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Taking the Lifestyle Approach

Could your lifestyle be ruining your health? When it comes to health, making lifestyle changes is the new black. 

body_head_banner_running1Think back to your younger days when you could eat whatever you liked without putting on weight or having to use exercise to compensate for the extra kilojoules. You’d party with friends into the earlier hours of the morning, skip sleep and head exhausted to your part-time job. You filled up on fatty hangover food and after work had an afternoon nap so you could work to the early hours of the morning completing your uni assignment that was due Monday. You knew that you were burning the candle at both ends but your body didn’t seem to be showing any signs of letting you down. If you did start to feel tired, you’d just fuel yourself with extra-large coffees or energy drinks and the caffeine would see you through. Fast forward a few years or more and now your past and current lifestyle habits are starting to take their toll. Maintaining your weight is becoming harder, you can’t function anymore without a good night sleep, your energy levels have plummeted, your joints are beginning to ache and your yearly health checkup isn’t as positive as it use to be with high levels of cholesterol and glucose in your blood. Too often we’ve used medicine as a way of curing our poor health once we have already arrived there, but with the rates of chronic disease such as heart disease and diabetes on the rise, it’s time to look at prevention instead of cure (also known as lifestyle medicine). So, just want are the changes we can make to our lifestyle today to help improve our health in the long run?

What is lifestyle medicine?

Lifestyle medicine is when environmental, behavioural, medical and motivational principles are used to manage lifestyle-related health problems in a clinical setting. It treats lifestyle causes such as diet, lifestyle, sleep and stress, and is used in conjunction with conventional clinical practice. In lifestyle medicine the responsibility falls mostly on the individual instead of the clinician and emphasis is placed on motivation and compliance, while environmental influences are considered when lifestyle changes are made. Changing lifestyle behaviours is a core focus when it comes to improving health because many are linked to the development of chronic disease, and many are closely linked in vicious cycles. Think about, when you don’t get enough sleep you feel tired, the fatigue then stops you from exercising, and then you make poor food choices or overeat. These choices then lead to weight gain or exacerbate weight problems and depression. The underlying cause of chronic disease may be the low-grade systemic inflammation (meta-inflammation), and by tackling this inflammation through positive lifestyle changes we can improve our health.

What’s the issue with inflammation?

Most of the time, inflammation is a way of protecting our health. When invading bacteria are present in the body, your immune system releases molecules to launch the inflammatory cascade. This reaction from the immune system involves many proteins that work to kill the invaders, leaving a feeling or redness and warmth at the site of invasion as it start to heal. Chronic inflammation however, harms rather than heals because the immune system never stops attacking. Instead it acts like a slow-burning fire, continuing to stimulate pro-inflammatory immune cells when they are not needed. These excess immune cells circulate in our systems and start to damage healthy systems such as the linings of blood vessels, pancreatic tissues (as in diabetes), joint tissue (think arthritis), and gut mucosa (as in lactose and gluten intolerance).

Indicators of chronic inflammation include:

  • A large waistline (above 80cm for a female and above 94cm for a male);
  • High triglycerides;
  • Low levels of “good” HDL cholesterol;
  • High blood pressure; and/or
  • High fasting blood glucose levels.

Tackling Inflammation

Many things in our lifestyle and environment are stimulants that cause either pro-inflammatory (unhealthy) or ant-inflammatory (healthy) effects in the body. For the best health, you need to reduce the amount of pro-inflammatory stimulants and increase the amount of anti-inflammatory stimulants in your lifestyle. According to the Australian Lifestyle Medication Association, the pro- and anti-inflammatory stimulants include the following:

Pro-inflammatory

Anti-inflammatory

– Drug use

– Excessive exercise

– Inactivity / low cardiovascular fitness / sarcopenia (loss of muscle mass)

– Excessive alcohol consumption

– Excessive energy intake

– Western-style diet / Fast food

– Fat including high fat, saturated fat, trans fat and ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fats

– Fructose

– High glycemic index foods / Glycemic load

– Refined carbohydrates

– Salt

– Obesity / weight gain

– Sleep deprivation

– Smoking

– Stress including anxiety, burnout and depression

– Excessive Ultra-Violet light

– Vitamin D deficiency due to inadequate UV light

– Unhealthy lifestyle

– Air pollution

– Low humidity

– Sick building syndrome

– Cardiovascular fitness

– Adequate exercise & physical activity

– Yoga

– Resistance training

– Extensive lifestyle change

– Moderate alcohol consumption

– Antioxidants

– Cocoa / dark chocolate

– Dairy calcium

– Restricted energy intake

– Monounsaturated fat

– High omega-3 fat to omega-6 fat ratio

– Fish

– High fibre intake

– Fruit and vegetables

– Garlic

– Herbs and spices

– Lean game meats

– Low GI foods

– Mediterranean / Portfolio / Healthy Diet

– Nuts

–  Soy protein

– Tea

– Vinegar

– Smoking cessation

– Weight loss

 

Is your lifestyle more pro- or anti-inflammatory?

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