connection. http://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/the-gut-brain-connection

 

Seven better health habits to learn from your kids

As a mum, I know that with age comes education and experience. But on the downside, I think we may also unlearn a thing or two – and it turns out that your kids can be the ones to teach you. For example, it’s natural for children to put their health first without even realising it. So, maybe it’s time for the grown-ups to do the same. Here are seven valuable lessons you may be able to learn from your kids …

  1. Better breathing

Have you ever seen a baby breathe? Noticed the way the diaphragm (the large muscle below the lungs) rises and falls? This is called diaphragmatic breathing, and it’s the natural way to take in a deep breath and oxygenate your body. This kind of breathing expands your lungs and presses down the diaphragm, causing the abdomen to expand as the lungs are filled with air. When stressed or anxious, adults are prone to shallow breathing from the chest, which means that the bottom parts of the lungs don’t fill up, denying the body of vital oxygen.

Whether you’re sitting, standing or lying down, place one hand on your chest and another on your stomach and breathe out, exhaling completely. As you inhale, count slowly to five and the hand on your stomach will rise up. Then exhale, counting down slowly from five until that hand goes down. Though it’s not as easy as it sounds and you may need to practice it, regular abdominal breathing is a great way to keep your stress levels down, as well as slow down your heartbeat and reduce or stabilise your blood pressure[i].

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  1. Ask why?

Take a look at your phone. It’s always undergoing improvements, updates and revisions, and isn’t that a bit like life? It can get pretty hectic and scary for us adults, but for children, new and unfamiliar obstacles are just tasks that need to be learned and mastered. Be curious about the world and ask questions, as not only does this provide a mentally stimulating workout that may help keep conditions such as dementia at bay, but people may also consider you to be a good listener and conversationalist.

Whether you’re eight or 80, you can always learn, so enjoy the journey to discover, develop and grow. When you can, be flexible, open and embrace uncertainty, rather than letting your doubts take over. Take your time to look around, appreciate what you have and talk with others about the weird and wonderful world that’s out there. 

  1. Eat like a kid

No, this doesn’t mean order the chicken nuggets off the kids’ menu! But, do try to keep your portion sizes smaller. That way you can go back for seconds if you’re still hungry. Healthy children usually eat when they are hungry and stop when they are full because they follow their natural body and brain cues and are in tune with their hunger and fullness.

If you grew up being told to eat everything on your plate, even if you were full, don’t let that habit stick – make a conscious effort to stop when you’ve had enough. Making a child eat when they aren’t hungry overrides their natural appetite cues and has links to weight problems later in life. Has this happened to you? Eat smaller, more regular meals packed with veggies to avoid getting over hungry and binging on something you shouldn’t.

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  1. Don’t sit still

Children are always on the move and this is not only a great way to learn, but it also strengthens bones and muscles and burns kilojoules. Unfortunately, it’s not always possible for adults, especially if your job means you have to sit for long periods behind the wheel or in front of a computer terminal. If that’s the case, make sure you get up frequently and stretch.

Getting fit for kids isn’t about slogging it out on a treadmill for an hour, it’s about finding something that they love doing and doing it over and over. After all, exercise shouldn’t be a chore and doesn’t need to be. Love to walk? Visit your nearest national park and enjoy a bush walk. Love to dance? Try out that Zumba class you’ve been meaning to try. You get the picture …

  1. Know when it’s time for some R&R

When was the last time your kids said ‘I want to go home’? Generally speaking, kids know when they are tired and will let you know when they need to rest. So just like them, respect your cues and listen to your body when it tells you it’s tired. Ignoring those natural signals to rest can trigger stress and illness in both your body and mind. Lack of sleep in adults has also been linked with obesity since it triggers the release of the hunger hormone, ghrelin, as well as having links with type 2 diabetes, poor memory and loss of focus.

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  1. Ask for help

When kids need help, they ask for it, whether it’s with their homework or getting something off the top shelf. As we grow up, asking for help becomes a little harder – perhaps because we fear the way we will be perceived by others. Asking for help when you need it may put you out of your comfort zone, but it helps you learn, grow in confidence and get better (whether this is better at a skill or better health wise).

