Need a Healthy Change?
Every day it seems that something new comes out that’s supposed to help our health, but who has time to do them all? Not us, which is why we’ve pinpointed the most important things you can do for your health every day, week, month – or just once this year.
Slip on those sunnies: You already know that protecting your skin with an SPF 30+ is vital – especially in the pelting Middle Eastern sunshine – but don’t forget your eyes too. “Sunlight is associated with changes on the surface, lens and retina of the eye and cataracts are really common here,” says Dr Chris Canning, chief executive and medical director of Moorfields Eye Hospital, Dubai.
Brush twice, floss once: “When you do this you eliminate nearly 800 million different bacterial species from your mouth,” says Professor Walter Bretz from New York University College of Dentistry. But cleaning doesn’t just impact on your teeth, it also decreases risk of heart disease by 70 per cent (as the bacteria that forms plaque is linked to arterial furring) and reduces risk of premature birth. One top tip: if you don’t have time to floss when you brush, put the pack by the TV and floss while you watch Mad Men.
Get enough rest: For starters, this means six to eight hours of sleep a night, but US circadian rhythms expert Dr Matthew Edlund claims we need more than just sleep to restore our body to mega health. “Our body regenerates all day and it’ll do it better if you build in 60-90 minutes of what I call ‘active rest’ daily as well,” he told VIVA. Active rest includes exercise, relaxation, spending time with friends and doing something spiritual – whether that is practicing religion or spending time just watching those waves lap on JBR shores. “All these things help you power up, but also promote the development of things like new brain cells,” Dr Edlund explains. Find out more in his new book The Power of Rest: Why Sleep Alone is Not Enough, Harper One, Dhs77, amazon.com)
Eat breakfast: Named as one of the ‘Seven Habits for Longevity’ by health researchers in the 70s, breakfast eaters tend to be thinner than skippers. They’re also more energised, have denser bones and a lower risk of diabetes. What’s not to love? “The core of a healthy breakfast are wholegrains like oatmeal or granary toast, a protein like eggs or some low-fat dairy and a serving of fruit and vegetables,” says Hala Barghout, dietician from Dubai’s Live’ly Health and Nutrition Centre (live’ly.ae).
Eat oily fish – twice: Vitamin D is being linked with lowered risks of cancer and heart disease, better bone health and weight gain, yet recent figures from the laboratories at Sheikh Khalifa Medical City say 65 per cent of women in the UAE are deficient in it. Sunlight is the best overall source (expose hands and face for up to five minutes a day without sunscreen). “But the best food source is fatty fish like salmon, herring, trout and mackerel,” says Michelle Gelok, a nutritionist based in Abu Dhabi.
Have two low calorie days: Sticking to a 650 calorie diet containing one portion of fruit, four portions of vegetables and two pints of milk just two days a week could slash your breast cancer risk. Not only does it reduce the levels of hormones that feed cancer growth, “but it also leads to weight loss – and if you lose weight and manage to keep it off, you cut your breast cancer risk by 25-40 per cent,” says Dr Michelle Harvie from the UK’s Genesis Breast Cancer Prevention Appeal (genesis.co.uk).
Do something super slowly: This new idea from the US aims to get people to do one everyday task a week more slowly. After all, when did you last think about how you brushed your teeth (and if you’re getting into every nook and cranny), or ate a meal slowly to see if you actually need all the food you put on your plate? “Fast eating is a major cause of weight gain so I think this is a brilliant idea,” says bariatric surgeon David Kerrigan from top UK weight loss clinic Gravitas.
Weigh yourself: Getting on the scales regularly is key to keeping weight in check, and weighing yourself once a month not only gives you a far more accurate picture than jumping on the scales daily, but also helps you nip any gain in the bud before it gets too advanced. “That’s one of the tricks you can learn from women who never seem to gain weight,” says Dr Susan Roberts, author of The I Diet (Workman Publishing, Dhs51, at amazon.com). “They weigh themselves regularly so they only need to make simple changes if things are going up.”
Track your period: You register that it arrives every month, but you also need to be aware if it’s any different. “A sudden increase in pain or heavy bleeding or a change in the length of your cycle can indicate problems like fibroids or polyps – or even underlying health issues like thyroid disorders,” says UK-based women’s health expert Dr Marilyn Glenville (marilynglenville.com).
Forgive someone: It doesn’t just make you feel good, it’s actually shown to reduce harmful inflammation linked to everything from allergies to heart disease. “It’s believed to release the hormone oxytocin in the body, which acts on nerve cells that release inflammatory chemicals,” says Dr David Hamilton, author of Why Kindness Is Good For You (Hay House, Dhs58 at amazon.co.uk). To do it, repeat the following phrase three times first thinking of yourself, then someone you love, then someone you merely know, then the person you need to forgive. “May xxxx (insert the person’s name here) be filled with loving kindness. May xxxx be well. May xxxx feel peaceful and at ease. May xxxx be happy.”
Check your breasts: Being breast aware all month is important, but a new device, called Breastlight, is making monthly checks much easier. Trials on 300 women using this at UK’s Sutherland City Hospital found it can pick up tumours as small as 7mm – lumps are normally about 1.8cm by the time you can feel them. Available from Boots or boots.com, priced at Dhs312.
Once this year
Ask yourself these three questions: Am I getting any side effects from my contraception? Does it still suit my lifestyle? Is it the safest method for my time of life? If the answer to any of these is no, then book a check up with your doctor to reassess things. “Once you get past 30, the Pill isn’t always the best method to use as it increases your risk of high blood pressure and raised cholesterol,” says Dr Grace Jacob, specialist obstetrician and gynaecologist at the Dubai Mall Medical Centre.
Test your cholesterol: Health fact shocker: the average age of heart attack in the UAE is 57 – 10 whole years younger than other developed countries – so , that’s what all that jumping into cabs ‘n’ cars does for us. Knowing if you have risk factors like high blood pressure (40 per cent of us here do) or high cholesterol is important as if they’re found they can be dealt with. A head to toe mole check should also be an annual activity.
Have a smear: While the recommendation is to have these every three years, “A lot of women prefer having them annually and it makes good sense,” says Dr Susan Norton from the Dubai Physiotherapy and Family Medicine Centre. “Even if you have a great doctor and a great pathologist reading the smear, accuracy is approximately 80 per cent so a missed abnormality might otherwise have to wait three years to be picked up.”
Clean out your make-up bag: This tip might not save your life, but it might save you from spots, rashes, eye infections and other nasties. “If a product is kept too long, bacteria can develop in it and then transfer to the skin causing irritation, sensitivity and even infections,” says Sally Penford from skincare company Dermalogica. After all, recent UK studies showed that 64 per cent of women either didn’t know their make-up had a sell by date – or didn’t check it.