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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

 

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Do you know what hepatitis is?

‘Hep’ means liver and ‘itis’ means inflammation of, so hepatitis literally means inflammation of the liver.

Your liver is a large organ – it’s your body’s waste disposal system. It also regulates metabolism, stores iron and vitamins such as folate and B12 and produces proteins and bile, a liquid that’s needed to digest fats. If your liver doesn’t work properly, the result can be serious illness and it can be life-threatening, too.

The causes of hepatitis can be due to chemicals, alcohol, drug use and viruses such as the yellow fever virus and the virus that causes glandular fever.

There are seven forms of hepatitis – some types don’t cause serious health problems but others can result in chronic (long-term problems), scarring of the liver (cirrhosis) and even liver cancer.

Here’s our guide to what you need to know about the different types of hepatitis.

What are the symptoms?

Short-term (acute) hepatitis may not have any symptoms at all and if there are symptoms, they might be pretty non-specific i.e. they can be connected with many conditions. For example, nausea, tiredness, abdominal pain, muscle and joint pain, getting bruised easily, a high temperature (fever) of 38 degrees Celsius, dark coloured urine and light bowel movements are signs of hepatitis.

small image_sore stomach

Long-term (chronic) hepatitis may not have any obvious symptoms, either, until the liver stops working properly and liver failure results. Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes) is also a sign of late stage liver failure. Hepatitis may only be picked up during blood tests.

If you have any persistent or troublesome symptoms that you think could be caused by hepatitis, go and see your GP immediately.

The seven types of hepatitis are:

  1. Hepatitis A

Caused by the hepatitis A virus, this infection is caught by consuming food or drink contaminated with the bowel movements of an infected person. It is most common in countries with poor sanitation. This type of hepatitis usually passes in a few months. But, it can be severe and even life-threatening.

If you’re travelling overseas, book in before your trip to see your GP, who may recommend a vaccination.

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  1. Hepatitis B

Caused by the hepatitis B virus, infection is spread via the blood of an infected person (e.g. through shared injection needles).

Most adults can fight off the infection in two months or so. But infection in children may be long-term and can lead to liver cirrhosis and liver cancer. Treatment may involve antiviral medications. If you are in a high-risk group, for example, if you are a health care worker or you inject drugs – your GP may recommend vaccination.

  1. Hepatitis C

Caused by the hepatitis C virus, this is usually spread via blood-to-blood contact with an infected person (e.g. via shared needles or through poor health care practices). Symptoms of infection may be similar to a bout of flu and many people don’t know that they are infected.

Around one in four people can fight off the infection but most people will develop chronic hepatitis C[i], which can lead to cirrhosis and liver failure. Treatment is usually antiviral medication but currently there is no vaccination.

  1. Hepatitis D

Caused by the hepatitis D virus, this infection only affects people who already have hepatitis B. It is usually spread through blood-to-blood or sexual contact. It is not common in Australia[ii].

Long-term hepatitis D infection can increase the risk of cirrhosis and liver cancer. Although there is no vaccine for hepatitis D, your GP might suggest the hepatitis B vaccine to protect you from getting hepatitis D.

  1. Hepatitis E

Common in developing countries, this type of hepatitis is caused by the hepatitis E virus; infection is usually caught via consuming food and drink contaminated with bowel movements from an infected person. Generally mild and short-lived, the infection doesn’t require any treatment. However, for a small number of people, it can be serious (such as those with a suppressed immune system) and it can become chronic.

There’s no vaccine to protect against hepatitis E but you can reduce your risk by being very careful with food and drinks when travelling to parts of the world with poor sanitation. If you are pregnant, you should not travel to areas where there is a lot of hepatitis E, especially during the last three months of pregnancy.

  1. Alcoholic hepatitis

Caused by excessive alcohol consumption over a number of years, many people who have it don’t know that they do because it usually doesn’t have any symptoms. However, it can be detected by a blood test (liver function test). Your liver can usually recover if you stop drinking alcohol. But if you don’t, the result can be liver failure or liver cancer.

small image_alcohol

  1. Autoimmune hepatitis

Like other autoimmune conditions, autoimmune hepatitis occurs when the cells of the body start attacking itself. Treatment involves medication to stop the attack.  More research needs to be done to find out why it happens and if anything can be done to prevent autoimmune hepatitis.