Us adults feel like we need to do everything for ourselves, but there is nothing weak or embarrassing about asking for help. Whether it’s your family, friends, GP or a support hotline, someone is always ready to help you – and you and your family deserve to get that help.

  1. Look on the bright side

Not only are kids naturally inquisitive, but they’re optimistic as well (usually!). Looking on the bright side is linked with less stress and better wellbeing. One study in the American Journal of Cardiology found that people who were more optimistic had higher levels of healthy cholesterol (HDL-cholesterol) and lower levels of triglycerides[ii], which are a type of fat. No wonder they say that laughter is the best medicine!

What are the children in your life teaching you about looking after your health?

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Simone Tregeagle, Chief Operating Officer at rt health fund, with her daughter

 

[i] Harvard Health Publications. Relaxation techniques: Breath control helps quell errant stress response. http://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/relaxation-techniques-breath-control-helps-quell-errant-stress-response
[ii] The American Journal of Cardiology. Relation Between Optimism and Lipids in Midlife. http://www.ajconline.org/article/S0002-9149(13)00388-3/abstract

How fatigue affects both body and mind

Feeling a little less energetic than you’d like? Diet, exercise, emotional health, sleep and work, all contribute …

Fact: Staying awake for 17-19 hours affects your concentration in a similar way to having a blood alcohol content of 0.05%. Staying awake for longer periods is equivalent to a blood alcohol content of 0.1% – you’d definitely be off the road for both![i]

Stress makes you tired and it affects all of your body …

  • Brain – headaches and migraines
  • Lungs – coughs and asthma
  • Mood – anxiety, difficulty concentrating
  • Muscles – tension, pain and nervous ticks
  • Stomach – ulcers, heartburn and indigestion
  • Skin – dryness and rashes
  • General – tiredness and fatigue.

Watch the caffeine

Lots of us use caffeine to kick-start our day, but did you know that it increases alertness for only a short time? If you consume caffeine regularly, it may not boost your alertness as much. And, five or six cups of coffee per day can make you jittery and anxious. Caffeine can also interfere with restful sleep. Try cutting down slowly over a month or so and see if your fatigue reduces.

Nap vs. sleep

A short nap could be just what you need to boost alertness. If you can, get your head down for around 15-20 minutes – but set the alarm because longer periods can increase grogginess and leave you feeling worse.

Diet counts

  • Drink enough water – even mild dehydration can trigger tiredness.[ii]
  • Watch sugary foods and drinks – they cause a rapid rise in blood glucose (sugar) but this is followed by a rapid dip as your body releases insulin to normalise levels. The result is tiredness, irritability and hunger.
  • Opt for wholegrains instead of refined, white flour foods for longer lasting energy.
  • Eat regularly – skipping meals causes blood glucose to dip triggering fatigue.

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Could you be short on iron?

This mineral is a major component of haemoglobin, which carries oxygen to every blood cell. One of the major signs of iron deficiency anaemia is fatigue. Oily fish, pulses, wholegrains and lean meat contain iron. Eating vitamin C rich veggies (tomatoes, capsicum) or fruit (Kiwifruit) increases the amount of iron your body absorbs each time you eat.

Exercise

Being more active actually helps you sleep more restfully, feel better about yourself and along with a healthy diet may help you lose extra kilos. All of these can boost your mood and fight fatigue.

Relax

Meditation, yoga, reading or spending time with friends and family will help boost your energy levels.

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Did you know? Psychological factors are responsible for a massive 50-80% of cases of fatigue[iii]. Professional counselling can help you to work out the issues adding to your anguish. In some cases, fatigue is also the symptom of an underlying medical problem. So, if you feel excessively tired and you’re getting enough rest, speak with your GP.

