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Experts share simple habits for a healthy year

31 December 2015   |   3:54 am
Want to live a long and healthy life? Who doesn't? You have more chance of achieving it than before, says Dr. David Agus, one of the world's leading cancer doctors.

Dr. David Agus

You may or may not have drawn some new year resolutions just yet. Either way, there are some quirky but effective habits you won’t do without if healthy 2016 is top on your wish list. WOLE OYEBADE (with agency reports), highlights the magical health effect of simple habits like avoiding processed food additives, more of cuddling and sharing, less of vitamins and getting upset and so on.
Want to live a long and healthy life? Who doesn’t? You have more chance of achieving it than before, says Dr. David Agus, one of the world’s leading cancer doctors.

The professor of medicine at the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine and heads USC’s Westside Cancer Centre, said we are entering a medical era where diseases once thought lethal are becoming treatable and every detail of our health can be checked and monitored.
“I call these the lucky years – soon we will have access to information and technology that will transform the outlook for our well being,” he said.
“Yet I worry many people will not survive to benefit from this medical revolution because too many have ingrained habits that sabotage their health.
“More than 40 per cent of the actions we perform each day, from what we eat and how we exercise, are due to habit rather than conscious decisions,” Agus said.

So, how should you be living? Here, Agus shares some of the most vital new secrets of how to future-proof your body:
Avoid processed food additives
“The bacteria in our bodies outnumber our cells by ten times. Collectively, they are called our microbiome and it turns out to have a sweeping say in whether we live robustly to a ripe old age.
“The science of understanding the microbiome is still in its infancy, but I expect it to explode in the coming decade. Already, scientists have identified a ‘diabetes fingerprint’ of gut bacteria that correlates with the disease.
“In the near future we will learn how we can adjust the microbiome to prevent and treat a variety of chronic illnesses simply by tweaking our diet,” he said.

A study by Georgia State University scientists in the journal Nature this year warned emulsifiers seem to have particularly damaging effects on our microbiome.
Emulsifiers are blending agents in foods with unmixable ingredients such as oil and water, and are found in processed foods such as ice cream, salad dressings and cream cheese.

Look on labels for carrageenan, polysorbate-80, polyglycerols, guar gum, locust bean gum, carboxymethylcellulose and xanthan gum.
“When Georgia State investigators fed emulsifiers to healthy mice, they developed intestinal inflammation and a metabolic disorder that caused them to eat more.
“They became obese, their blood sugars rose to unhealthy levels and they became resistant to insulin and at severe risk of diabetes.
“Emulsifiers appear to disrupt the protective layer of mucous that protects the intestinal tract.
“As a result, gut bacteria can cause inflammation as the body reacts to the bacteria being in the wrong place. The inflammation interferes with systems that regulate appetite and fullness.”

Dietitian for the Philadelphia Phillies and Flyers, Katie Cavuto, added the need to cut down on the amount of trash you produce from food boxes, bags, plastic bottles and take-out containers.
“This simple act will not only decrease waste but it will also help you clean up your diet. You’ll start planning more, eating more real foods, ordering less take-out and spending more time in the kitchen! You will get healthy, decrease your carbon footprint and save money in the process.”

If you want to optimise your immune defences, hugging could be key.
Like a magic wand, Agus said, human touch has the power to change our heart rate, lower blood pressure and cortisol levels, spark the release of feel-good chemicals in the brain and stimulate the hippocampus – the area that regulates memory.

In 2014, researchers from the universities of Virginia and Pittsburgh monitored more than 400 adults over two weeks, asking them about their daily hug counts and social interactions.

Then the people were sent to rooms on an isolated hotel floor where they were exposed to a common cold virus.
About three-quarters became infected and a third showed obvious signs of illness. But those who had the most loving social interactions sailed through the infection with fewer symptoms. Researchers said social support, in particular, hugging and touching, reduced symptoms by 32 per cent. So keep cuddling.
Cut back on vitamins.

Sir William Osler, a 19th-century Canadian physician, fondly known as the father of modern medicine, once said: ‘The person who takes medicine must recover twice, once from the disease and once from the medicine.’
“Take an inventory of your medications and the conditions for which they were prescribed. Include over-the-counter drugs, vitamins and supplements you take, and why you take them.
“You may find you can’t fully answer ‘why’. This may inspire you to taper off certain medications or find alternative ways to manage your condition that are better for you and your body.
“Before you stop taking any prescribed drugs, though, you should consult your General Practitioner (GP).

Don’t underestimate over-the-counter medications – many of which were once only available on prescription. Popular non-steroidal anti-inflammatory painkillers (NSAIDs), for example, can increase risk of heart attack and stroke with regular use – even within a few weeks.

In July, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration told drug makers to strengthen warnings about this on packaging.
Avoid friends who upset up.
It’s a cliche, but it’s true: a positive outlook is key to health.
And if people were more attuned to their changing moods and behavioural triggers, would so many take powerful mind-altering medications to regulate their moods? I think not.

Tracking changing daily moods can help you to better understand why symptoms occur when they do – such as being moody when talking to certain people – and avoid things that trigger low mood.
It can reveal whether drugs or therapy work.
Online mood trackers and apps are available, but you can do it the old-fashioned way with intuition – tracking your mood throughout the day and taking note of it. You can then alter your habits to avoid low mood triggers.
Throw out your alarm clock.