For more information, contact:

  • Your GP
  • National Hepatitis information line on 1800 437 222
  • DirectLine (for information about where to get clean needles and syringes for drug users) on 1800 888 236
  • Immunise Australia information line on 1800 671 811.
Ravinder Lilly
Ravinder Lilly, Dietitian at rt health fund

 

[i] NHS Choices. Hepatitis. http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Hepatitis/Pages/Introduction.aspx#hep-C

[ii] Hepatitis Australia. Hepatitis D. http://www.hepatitisaustralia.com/hepatitis-d/

Whether training or at a tournament, why a mouthguard’s a must!

Being active is vital for physical health and it’s a whole lot of fun, too. But, whether it’s a kick about with friends or a competitive tournament, playing sports can be tough on your teeth.

We’re talking about chips and fractures to teeth, knocked out teeth, fractures to the jaw and injuries to the soft tissues of the mouth. All of these can be avoided or minimised with the use of a suitable mouthguard.

Even though dentists and sports teachers recommend wearing them, only around one in three Australian children do so[i]. The result? Thousands of people are treated for dental injuries due to a fall or damage resulting from equipment or accidental collisions. About a third of injuries to teeth are sports-related according to the Australian Dental Association (ADA), with children being most often affected – one in two kids experience some kind of dental injury[ii].

A good quality mouthguard is important because it absorbs and spreads the impact of a blow to the face. Some dentists suggest mouthguards are worn for non-contact sport, such as soccer and basketball as well as contact sports such as rugby. And, they’re not just important for game days – wearing a mouthguard during training is important since it helps children get used to wearing one while protecting their teeth.

cricket

So what exactly is a mouthguard? And what kind is the best kind for your kids and why?

Dentist made mouthguards

Custom made to accurately fit your child’s mouth, a dentist made mouthguard offers greater protection compared with off-the-shelf products; they are strongly recommended by the ADA. To make one, your dentist takes an impression of the teeth and a plaster model is made from this. For the perfect fit, the mouthguard should be around 4mm thick, with enough cushioning to protect against impact. The appliance needs to fit snugly but allow the wearer to talk.

A mouthguard is an important investment in your child’s health – if he or she has a dental injury, the pain and distress and the dental and/or hospital costs are likely to cost much more than the cost of a mouthguard.

mouthguard

Over-the-counter mouthguards

These boil-and-bite mouthguards are first placed into hot water before placing in the mouth. When teeth are closed over the material, the resulting impression is the shape and size of the mouth.

These mouthguards are less effective and not as comfortable as a custom made mouthguard since they won’t conform perfectly to an individual’s bite. Although cheaper than custom made mouthguards, the ADA says that over-the-counter mouthguards don’t provide enough protection and they recommend a custom mouthguard fitted by a dental professional.

Caring for your mouthguard

Your dentist will advise you to keep the mouthguard in a plastic container with vents to allow some air to reach it (oral bacteria which can cause plaque hate air and are destroyed by it). Keep it clean by washing it in warm soapy water and rinsing carefully. Antibacterial mouthwash can be used to give it a thorough disinfection. Heat can alter the shape of the mouthguard so try and keep it in a sports bag and don’t allow it to become overheated (which can happen if you keep it in the car between games and training).

Bring the mouthguard along to your six monthly dental visit so your dentist can help to keep it in good condition – or replace it if it has been damaged. And, if your child is still growing, he or she may need a new piece from time to time to accommodate growth – about every 12-18 months or so. If the mouthguard starts to feel uncomfortable, your child’s dentist can advise you.

The bottom line …

If your child is playing sport regularly, it’s important that you get them fitted with a good-quality mouthguard – then make sure that they actually wear it. This will protect their teeth long-term, potentially saving them many painful (and possibly expensive) visits to the dentist.

KS2_5981
Dr Karlien Roper, dentist at rt healthy teeth

[i] Australian Dental Association. About Mouthguards. http://www.mouthguardawareness.info/about-mouthguards.html

[ii] Australian Dental Association. There are easier ways to protect your child’s mouth from sports injury. http://www.ada.org.au/app_cmslib/media/lib/0803/m122630_v1_mouthguard%20poster%20a3.pdf

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.

pulses

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.

woman resting

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

Healthy eats for stronger teeth

A lifetime of healthy smiles starts in childhood. So, as well as brushing twice daily, flossing and visiting the dentist, what you give your kids to eat can dramatically affect their tooth health – and their confidence, too.