Ravinder Lilly
Ravinder Lilly, Dietitian at rt health fund

[i] National Center for Biotechnology Information. Moderate sleep deprivation produces impairments in cognitive and motor performance equivalent to legally prescribed levels of alcohol intoxication. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1739867/

[ii] Psychology Today. Fighting Fatigue with Diet. https://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200310/fighting-fatigue-diet

[iii] Better Health Channel. Fatigue fighting tips. https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/fatigue-fighting-tips

Stress busting snacks and supplements for FIFOs and DIDOs

Stock-image-truck-driver-in-truck_xxl-15If you fly in and fly out or drive in and drive out, you’ll know that your job has some pretty specific challenges. Take stress, for example – although it’s a regular part of life for most, the emotional aspects of being away from home and the desire to do your best when you’re working can challenge both mind and body.

What you eat and drink can have a real impact on your wellbeing and may even help to curb stress. So when you’re getting ready to go on your way, what stress busting snacks can you pack?

Ravinder Lilly, Dietitian from Australia’s only dedicated health fund for people who work in the transport and energy industries has these top snack and supplement tips.

  1. Boost your Bs!

B vitamins are essential for healthy nerves and healthy blood and low levels of B vitamins, especially folate (folic acid) and vitamin B12[i] have been linked with low mood. So to get your intake on the go, try Vegemite (reduced salt variety) or Marmite on wholegrain toast or crackers.

  1. Oats are awesome

These ancient grains are a complex carbohydrate and are digested slowly, providing long-term energy. They also trigger your brain to produce the feel-good chemical serotonin. You know that relaxed, soothed feeling you have after enjoying a good meal? That’s partly down to the serotonin. Oats really are an awesome breakfast choice!

  1. Pile on the veggies and fruits

Stock-image-bowl-of-fruit_xxl-15Research suggests that a diet rich in antioxidants may influence positivity. In a recent study, scientists found that people who ate two portions less of fruit and vegetables a day were significantly less optimistic than those who ate three or more[ii]. Opt for bright coloured produce such as oranges, veggie juices and snack on small amounts of dried fruit like apricots, mango or peaches.

  1. Make more of minerals

Low zinc levels have been linked with anxiety and depression and your body can’t hang onto this mineral, so try to get some daily. Cashews and Brazil nuts are great zinc providers, as are pumpkin seeds and canned crab. Try crab on wholegrain crackers as a quick snack. Magnesium is another mineral that you may be short on – your body uses up stores of it in times of stress. Involved in the production of the feel-good chemical serotonin, magnesium may help regulate emotions. Pumpkin seeds are again a great option.

  1. Put fish on your dish

White fish contains some long chain omega-3 fats and oily fish is especially rich in these essential fats. They’re called essential because your body can’t make them for itself. Needed for many functions including helping to moderate your body’s stress response i.e. when stress hormones like adrenalin and cortisol are surging, omega-3 fats may even contribute to helping the heart beat mental stress according to a small US study[iii]. Try canned tuna or salmon – an easy meal on the go!

  1. Pack some probiotics

Ever wondered why when you feel stressed your gut sometimes gets affected? And when your gut is stressed you can feel emotionally frazzled? Recent research shows that we have a complex set of nerve cells along the length of the gut and billions of beneficial bacteria live there – they have many functions and are vital for life.

Taking probiotics have been shown to boost mood – scientists from the UCLA School of Medicine showed that taking supplements could relieve anxiety and stress by decreasing activity in the emotional area of the brain[iv].

As well as probiotic supplements, you can find the good guys in fermented foods like sauerkraut and miso soup (have this tepid and not too hot or you’ll kill the beneficial bacteria). Get a tub of miso paste and just add warm water for a quick snack.

It’s bound to be stressful when you’re working away from home and sticking to a rigid working schedule. But feeding your body and mind with the good stuff can make a positive difference to your outlook. Why choose smarter snacks? Because you and your family deserve it!

Ravinder_1
Ravinder Lilly, Dietitian at rt health fund

[i] Psychology Today. Vitamins: Get Your Bs. https://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200401/vitamins-get-your-bs.

[ii] PubMed. Association between optimism and serum antioxidants in the midlife in the United States study. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23257932.

[iii] American Journal of Physiology – Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology. Fish oil and neurovascular reactivity to mental stress in humans. http://ajpregu.physiology.org/content/304/7/R523.

[iv] UCLA. Changing gut bacteria through diet affects brain function, UCLA study shows. http://newsroom.ucla.edu/releases/changing-gut-bacteria-through-245617.

