Healthy Living

Tips on healthy eating, being active, the menopause, sleeping well and mental balance.

It’s a cliché but it’s true: breakfast is an important meal, literally meaning to break the night-time fast; it’s the time to refuel your body and start the day right. Make sure you include some fibre and get one of your five-a-day by having a small (150ml) glass of fruit juice.

Drink plenty of water. All non-alcoholic drinks count towards the 1.6 litres of fluid we need each day, but water and semi-skimmed or low-fat milk are the best choices.

Many UK adults eat more calories than they need, compared to the amount of exercise they get. The average woman needs 2000 calories a day, and the average man needs 2500. Why not make a note of everything you eat for one day and see if there are times when you could eat a bit less?

Salt is often in the news because we eat too much of it. A diet that is high in salt can cause raised blood pressure, which currently affects more than one third of adults in the UK. Try not to add any salt to your food when you’re cooking or at the table. About three quarters of our salt intake comes from the food we buy, so look at the salt content on food packaging. More than 1.5g per 100g means that the food is high in salt.

Saturated fats in our diet have been found to raise cholesterol levels. Eating a lot of saturated fat can increase the levels of cholesterol in your blood, increasing the risk of heart disease. Look for unsaturated vegetable oils such as sunflower oil for cooking and spreads. Check the saturated fat content of the foods you buy in the nutrition table; 5g per 100g is considered high.

The government advises that we should eat more fish. Aim for at least two portions per week, with one of those being an oily fish like salmon or sardines. Why not see our recipe section for some tasty ideas?

Fibre and Whole Grains: cereal foods are useful sources of fibre, particularly if you choose whole grain versions. Nutritionists advise that starchy foods such as cereals, potatoes, bread, rice and pasta should make up around one third of the food we eat. Some people think starchy foods are fattening, but they contain less than half the calories of fat, gram-for-gram. Check the nutrition label—high fibre foods contain upwards of 6g of fibre per 100g.

The 5-a-day message for fruit and vegetables is something we all know about, but how much is one portion? For small fruits such as plums or satsumas, 2 pieces count as 1 portion. For berries, it would be 7 strawberries or 14 cherries. For larger fruit, half a grapefruit or a slice of melon count as a portion.

Being active doesn’t have to mean long hours at the gym. Burning off calories is easier when you are doing something you love—swimming, dancing, cycling, walking or gardening.

You don’t have to do all your activity at once. Several 10-minute bouts of moderately hard activity can add up to make your 30 minutes a day.

Remaining flexible is also really important. Yoga, tai chi or pilates are great forms of exercise that build core strength, flexibility, coordination and balance. Why not see if your local area has a class?

After getting active, don’t undo all that good work with a high-calorie treat. Why not have a piece of toast or a banana instead?

It’s also good to reduce the amount of time that you spend being inactive. Get up during the ad breaks when you’re watching TV. Stand up from your PC at work. Use the stairs whenever you can.

Don’t rush into doing a lot of exercise. Build up gradually. Remember that any exercise is better than none.

The menopause is a natural part of a woman’s life. It usually begins after the age of 45. Oestrogen production gradually declines and results in menopausal symptoms which may last from a few months to a several years. These symptoms differ between women. Some will experience physical symptoms such as hot flushes, night sweats and insomnia. Others will feel psychological effects, such as mood swings, irritability and memory loss. Oestrogen promotes bone density and helps to protect the heart and blood vessels against disease, so as levels decline, the risk of osteoporosis and heart disease increases.

To ease the symptoms of the menopause, why not try the following:

  • Avoid food and drink that can trigger hot flushes, such as alcohol, caffeine and spicy foods.
  • Sleep in a cool room.
  • Develop effective ways of managing stress such as meditation or massage.
  • Take regular, moderate exercise.
  • Maintain a healthy body weight.
  • Have your blood pressure checked regularly.
  • Ensure that your blood sugar is well controlled if you have diabetes.

For more information visit Menopause Exchange

A good night’s sleep is incredibly important for health. Here are a few simple things you can try to help you sleep well.

A regular bedtime

Going to bed at the same time each day can help to programme the brain and internal body clock to get used to a set routine. Most adults need around 8 hours of sleep each night, so try to get up at the same time every day too (even at weekends).

Winding down

Creating a relaxing bed time routine can help you to wind down so that you are ready to sleep

  • Write a "to do" list for the next day to help to clear your mind
  • Light exercise such as yoga or Pilates stretches can help to relax your muscles
  • Relaxation CDs, soft music, reading a book or listening to the radio can help you unwind

Make your bedroom sleep-friendly

It’s important that your bedroom is at the right temperature (experts recommend between 18 and 24 oC). Ideally you should experience a drop in body temperature as you get into bed because that signals your body to produce melatonin, which induces sleep. This is why it's also a good idea to take a warm bath or hot shower before going to bed.

Are your mattress and pillow in good condition? Experts suggest buying new pillows every couple of years and replacing a mattress after around 10 years. If you can't remember when you last changed your pillow or mattress then it might be time for a change.

A dark room will help, as light is a powerful signal to your brain to be awake. Even the glow from your laptop, iPad, smart phone or any other electronics can stop you from dropping off. Ideally try to keep all tech and gadgets out of the bedroom, but if you do keep them with you remember to switch alerts to silent and put them out of easy reach.

Try mixing a few drops of an essential oil such as lavender, chamomile or ylang-ylang with water in a spray bottle and give your pillowcase a spritz to help create a relaxing environment.

Caffeine and alcohol

Caffeine (found in coffee, tea, chocolate, cola, and some pain relievers) is a stimulant which can keep you awake, so it’s best to avoid this for four to six hours before bedtime. Similarly, smokers should refrain from using tobacco products too close to bedtime. Although alcohol may help to send you to sleep, after a few hours it will disrupt your sleep, so it is best to avoid drinking within three hours of bedtime. Remember to stay within the recommended alcohol limits of no more than 14 units each week. For more information see http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/alcohol/Pages/Alcoholhome.aspx

We are all becoming aware that our state of mind has a very big impact on our health and wellbeing. Research shows that 2 in 3 of us will experience a mental health problem at some point in our lives. The important thing to remember is that you are not alone and there is help out there. We’ve put a couple of links to some resources that we have found useful below.

www.nhs.uk/livewell/mentalhealth

mentalhealth.org.uk/your-mental-health/looking-after-your-mental-health

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