A healthy diet isn’t just about limiting the amount of sugar you give them (although cutting down on sugar is better for everyone and has much wider health benefits).

Little tummies need regular feeding and healthy snacks can help to boost your child’s energy. So what are the best snacks to help your child smile?

Cheese and crackers/breadsticks

Hard cheese like Cheddar and soft cheese such as mozzarella are great for teeth because:

  1. They are rich in calcium, which is what teeth are made from. Immediately eating a small cube of cheese after a meal or a snack plugs the tiny holes in the enamel helping protect and build stronger teeth.
  2. The protein in cheese helps neutralise the acids from food and drinks, providing both protective and strengthening effects.
  3. The chewing action encourages the flow of saliva, which is the mouth’s natural cleanser.

cheddar cheese

Fruits – apples, pears, melon and more

Yes, they contain sugar and acids, but fruits are good for the teeth because they contain vitamin C, which helps to strengthen blood vessels that nourish cells with oxygen and food. Vitamin C is also vital for strengthening the connective tissue, which keeps the teeth in place. It also helps to protect gums and other tissues from cell damage and even bacterial infection. This vitamin also has an anti-inflammatory action.

Encourage fruit as part of a meal because the chewing action helps to stimulate saliva, the body’s way to wash food debris away. And offer a glass of water after they eat fruit to help wash away any acids.

Raisins

Dried fruit isn’t usually a tooth friendly snack because the drying process removes water, which concentrates the sugars. Plus the sticky texture means it can cling to the teeth for longer, providing plaque-producing bacteria plenty of time to feast on the sugar and produce acidic waste, which can damage delicate enamel.

We used to think that raisins were much like other dried fruit but recent research shows that raisins are a tooth healthy option.

Like other fruits, raisins contain protective phytochemicals, which are effective antioxidants. One of these found in raisins is called oleanolic (pronounced o-lee-an-o-lic) acid. This seems to reduce the growth of two species of oral bacteria, one that causes cavities (Streptococcus mutans) and one that causes gum disease (Porphyromonas gingivalis)[i].

raisins

Legumes

Peas, beans and lentils also contain antioxidants that help boost the immune system that in turn helps the body fight bacteria and inflammation. Try hummus with strips of pita bread/breadsticks or veggie sticks.

Crisp veggies

Crunchy carrots and celery help to clean teeth, massage gums and freshen breath. They contain a lot of water, which dilutes the effects of the sugars they contain. And, because they need a lot of chewing, crisp veggies stimulate saliva flow (which helps protect against decay by washing away food particles and buffering against acids). Plus, the folate they contain helps to build healthy blood, which delivers vital oxygen and nutrients to every cell.

carrots and celery

Sandwiches

Made with fish, lean meat, hummus, egg or cheese, small sandwiches for tiny tummies are a great choice. Although small children often don’t like the strong taste of fish, canned fish like salmon is a great sandwich filling because it is rich in tooth building calcium. Opt for wholegrain bread because it contains fibre, which requires chewing. Remember children under five don’t need as much fibre as adults so stick with white bread sandwiches for them.

Milk – cow’s milk and soy milk

Cow’s milk is naturally rich in calcium as is soy milk, if it is processed with calcium. Although it’s a tooth friendly drink, always make the last drink of the day water, as milk contains the milk sugar, lactose. If allowed to stay in contact with the teeth for long periods, it provides food for plaque-producing bacteria, increasing the risk of tooth damage.

Pumpkin and sunflower seeds

Both are rich in minerals including zinc and magnesium. Zinc plays a key role in wound healing – including little wounds in the mouth. Plus, they contain magnesium, another mineral which works with calcium to build strong, protective enamel that can resist decay. Lack of magnesium could mean that teeth become softer and more susceptible to cavities.

pumpkin seeds

With all snacks, encourage your kids to wash them down with some water afterwards. Water helps to wash away food debris, stimulate saliva production and most water supplies in Australia have added fluoride to help harden the enamel and protect teeth, too.