50 of the best health tips – ever!

2015Ready to improve your life in 2015? Time to kick bad habits to make room for good ones? Here are 50 better health changes that you can really use to boost your health in the coming year and every year to come brought to you by the team at rt health fund!

  1. Get moving! Regular physical activity boosts physical and mental health and fitness. So, sign up for an activity that helps you get fit, active and take on new challenges whether you want a better backhand or to sizzle when you salsa!
  2. Choose positive relationships. Studies show that we tend to mimic the behaviour of those around us. So if you’re surrounded by negativity, chances are you’ll be dragged down, too. So cut the dead wood and choose upbeat, entertaining and happy buddies.
  3. Eat more fibre. Most of us don’t get enough fibre and increasing your intake can boost your energy levels because it slows down the rate at which carbohydrates are digested and released into the blood. The result? Longer-lasting energy for body and mind! Wholegrain cereals, pulses and lentils are fibre-rich.
  4. Do some neurobics. Challenge your brain by doing tasks that activate your brain’s biochemical pathways and bring on new pathways to help to strengthen or preserve brain circuits. Try eating or brushing your teeth left-handed (if you’re right-handed) or work out a new route to a destination – these types of activities can enhance mental agility, keeping your brain sharper for longer.
  5. Get enough sleep. Lack of rest affects your mood, stress levels and appetite. Aim for seven or more hours each night and stick to a regular bedtime routine.
  6. Downsize your portion sizes. Use smaller plates and bowls and opt for tall, skinny glasses instead of round, oversized ones. You’ll consume less without feeling deprived!
  7. Get more of the sunshine vitamin! Around 30-50% of Australians are deficient in vitamin D – important for strong bones, reducing your risk for certain cancers and improving your mood. The best way to boost your vitamin D levels is via sensible sun exposure. Good food sources include fortified margarine and oily fish.
  8. Set goals. Start setting yourself some small, attainable goals. You may come across a hurdle or two, but stay consistent, stay on course and you will reach your goals!
  9. Take some time out for you. Think about things you love to do or just take a moment away from everything to relax and get in touch with yourself. A bit of ‘me time’ might be just the thing you need to de-stress, ease anxiety, be present, find respect for yourself and/or create more energy.
  10. Eat for your eyes. Green leafy veg and orange produce contain protective carotenoids, particularly lutein and zeaxanthin that act like sunscreen inside your eyes. But don’t forget good quality sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat.
  11. Don’t smoke. Smoking is linked with lung and mouth cancers and macular degeneration, a leading cause of blindness. If you’ve tried to quit before and failed, keep trying and you’ll be more likely to succeed. Every time you try, you’re one step closer to success!
  12. Take a break from your computer screen. Watching a screen for too long can trigger eyestrain and blurred vision, headaches and dry eyes. Every 20 minutes, rest your eyes by looking 20 feet (seven metres or so) away for 20 seconds and every two hours, get up and take a 15-minute break.
  13. Drink more water. Water is vital for every cell in your body. It is vital for digestion, regulation of body temperature, heart rate and blood pressure. Urine should be straw coloured – if its darker, you need to drink more water!
  14. Battle dry skin with your diet! Choose foods like avocadoes and salmon, which are rich in healthy unsaturated fats and vitamin E needed for healthy, glowing skin.
  15. Get your health checked out. Don’t dodge the doctor; health checks can actually help prevent ongoing interactions with health professionals. Make an appointment to see your GP soon!
  16. Try something new. Whether it’s learning a new language or a new skill, you’ll challenge yourself whilst boosting self-esteem and you may meet new friends at the same time!
  17. Sharing is caring and has many health benefits. One study by the United Health Group found that 76 per cent of people who volunteered said that it made them feel healthier and 94 per cent said that it improved their mood. Plus, a massive 96 per cent reported that volunteering enriched their sense of purpose.
  18. Don’t be afraid to say no. By saying yes all the time, you’re likely to be doing things that you don’t really want to and over time, this can lead to stress, resentment and the feeling of being overwhelmed. Think about yourself first and if you decide to do what you want to do – at least some of the time.
