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A few lifestyle changes that will help you to improve health by Madhuri Ruia



Try a combination of workouts, including yoga
With World Health Day having been celebrated this month, a review of the system of best practices to improve health seems to be in order. Best practices are “methods or techniques that consistently show results superior to those achieved with other ordinary means”. In terms of health, best practices would involve going beyond the simplistic practices of, say, low-calorie eating and daily walks and setting new benchmarks for being healthier, having more stamina, energy and improved immunity. Best practices have been evolving over the years as an outcome of the increasing awareness of health and the volumes of research done on it.

A basic, entry-level definition of health is that it’s a state which experiences the absence of disease. In 1946, the World Health Organization (WHO) expanded the canvas of this definition to describe health as a state of complete mental, physical and social well-being. A buzzword these days, however, is lifestyle. Lifestyle factors involve habits that people need to control and keep in check to have the best health, quality of life and lifespan. Here are a few lifestyle changes that will help you to improve health.

Focus on nutrient density
Nutrient density involves consuming more nutrients for less calories. Micronutrients like vitamins and minerals and antioxidants are vital for health and are typically found in a variety of natural foods like fresh fruits, vegetables, milk and milk products like skimmed-milk paneer and yogurt, rough, fibre-rich, unrefined grain like brown rice, finger millets, oats, legumes like kidney bean and chickpea, body-building protein food like lean poultry, and omega-rich seafood.

Nutrient-dense foods are naturally low in calories because of their texture and fibre content, and the high-quality carbohydrates, proteins, healthy fats and micronutrients they contain. When food is refined, it is depleted of micronutrients, which get altered because the fibre has been extricated. Remember that foods which lack nutrient density are typically higher in calories and contribute to fat stores in the body. The best cooking practices for nutrient-dense foods are steaming, grilling and baking. Avoid deep-frying food.

Exercise every day, vary your routines
Exercising daily for 30-45 minutes is undoubtedly a must. But equally important is the combination of exercise regimes. A combination should include different kinds of aerobic exercise, like walking, running, swimming, cycling; weight and resistance training; pilates, yoga and stretching; and playing a sport.

Aerobic training is required to improve the health of heart and lungs and increase stamina for both daily living and other forms of exercises and sport. Weight training at least three times a week is important to maintain healthy bone and musculature, pilates and yoga improve core and spinal health, and stretching is important to keep the muscles flexible and joints mobile. When all these aspects work together, the effectiveness of all exercise improves.

Look after your posture
Use ergonomic furniture that is designed to support the natural curvature of the spine, especially while doing computer work. Neck and back niggles affect overall health and disrupt the regular exercise routines required for good health. Frequent niggles also affect mood and overall productivity. Be sure to take hourly breaks from the computer, and take a break from using mobiles and tablets, to rest the muscles of the neck and prevent eye strain.

Limit stimulants
Stimulants like sugar, alcohol, caffeinated drinks and aerated beverages are packed with empty calories and crowd out nutrient-dense foods from your diet. The absolute upper limit of sugar intake is up to two teaspoons per day. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 25g of added sugar for women and 38g for men. Stay well within this range. Aerated drinks are loaded with sugar and tend to leach calcium from the bones. Alcohol excesses affect the health of the liver and can prevent weight loss. Smoking increases the toxic load on the metabolism. Stimulants in general cause nutrient deficiencies, especially those of iron and the B-complex vitamins, and must be avoided.

Keep stress at bay
Meditate daily or practise mindfulness and deep-breathing exercises to improve your ability to deal with stress. Stress that is difficult to deal with can lead to weight gain, abdominal obesity and lowered immunity. Eating nutrient-dense foods and exercising every day is also a good way to neutralize the hormonal imbalances caused by stress.

Madhuri Ruia is a nutritionist and Pilates expert. She runs InteGym in Mumbai, which advocates workouts with healthy diets.

First Published: Mon, Apr 29 2013. 06 54 PM IST