Remember, children’s milk teeth are much more delicate than adult teeth – as well as being smaller, the layer of enamel is thinner so small children are especially at risk of decay and damage. And, if baby teeth are removed because of decay, there’s more risk that the adult teeth will grow into abnormal positions.

So help them snack smarter and enjoy a lifetime of healthy smiles!

Ravinder Lilly
Ravinder Lilly, Dietitian at rt health fund

 

[i] WebMD. Raisins May Help Fight Cavities. http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/20050608/raisins-may-help-fight-cavities

 

Eight great ways to make resolutions that rock!

Resolutions. Do you find that soon after you make them that you break them? This year, try our eight knockout tips to help you keep your promises.

  1. Be real

Are you making promises to yourself because you really want to? Or is it because someone wants you to make changes? Try writing down all the potential promises you’re considering. Then, put an ‘I’ on the ones you want to make for yourself and an ‘o’ if someone else is wanting you to make the change. The more ‘I’s’ you have, the more likely you are to stick with your plans. If you have more ‘o’s’ you’re less likely to succeed. So really think about your resolutions and why you’re adding them to your list.

journal

  1. Cut them down

Next, decide on what you really can achieve this year. If there are too many lifestyle changes, it may be too difficult to drastically overhaul your life. So, go for quality not quantity.

  1. Get excited about your outcomes

Being motivated about the new you will help you achieve your goals. Say you want to lose a few kilos. Ask yourself why? What’s your motivation? Want to be healthier? Want to have the stamina to play with your kids? Is it for an exciting holiday or other event? Or, do you want to be slimmer to boost your self-confidence? Write down your reasons in a journal and remind yourself often – say when you wake up and before you go to bed. 

  1. Think about how you want to feel

What words or phrases sum up the eventual outcome of your resolution? Perhaps energetic? Or positive? Or closer to your family and friends? Post your word or phrase on a sticky note and place it where you’ll see it often – on your bathroom mirror, in the car, on the fridge or at your desk. If you want to go a step further, find some pictures that reflect your chosen mood to remind you of your commitment to yourself.

  1. Get planning

Next, make a plan to work out the practical ways that you’re going to reach your goals. So for example, it’s not enough to say ‘I’ll lose some weight.’ Instead, if you want to lose 10kg, break up your major goal into 10 smaller goals. So, perhaps losing a kilo per week could be your smaller goal, which will mean you will reach your major goal of losing 10kg by March. You choose what will work for you!

  1. Turn your plans into actions

Next comes strategy. Perhaps wake up 40 minutes early and walk Monday, Wednesday and Friday for 30 minutes. Committing to suitable days is much more likely to help you succeed than just saying ‘I’ll exercise more’.

  1. Be surrounded by support

Ever heard the phrase ‘misery likes company’? If you hang around people who are negative and are themselves unhealthy, it’s OK to see less of them. Because surrounding yourself with positive people rubs off. Even better, enlist the help and support of a special person. Share your resolutions with each other and you’re more likely to both achieve your goals, too. Your mate or mates will lift you up, keep you accountable, celebrate your achievements and share the inevitable bumps in the road. Are you really committed? Share your intentions on social media and see how much support you’ll get from loved ones.

friends at lake

  1. Do something good

If you have better health goals in your New Year’s resolutions, think about doing it for charity. It will help to spur you on if you know that you’re making changes not just for you, but for a good cause, too.

And remember …

Changes don’t happen overnight and habits can take a while to make – and to break, too. So be kind to yourself and know that you will experience slip ups along the way. Remember that the small daily actions that you make each day will bring bigger and more positive changes. Consistency is key and momentum creates momentum so stay with it and soon, you’ll see your small steps create big results. Acknowledge your successes and allow yourself to feel good about each one. You made the change. You achieved part of your bigger plan.

Here are some resolutions that our partners are going to make to ensure that 2016 is the best year yet!

‘My New Year’s resolution is to look after myself better. I will lose weight, eat healthier and start being more active. I will buy healthier foods for myself in the weekly grocery shop, cut back on fast food and bring a healthy lunch from home to work. I’m going to try and attend a gym in the city before work and hopefully, start and end each day with a healthier and happier me!’