  19. Drink less alcohol. Drinking less can do great things for your wallet, your waistline, your mood and possibly even your reputation. If you need help, speak with your GP or contact an anonymous support group such as 1300 DRIVER.
  20. Spend more time with family. Your family is important and spending time with them will strengthen bonds and can be heaps of fun. This doesn’t mean you need to connect with family members that stress you out, though. You’re entitled to pick, choose and plan your quality time!
  21. Get in touch again. Reconnecting with friends is great for your health. According to research published in the journal PLoS Medicine in 2010, feeling disconnected can harm your health as much as alcohol abuse and smoking. So, get in touch by phone or social media and follow up with a face-to-face visit!
  22. Be realistic. Life isn’t a Disney movie. Learn to accept its imperfections, bumps and hurdles as part of the journey. But if life is getting you down or if you feel like you can’t cope, speak with your GP.
  23. Aim to cut 100 calories a day. Weight can creep up on you without you knowing it so by axing a hundred calories each day, you could help you lose 5kg by the end of the year. Do this by swapping a cup of sugary cola for a diet version, switching from whole milk to skim milk or eating a medium orange instead of drinking 300ml of orange juice. Little changes can do a lot of good!
  24. Take a moment to take it all in. 21st century living is so fast-paced that it’s easy get stuck thinking about the future or dwelling on the past. Try to make a conscious effort to be aware of your inner and outer world – it’s important for your mental health and your inner peace. Activities like yoga can do wonders for your mind-body health.
  25. Get the help you deserve. Whether this involves speaking with your GP, talking to a support group or asking a friend to babysit so you can have a quiet meal, it’s not selfish to ask for help.
  26. Get the balance right. One of the best things you can do for your health is to eat plenty of veggies and fruits and less processed items. Pile up half of your plate with veggies; add a quarter of a plate of low-fat protein and the rest as wholegrain carbohydrates.
  27. Eat more wholegrain foods. Wholegrain foods are loaded with iron, fibre, vitamins and minerals. Plus, they don’t cause a sharp rise and then a fall in your blood glucose levels, helping you stay fuller – and mentally sharper – for longer compared with processed picks.
  28. Drink fewer fizzy drinks! A normal can of soda contains around 10 teaspoons of sugar, which can contribute to health problems like overweight and related conditions like Type 2 diabetes. The acids and sugars found in soft drinks also break down your enamel causing dental decay and yellow teeth.
  29. Wake up and stretch daily. Babies do it – and so do animals. So if you’ve forgotten the need to stretch after sleeping, relearn it! Stretching boosts circulation and digestion, and eases back pain if you do it right. Try some yoga moves to help harmonise and welcome the new day.
  30. Blast workout boredom. You can really rev up your metabolism by alternating your speed and intensity during aerobic workouts. This not only helps to prevent boredom, it can also help keep you lean and sculpted because by giving your body a jolt, you’ll burn more calories,.
  31. Protect yourself. The sun’s rays can burn, even through thick glass and under water. So, use sunscreen, strap on a hat, wear your sunnies and, if you’ll be swimming for long periods, grab some tinted goggles, too!
  32. Laugh often. Laughter is a great workout and triggers the release of feel-good hormones called endorphins. It also boosts the immune system helping you to feel well and stay well.
  33. Go nuts for nuts. Walnuts are rich in omega-3 fats, which are called essential because your body can’t produce them for itself. These fats cut inflammation in the arteries surrounding your enhancing heart function. Other unsalted nuts provide a wide mix of minerals and protein including Brazil nuts – just one provides your daily selenium needs.
  34. Strengthen your heart. Safely lifting weights boosts your body strength helping to lower body fat and increasing muscle at the same time. Aim for two sessions per week as well as aerobic exercise to boost your healthy HDL-cholesterol and lower harmful LDL-cholesterol.
  35. Walk more. Health experts recommend around 10,000 steps for good health. So check out how many steps you take daily and then aim to increase it by 10% each day until you’re walking 10,000 steps daily. There are also lots of free apps that can track your walking over the day.
