Step-by-step changes for a healthier you!

15 September 2009

Step by step changes for a healthier youAs part of the Change4Life campaign, we're being urged to adopt a healthier diet and do more regular exercise. But how can we fit these lifestyle improvements into our busy daily lives? By making step-by-step monthly changes, say our experts.

The government's Change4Life campaign, launched amid much publicity earlier this year, is advocating a radical lifestyle shift if the UK is to reverse the trend of rising levels of obesity and overweight seen in recent years, especially among children.

According to the Department of Health, the three-year campaign has got off to a promising start, with more than 360,000 families having signed up to adopt a healthier lifestyle in the first six months.

Recommended lifestyle changes include eating more fruit and veg, cutting back on the amount of ‘bad’ fats and sugary foods and drinks we consume, and doing more physical activity, more often.

Turning good intentions into manageable deeds

Cut down on saturated fat. The Food Standard Agency's latest healthy eating campaign focuses on reducing our intake of saturates, because of the negative impact this type of fat has on our cholesterol levels and associated risk of heart disease.

Most of us are eating too much saturated fat - about 20 per cent more than the recommended maximum amount, which for a man is no more than 30g per day and for a woman no more than 20g per day.

Cutting down isn't as difficult as you might think: a few simple swaps like the ones below can make a big difference.

  • Streaky bacon for back bacon
  • Croissant for a bagel
  • Cake for malt loaf
  • Cream for low-fat Greek yoghurt
  • Ice cream for sorbet or frozen yoghurt

Cut back on salt. Salt intake has been coming down, but it is still on average higher than the maximum recommendation of no more than 6g per day. About 75 per cent of the salt we eat comes from processed foods, including seemingly healthy foods like bread and cereals.

Checking labels is one simple way to choose lower-salt options. If you're out and about at lunchtime and looking for a healthy sandwich, go for a wrap: these contain nearly 50 per cent less salt than ordinary bread. Another good choice is a pitta, which contains about 20 per cent less salt than a roll.

Eat more fruit and veg. We all know we should do it, but sometimes we need a few fresh ideas to help us meet our 5-A-Day target. One clever way of getting a greater variety of veg into our diet is to buy more root vegetables and treat them like potatoes.

Carrots, turnips, beetroot, parsnips, sweet potatoes, butternut squash and Jerusalem artichokes can all be mashed, baked and roasted. Try cutting them into chunky wedges, drizzle with olive oil and bake in the oven to accompany steaks, lamb chops, grilled chicken or fish fillets.

See this month's recipes for a delicious meal accompaniment of mashed sweet potato and butternut squash.

Post-lunch trot. The post-lunch dip in concentration and energy levels is a natural response to eating, as food is digested and absorbed, and blood is diverted to the digestive tract and away from the brain and muscles. One way to overcome this is to take a brisk 10-minute walk in the fresh air after finishing lunch. This contributes to the 30 minutes of physical activity we are recommended to take each day to help lower blood pressure and keep our heart healthy.

Increase your intake of fibre. Most people know that swapping white bread for wholemeal or cornflakes for branflakes will increase our fibre intake. But throwing a handful of beans or pulses into stews, soups or salads can make a big difference, too.

All pulses are a good source of protein and of both types of fibre: soluble, which helps lower blood cholesterol levels; and insoluble, which improves bowel health. Pulses are also low in fat and saturates and a good source of minerals and B vitamins. Try adding a few tablespoons of chickpeas to a chicken and avocado salad; or make a cottage pie with half lean mince and half red lentils.

Eat more fish. Barriers to eating more fish include price, lack of cooking skills - or simply being too squeamish to chop off heads and remove scales and bones! However, tinned fish is simple to use and reasonably cheap.

Try making your favourite meat dishes with a tin of tuna or sardines. The fish substitutes well for the meat in flavour and texture, and is a rich source of protein and minerals. Sardines and pilchards have the added benefit of being a good source of omega 3 fats, which are needed to keep our heart healthy and prevent inflammation.

Visit the recipes section of our website to try a healthy twist on the usual spag bolognese - sardine bolognese.

Lucy's step-by-step changes for a fitter you

With our hectic lifestyles, it's not easy to find an available one-hour slot to head off to the gym or to do a session of power yoga. Yet it's essential that we all do some form of exercise to help us maintain a healthy body weight and keep us in good physical shape. So here are five simple ways to fit more fitness into your everyday routine:

Supermarket Sculpt. Get toning your arms in your supermarket while doing your shopping. Simply swap the trolley for two baskets: this will help tone through your arms and your shoulders. It has the added bonus that you will only buy the items you really need and stop you loading up on high-calorie junk foods!

Abdominals on the run. On the school run or the commute to the office, this is a good opportunity for you to work deep into your abdominal muscles. If you're driving, then do these exercises each time you're sitting at traffic lights. If you travel by train, bus or tube, do them several times during your journey.

Simply pull in your abdominal muscles - it helps if you imagine you're pulling your navel tight to your spine. Keeping your tummy muscles tight will help to improve your core stability, shape your waist, improve your posture and protect your back.

Brush and tone at the same time. Make this a rule of thumb: every time you brush your teeth, perform some squats at the same time. Not only will you have sparkling teeth, you'll also be toning your lower body.

Stand with your feet slightly wider than hip-width distance apart, then squat by bending your knees as if you are about to sit on a chair. Hold for a second, then slowly push back up. Aim to do 20 of these each time you clean your teeth.

By the end of the week you could have clocked up 280 squats, which will help strengthen and tone through your hips, bottom and thighs.

Talk and tone. Every time you're on the phone, do this simple exercise, which will sculpt and lift your bottom and tone through your legs.

Stand straight, with one hand on a chair for support. Pull in your tummy muscle and squeeze your buttocks. Lift your right leg back and straight behind you, without leaning forwards (only a small move from your leg). Be sure to keep the supporting leg slightly bent. Hold and squeeze the buttock muscle with tiny lifts for 20 counts. Then lower and repeat on opposite leg.

The longer the phone call, the more calories you will burn, as this exercise tones deep into the gluteus maximus (the buttocks). This is one of the largest muscles in our body, and the more toned it is, the more calories our body burns.

Take two. You've heard it a million times before - use the stairs instead of the lift. But let's take it up a notch: from now on, take two stairs at a time. If you don't need the support and it's safe to do so, avoid using the hand rail.

By stepping up two stairs at a time you're creating an exaggerated movement that is similar to an exercise known as the lunge. You will be toning into your thighs and bottom, and, by avoiding using the banister, you will be also be improving your balance.