Glenn Feige QHSSE Manager, Australia, Kayden Industries (Australia) Pty Ltd

‘I think that laughing more is the best health advice! Actually, it has helped me think more about how I can make the kind of conscious decisions I need to make to look after my mental health. Exercising daily, eating well and looking after body health is important. But I know that it is vital to look after my mental health better, too.’

Jenny Fellows, Fellows Bulk Transport

‘My promise for 2016 is to relax more and smell the roses – after all, life’s too short! I’ll be going for short breaks, enjoying my surroundings and loving life!’

Tracie Dickenson, Owner/Director, Daryl Dickenson Transport

‘My resolutions are four fold, I will: 1. Be impeccable with my words, 2. Not take anything personally, 3. Not make assumptions and 4. Do the best I can!’

Annie Humphries, PA to State Secretary, RTBU Qld

Wishing you a very happy, healthy and super successful New Year – this year and every year.

KS2_5844!
Ravinder Lilly, Dietitian at rt health fund

Nine ways to naturally reduce your blood pressure

Think high blood pressure only affects older people? Think again because research suggests that it can affect people in their 20s. And it’s a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke – still the major causes of death in Australia.

Even younger people who have blood pressure readings in the upper range of normal (between 120/80 and 140/90) can be affected by a heart issue later on in middle age, according to researchers writing in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology[i].

And, because it is often a silent condition, you may not know you have hypertension unless you have your blood pressure checked.

1. Lose a few

Your blood pressure rises as your weight does because being too heavy makes your heart work harder – the strain can lead to hypertension. Losing just a few kg can make a big difference if you’re overweight. Speak with your GP for more advice.

2. Get moving

Your heart is a muscle and exercise strengthens it – it can help your heart pump more blood with less effort. If you have slight high blood pressure, exercise can help you avoid full-blown hypertension. And if you have already been diagnosed, regular exercise can help you reduce your blood pressure to safer levels. Aim for half an hour or more on most days of the week and try to be consistent otherwise you’ll lose the benefits.

3. Slash salt

Salt draws in fluid, raising the volume and pressure of blood in your arteries. Most salt in the average person’s diet comes from processed foods so cooking more from scratch will have a dramatic salt lowering effect, especially if you eat out a lot or you’re a fast food fan. Add flavour with fresh herbs, citrus, chilli, garlic and balsamic vinegar.

4. Eat more veggies

These pack a protective nutrient punch – they’re high in fibre and low in kilojoules. Veggies and fruits also contain potassium, which can reduce the blood pressure raising effects of sodium (salt). Pulses, fish, shellfish, nuts and seeds are also rich in potassium.

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5. Stub out the habit

The nicotine in tobacco constricts blood vessels and triggers the production of adrenaline, making your heart beat faster and your heart work harder. See your GP for more information on quitting smoking.

6. Limit alcohol

Drinking too much alcohol can raise blood pressure and reduce the effectiveness of blood pressure medications. Stick to the recommended daily maximum of two standard alcoholic drinks.

7. Ask if you snore

Constant snoring can be a symptom of obstructive sleep apnoea (where you stop breathing while you’re asleep). It’s associated with hypertension because your body could be suddenly jolted awake due to lack of oxygen. The sudden burst of adrenaline causes a surge in blood pressure. Not smoking, losing weight and decreasing or stopping your alcohol intake may help you stop snoring. Talk to your GP for individual advice.

8. Watch the caffeine

Caffeine is a stimulant and consuming too much may increase blood pressure, tightening blood vessels and intensifying the effects of stress. Stick to a daily maximum of 400mg or less (around four cups of coffee).

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9. Find some downtime

Working is a must for most of us but working very long hours may mean you don’t have the time or energy to exercise, relax and eat well. Try to find time – balancing work and life are essential for a healthier future.

Click here to download our infographic on heart health.

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Ravinder Lilly, Dietitian at rt health fund

[i] Reuters. Elevated blood pressure in early adult years tied to heart issues later. http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/06/26/us-blood-pressure-heart-failure-idUSKBN0P62D520150626#K53630RyQ8YxTkHK.97

Best vending machine snacks

vending machine_blogYou’ve been there before – dreaming of a snack to tide you over until your next meal. But there’s nowhere to turn except a row of vending machines. So what can you do to curb your hunger without overdoing the kilojoules, fat, salt and more? And, can your choice of machine cuisine ever be healthy?