  36. Ditch the white stuff! It’s a quick and easy way to lose weight – including belly weight – and boost your overall health. White, processed carbs are often called ‘bad carbs’ because they mess with your blood glucose and affect appetite, mood and focus. So, out with the white bread, rice, pasta, sugar and flour and in with the heavy whole grains and home-cooked fare.
  37. Cook your veggies in just a small amount of water. The delicate water-soluble vitamins C and folate are lost in the cooking water. So cook for the shortest time possible and use the cooking water to make gravy. Steaming and stir-frying are good ways to retain the vitamins in your veggies.
  38. Get on top of your financials. The stress of an unhealthy hip pocket can affect your health and relationships. And long-term stress can bring a range of health problems including depression, digestive and sleep issues, heart disease, weight gain and more! So work on your financial health by talking to a financial advisor, cutting down, tracking your spending and making attainable goals for yourself.
  39. Sit less. Sitting is the new smoking because studies have shown that prolonged sitting increases your risk of developing heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, cancer (bowel and endometrial), obesity and premature death. So this year try to minimise the amount of time you spend sitting; incorporate more physical activity into your day and take breaks from your computer chair, couch or driving seat when you can.
  40. Have digital free days. Spending so much time online nowadays means you can lose touch with the ‘real world’. So go on a digital detox. Put your phone away and close that laptop. Go for a walk, read a book, do some gardening or go to the beach instead.
  41. Take a holiday. Sometimes you just need a good rest, a bit of fun and a chance to get away from the daily grind. Holidays are linked to lowered stress, better sleep and improved relationships. So start saving and plan your next destination!
  42. Work on your posture. Bad posture can lead to back and shoulder pain and is also linked to depression, gastrointestinal disorders, reduced lung function and other health problems. So stretch daily, take up a yoga class and/or visit a physio.
  43. Watch less TV. There are lots of studies that have found a link between watching a lot of television and obesity. Plus, according to a study published in the Journal of Economic Psychology excessive television viewers report “lower life satisfaction … higher material aspirations and anxiety”. So get off that couch, get out and enjoy life!
  44. Work on your communication skills. Communication is so important: it connects us, allows us to convey our thoughts and ideas to others. It can even shape others’ perceptions of us. So learn to listen, work on maintaining eye contact in a conversation, read more to increase your vocabulary and learn work with different groups of people.
  45. Get organised. There’s nothing worse than feeling frustrated and jumbled: it can leave you feeling frazzled, tense or anxious. So this year make an effort to organise yourself – write lists, de-clutter, create a designated spot for all your bills, buy a planner and stick to schedules.
  46. Listen to more music. Listening to music can help relax, uplift and motivate you, ease pain, improve the quality of your sleep, decrease stress, lift your mood and more! So whether you’re relaxing, working or working out, get lost in your favourite tunes.
  47. Donate blood. According to the Australian Red Cross: ‘Only one in 30 people give blood, but one in three people will need it in their lifetime’. Giving blood has many benefits for you; it helps regulate your iron levels and means you get a mini health check every time you donate (you’ll get a quick physical before you go in, and your donation will be tested for various infectious diseases in a lab before it’s considered safe for medical use).
  48. Take your lunch break daily. Make sure you take time during your day (even if it’s for 10 minutes or so) to get away from your workstation. It can help improve your health, and afternoon productivity and interactions with your teammates.
  49. Get more calcium. Calcium builds bone strength drives many metabolic functions including muscle contraction, nerve transmission and the secretion of hormones. Aim for an intake to 1000mg-1300mg per day. Good sources include low-fat dairy foods, almonds, sesame seeds, canned fish like salmon and sardines and soya products.
  50. Meet new people. Remember how we told you that feeling disconnected could harm your health as much as alcohol abuse and smoking? Use you existing friendship group to make new friends, join a club or group where you can meet people with similar interests, talk to new people and find upbeat, positive people that can help you all enjoy time together.