With our 24-7 access to media, online retail, artificial light and our urge to check phones and emails constantly, many of us suffer from a lack of sleep.

Yet sleep directs many of your body’s physiological rhythms.
One of sleep’s most important roles involves helping the brain to set our hormonal balance.
This includes hormones that control appetite, help us manage stress, heal and fight infections, rekindle our fat-burning systems and renew skin and bones.

Sleep-replenished hormones can lower our risk of heart disease and stroke, sharpen planning and memory skills, improve concentration, regenerate the heart, liver, lungs and kidneys, and rejuvenate organs and tissues.
Side-effects of poor sleep habits include hypertension, confusion, memory loss, an inability to learn new things, obesity, cardiovascular disease and depression.

It only takes two weeks to figure out your optimal amount of sleep.
Don’t use an alarm clock. Go to bed when you get tired. Stop using electronic devices beforehand, because the light they emit can suppress the body’s production of the sleep hormone melatonin.

Track your sleep with a diary or an electronic device. If you feel refreshed and awake during the day, you’ve probably found your optimal sleep time.
The challenge is then to alter your habits to allow yourself to get that much sleep.
“Make a resolution to get eight hours of sleep every night. Sleep deprivation causes ghrelin, the hunger stimulating hormone to go into overdrive while simultaneously reducing levels of leptin, the hormone that suppresses appetite. In short: When you’re tired your hormones work against you, stimulating hunger even when you’re full which can lead to overeating and weight gain,” says Jim White, personal trainer and registered dietitian.
Walk daily for longer life.

Having a good proportion of muscle in your body is arguably as fundamental to health as food and sleep. 450 minutes’ exercise is the optimum weekly amount for a long life. This is a little more than an hour a day
Studies associate muscular strength with wide-ranging health benefits, such as lower blood pressure, lower diabetes risk and better cholesterol levels.

Higher levels of muscle mass are associated with lower levels of chronic inflammation in the body.
Such inflammation can significantly raise the risk of heart disease and cancer. Multiple studies show the lower the muscle mass, the longer it takes to recuperate from illness.
Losing strength as you age isn’t inevitable. A Pittsburgh University study in 2011 of recreational athletes aged 40 to 81 found muscle mass declines often from disuse, rather than muscle ageing.

Two large-scale studies in JAMA Internal Medicine suggest 450 minutes’ exercise is the optimum weekly amount for a long life. This is a little more than an hour a day. And it need not be strenuous – walking counts.
The studies, involving 660,000 people, found this reduced the exercisers’ risk of dying early by about a third, compared with people who didn’t exercise.

Experts are also unanimous on the health benefits of the following:
Drink more water. Your body is 90 percent water and needs water for almost every function. Many of the aches and pains, headaches, and other symptoms we experience would lessen if we just drank more water.
Eat two or three pieces or servings of fruit (count ½ cup of fruit like grapes, blueberries, cherries, etc. as a serving). Brilliantly-colored fruit is packed with disease-fighting phytonutrients like proanthocyanins that protect against brain diseases and quercetin which helps alleviate allergies and breathing problems.

Eat a large salad. I’m frequently told by someone who is making excuses for his/her bad diet that eating healthy is expensive. Nonsense. Some of the best superfoods are cheap and readily available in the form of salad greens. They are packed with vitamins, minerals, chlorophyll (gives plants their green color and boosts our blood health), enzymes (that improve digestion and increase energy), and many phytonutrients.

Meditate. Just taking some time out to clear your thoughts and unplugging from technology and people can help you feel more balanced and peaceful.
“In 2016, make a commitment to meditate daily for ten minutes,” says Dana James CDN, a nutritionist from Food Coach NYC.
“The practice can help make you calmer and less emotionally reactive which, in turn, can help you lose weight. A 2014 study found that individuals who meditate are less apt to have bouts of emotional or binge eating.
“In another study, individuals that meditated lost more weight (and kept it off) than their counterparts who didn’t take time to relax. Remember, a thought should always precede a bite of food. Train the mind to change what you eat,” James said.

Deep breathe for at least five minutes, as often as you can. Research shows that deep breathing, even for minutes, can reduce stress hormone levels. That translates into less anxiety, better sleep, and less likelihood to pack on the pounds.

Snack between meals on healthy snacks like almonds, veggie crudite, hummus and whole grain pitas. Not only will you stabilize your moods, you’ll balance your weight thanks to regulated blood sugar levels.

Drink a freshly made juice—preferably with green veggies. Green juices are Mother Nature’s healing nectar. They are powerhouses of nutrients that help your body heal and energize you all at once.
Write down at least 10 things for which you are grateful. Increasing amounts of research show that gratitude builds better health and happiness.

Eliminate at least one item from your life that contains toxic chemicals (all commercially-available dryer sheets, almost every type of commercial laundry soap sold in grocery stores, dish soap, “air fresheners,” etc.) For essential items, choose a natural option instead.
Do something nice for someone. You don’t even have to know the person for whom you do something nice.