Vending machine snacks don’t have the best reputation – they’re often processed to the max and loaded with additives. This is to make sure that the food lasts and doesn’t spoil. So, if the vending machine is often your only option, smarter choices can mean a lot to your health.

Pick peanuts …

Or almonds, or cashews. Although they’re rich in kilojoules thanks to the mono-unsaturated (healthy) fats they contain, all nuts are also rich in protein and fibre, so they can be really satisfying, too. Protein acts like a chemical appetite suppressant, signalling from your stomach to your brain that you’ve eaten. Don’t forget to drink plenty of water, which the fibre absorbs to help you feel physically fuller. Remember, salted snacks can contribute to higher blood pressure so unsalted are your best option.

Pepita perfectionpumpkin seed

Packed full of protein these little gems are full of minerals such as magnesium, which most people don’t get enough of. Twitches are a sign that you might benefit from more magnesium and this major mineral is lost from your body during times of stress. Popping some pepitas (pumpkin seeds) may even help to boost your feeling of calmness since magnesium helps to relax your muscles. Pepitas also provide zinc, iron and vitamin E plus they contain a plant sterol (phytosterols), which binds to cholesterol helping to lower it.

Trail Mix

When it comes to trail mix, not all are equal. Opt for the kinds that contain unsalted nuts and dried fruit combinations for a sweet/savoury hit. Nuts, again, provide protein and fibre, which will keep you feeling fuller for longer. The dried fruit will provide you with vitamins and minerals. Steer clear of mixes made up of cereal, chocolate and other sugary treats.

Chocolate covered raisins vs. banana chips?

Surprised to learn that the choc option is a better one? Despite the sugary chocolate, raisins provide iron compared with the saintly sounding banana chips which are actually deep fried and sugared. Chocolate raisins are an even better option than yoghurt covered raisins – which pack a much heavier fat punch.

Baked wholegrain potato chips

You can now get wholegrain versions of chips marketed as healthier alternatives to potato chips. They use better oil, contain more fibre and less salt. But, they are still dense in kilojoules and easy to overdo. So enjoy occasionally but always opt for small packs to help prevent mindless eating.

Wholegrain cereal bars

Although some options can contain more fat and sugar than a doughnut, some varieties are much better. Look at the label to make sure your bar of choice contains whole grains, and that sugar (anything ending in ‘ose’ as well as sugar, malt and honey) comes much lower down in the order of ingredients. Look for packs that are portion-sized and usually under 870 kilojoules (around 200 calories) per bar. Look for bars that contain some form of whole grain, like oats or flax, and nuts, to provide a healthy hit of fibre and protein.

Air popped popcorn

As well as packing a fibre punch, popcorn is a wholegrain that is low in kilojoules and great if you sometimes just want to chew and chew and chew. Go for air-popped varieties and avoid the sweetened, buttered products.

Go with the least altered

Try and opt for products that are as much like the original food as possible. So for example, you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to know that after fresh apple, dried apple comes a close second and apples squished with other fruits are healthier than apple puree or apple cake. So, make the best choice out of the options you have.

Ravinder_1
Ravinder Lilly, Dietitian at rt health fund

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.

Have your eyes tested – it could save your sight!

When was the last time you had your eyes checked? If you have to think hard about when your last eye appointment was, chances are that it’s been too long.

This week is Macular Degeneration Awareness Week and it’s a timely reminder to organise a simple eye check – it could go a long way to helping preserve your sight!

Here are eight questions and answers about how protecting your macula (the tiny area in your eyes) could protect your vision.

  1. What is Macular Degeneration (MD)?

MD is the leading cause of blindness and severe vision loss in people over 40 in Australia[i]. A group of degenerative Stock-image-elderly-couple_xxl-15diseases, MD causes progressive, painless loss of central vision. Although there is no cure for MD, a number of treatments can slow its progression. The earlier MD is detected, the better the outcome as far as your vision is concerned.