Wishing you a very happy and healthy New Year, this year and every year!

Brought to you from Strategic Business Manager, Rebecca Delahaye and Key Account Managers; Alison Weatherill, David Stock and Cassandra Steen from rt health fund with the very best wishes for good health and happiness now and always!

Seven ways to feel fab and beat the bloat this summer season

Simone Tregeagle is the Chief Operating Officer at rt health fund
Simone Tregeagle is the Chief Operating Officer at rt health fund, one of Australia’s oldest and most trusted not-for-profit funds

According to Nutrition Australia, Aussies will pack on between 0.8-1.5kg over the festive season[i]. It doesn’t sound like much. But the problem is that most of us don’t shift the extra kilos during the year. When you add it all up over the years it’s no wonder Australia has a major weight problem! What with all the festive buffets and bring-a-plate get-togethers, there are plenty of chances to eat and enjoy – perhaps a little too much! So, here are seven ways that you can do both without ending up with a weight hangover when the new year arrives.

  1. Don’t skip brekkie.

A healthy breakfast provides long-lasting energy and helps to prevent you becoming so hungry that you  overindulge at your festive feast. Protein and healthy fat keeps you fuller for longer, so try some peanut butter with wholegrain bread, eggs with tomato and sourdough, or yoghurt with sweet seasonal fruit.

  1. Expect some stress

You might find that the season of good cheer isn’t always that cheerful. In fact, it can be a pretty stressful time of year, and studies show that your emotional state guides your food choices. So, when people are in a good mood, they make  healthier choices while more indulgent foods are more likely to be on the menu if you’re feeling down or stressed. There are lots of things that can help you de-stress, but one size doesn’t fit all. Try exercising (strenuous exercise like fast walking or running and mind-body exercise like yoga and tai chi), eating well and deep breathing. Try to plan ahead and be realistic – stick to a Christmas budget, avoid family conflicts, make time for yourself and create to-do lists.

  1. Choose your mates wisely

Your eating buddies are strong influences and lots of research shows that you tend to mimic the eating and drinking habits of the people you’re with. So, if you want to make healthier choices, stick with people who have healthier attitudes to food and drinks.

  1. Expect to fall off the wagon

With so much food and drink around, you’re bound to overindulge. The trick is to make up for it. So, if you know you’re heading for a family blowout, cut back a little at lunch and do some extra exercise to burn it off. Try to opt for 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise every day . Even if you can’t manage half an hour in one go, opt for three ten-minute mini workouts. Great for your body – and helps to beat stress, too! Don’t forget to check with your GP if you haven’t exercised for a while or if you have a medical condition.

  1. Watch your drinks

Your body was made to expect zero calorie water to quench thirst – not juices, sugary drinks and boozy beverages. So, it can’t clock up the calories in drinks as well as it can when you eat solid foods. A standard drink = 10g alcohol, which is equivalent to: 100ml wine, 30ml spirits or 250ml of beer. But restaurants can serve wine in glasses that are two or three times the standard serve – and when you lose count of the top-ups, it’s difficult to keep a handle on your drinking. So, finish one glass before accepting a top-up, go for low sugar, low-cal options when you can. And, when you’re choosing coffee, opt for low-fat milk and say no to syrupy add-ons (one medium latte can add up to 300 calories – the same as a jam doughnut!).

  1. Fill up at the buffet – but don’t fill out!

Buffets can be a minefield but they can be your friends, too. Opt for masses of low calorie salad and veggies as a first plate (minus the cheesy/oily dressings) and eat slowly. Soup is also a great starter even though it’s summer. It takes a while for your body to ‘sieve out’ the ingredients in soup so your stomach stays fuller. This helps to take the edge off your appetite so you’re less likely to go overboard when you get your next plate.

  1. Downsize your crockery

According to pioneering food psychologist Dr Brian Wansink, subconscious eating habits lead to unnecessary weight gain. He has shown that people eat more food if the food is served on large plates – even if they don’t like the food they’re eating! Plus, people feel just as satisfied and enjoy food just as much if it is served on a smaller plates. So trick your appetite into satisfaction – go for smaller crockery and slimmer glasses!

Good health is what we’re all about at rt health fund and helping you ‘be well, get well, stay well’ is what we want for you today and in the future. Wishing you a Merry Christmas and a very happy 2015!

Simone Tregeagle Chief Operating Officer at rt health fund