  1. So what exactly is the macula?

The macula is the central light sensitive tissues of the retina. Located at the back of the eye, it contains the highest density of light detecting cells and the area is responsible for central vision (rather than peripheral vision).

  1. What does it do?

The macula processes vision in the centre of your eyes enabling you to recognise people, see colours and allows you to carry out the kind of fine image sight you need to carry out processes like driving.

  1. Who’s affected by MD?

About one million Australians are affected by MD[ii], that’s around one in seven Aussies over age 50[iii]. Macular Disease Foundation Australia Chief Executive, Julie Heraghty, says that regular testing is vital stressing that without appropriate prevention and treatment, the number of people affected will rise to 1.7 million by 2030 as our population gets older[iv]. Surprisingly, although 85 per cent of Australians over 50 know that macular degeneration affects the eyes, one in four hadn’t had their eyes/macula checked within the last two years, reports Ms Heraghty.

  1. Should I see my optometrist?

All Australians over 50 should see their optometrist for a full eye check as should people who smoke and those with a family history of the disease. Your optometrist will complete a thorough eye check and may advise more frequent visits.

  1. What are the symptoms?

You can’t easily self-diagnose eye problems related to early MD. But, it’s extra important to see your optometrist if you have any of these four Ds:

  • Difficulty reading or with other activities that require fine vision
  • Distortion – where straight lines look wavy or bent
  • Distinguishing faces is becoming a problem
  • Dark patches or empty spaces appear in the centre of your vision.
  1. Stock-image-breaking-cigaretteWhat about lifestyle habits? Smokers are particularly susceptible to MD. That’s because chemicals in tobacco affect the metabolism of the retina triggering faster or premature ageing of the eye. If you smoke, you risk gradually losing your central vision, which could eventually lead to blindness. Your GP can provide you with effective techniques to quit smoking.
  1. What about diet?

As well as regular eye checks, a healthy diet and lifestyle can help to reduce the chance of developing MD …

  • Go green

Most days, try to eat some form of leafy greens – such as spinach, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and Chinese greens. They contain two key eye-protecting antioxidants called lutein (loo-teen) and zeaxanthin (zee-a-zan-thin), which are concentrated in your macula. Go for around a cup of leafy veggies daily. Try stir-frying with a little extra virgin olive oil to help your body to absorb these nutrients more effectively.

  • Nibble nuts and seeds

Nuts and seeds contain vitamin E and zinc, key antioxidant protectors of your eyes. Go for a mixed handful of almonds, Brazil nuts and pumpkin seeds. Flax and chia seeds are good options as they contain omega-3 fats, which lubricate cells and decrease inflammation.

  • Make fish your dish

Around twice a week, try to opt for fish. Oily fish like salmon, fresh tuna and sardines contain essential omega-3 fats. They’re called essential as your body can’t make them for itself and you have to get them from your diet.

  • Fresh fruits and veggies

The bright colours of fruit signify that they are loaded with antioxidant pigments as well as vitamin C, both of which help to iStock_000025526734_Double-(1)protect all your body cells from oxidative stress. Oxidative stress can lead to long-term problems like inflammation, which in turn damages body cells.

  • Go low GI

Processed white foods like white bread, pasta, flour and rice can raise your blood glucose before causing it to dip. Eating too many white carbohydrate foods is associated with an increased risk of macular degeneration. So go wholegrain when you can.

On top of all these, protect your eyes from the sun’s rays, come in and get your eyes tested regularly and help protect your vision.

For more information about macular degeneration call the Macular Disease Foundation Australia on 1800 111 709 or visit www.mdfoundation.com.au.

Due for a check-up? Book an eye test with our qualified optometrists at rt healthy eyes today. We’re open to – and we welcome – everyone!

Call rt healthy eyes Surry Hills: 1300 991 044

Call rt healthy eyes Charlestown: 1300 782 571

Ravinder Lilly-edited
Ravinder Lilly, Dietitian at rt health fund

[i] http://www.visionaustralia.org/eye-health/eye-conditions/age-related-macular-degeneration

[ii] http://www.mdfoundation.com.au/mdfreport.aspx

[iii] http://www.mdfoundation.com.au/resources/12/MDFA_Annual_Report_web_2012_13.pdf

[iv] http://www.mdfoundation.com.au/page12204136.aspx