What constitutes true “health” and why is it important to be healthy and not just fit? Clinical Nutritionist BROOKE BENSON CAMPBELL (BHSc Nut Med) shares her tips…
Let’s start by shattering the ultimate myth — being healthy and fit are not one and the same. In reality, they can be very separate states of being. You can be really fit and not very healthy, and you can be very healthy and not very fit. So before we go any further, let’s define the difference: Health has been defined by the World Health Organisation as a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing, and not merely the absence of disease. It includes aging well, longevity and quality of life.
Fitness, on the other hand, is defined as a set of attributes that people have or achieve that relates to their ability to perform physical activity. Sure, you may be able to pump heavy weights or lift a Mini Cooper, but if your cholesterol is high, or your mental health is suffering, here’s the thing: you are not healthy. So, how do we tweak our wellbeing regime to balance both total health and physical fitness?
Here are some handy hints:
1. EAT FOOD FOR A REASON
First thing is first: you can’t call yourself healthy if you’re eating perfectly rationed poached chicken and green vegetable meals for lunch and dinner every week. Sure, this food philosophy may compliment your shredding gym routine, but as far as health goes — it’s a big fail. Likewise, the all-too-common protein shake as meal replacement. Synthetically processed powder in water is not a food. Your grandmother wouldn’t recognise it as such, and neither will a nutritionist. Why? Because as humans, we eat food for a reason. That reason: fuel (and I’m not just talking about fuel for your muscles, but also for your brain, your organs, your blood mass and your skin). A switch from chocolate powder to a meal full of vegetables, fruits, protein and whole grains will keep your energy high and your focus strong – sure, it requires chewing but hey, you’re not eight months old anymore, so use those gnashers like a grown up.
Never forget that “the food you eat can either be the safest and most powerful form of medicine or the slowest form of poison” — a quote attributed to Ann Wigmore and taught to every nutrition student on Day 1 of study. Your food decisions today will inevitably impact your health in years to come, so choose wisely. Make sure you’re getting omega 3s from oily fish to fuel your brain (and build those biceps), vitamins and minerals from fruit, nuts and seeds to power your organs (and your quads) and where possible upgrade your additions.
Sprinkle nutritional yeast (high in protein and B vitamins for energy) onto anything savoury — it adds a nutty cheesy flavour to pasta sauce, soup and vegetables. Throw pumpkin seeds into smoothies, on greens and into granola: they add magnesium, potassium, calcium and zinc to any meal and can be eaten before bed to provide a rich source of tryptophan (converted in the body to the sleep hormone, melatonin). Dot your muesli, your salads and your trail mix with goji berries — with over 500 times the vitamin C of oranges and with 20 trace minerals these little beauties pack a nutritional punch to support your immune system. Put chia seeds on everything for a dose of plant-based Omega 3s and protein. The list goes on, but the message is clear — add these little gems of nutritional glory to your existing diet: they are cheap and easy, but nutritionally fortifying to guarantee both health AND enjoyment.
2. MENTAL HEALTH IS HEALTH, TOO
Let’s all say it together: “There is no health without mental health”. Without that brain of yours turning over, without neurotransmitters being able to control electrical impulses and balance hormones, and without focus and rational thinking, true health will always be illusive. In fact, having a serious mental illness like depression can reduce life expectancy by 10-20 years. And mental health isn’t just about severe disease states: it’s all about positive thinking, too.
On average, 80% of thoughts we have each day are negative. In short, we’re conditioned to put ourselves, our circumstances and our lives down 80% of the time, and that isn’t exactly screaming #healthjourney. If you can change that percentage, one positive thought at a time, you can then change your body, your life and your wellbeing, because that is the core of what real health is about anyway — so, one thought at a time.
3. SUCCESS ISN’T ABOUT WILLPOWER
Time for my favourite Tim Ferriss’ quote: “Losers have goals. Winners have systems”. And one by Malcolm Gladwell: “Achievement is talent plus preparation”. These guys aren’t wrong. Most people think they can will their way to good decisions; couple that with the fact that a 2011 study of over one million people around the world found that people think self-control is their biggest weakness or character failure, and collectively, we’re in for a willpower car-crash. Social psychologist Roy Baumeister has found that willpower is like a muscle — it can be strengthened or fatigued with use. Every time you desire to do something that conflicts with your goals and your willpower overrides that desire, part of your finite supply of willpower is depleted. The stronger the desire and the harder it is to resist, the more of your willpower fuel is burned up in the process, meaning you need to have strategies in place to support that inevitable decline. And the need for self-control kicks in more times each day than you probably realise.
In one study, participants were given beepers that randomly went off seven times a day and were asked to record what they were experiencing when they heard the beep. Researchers found that at any given moment, 50% of the participants were feeling a desire when the beeper went off — whether to sleep, eat, have sex, surf the web, flirt, shop or abandon their workplace — and another quarter of them had experienced a desire in the few minutes preceding the beep. All in all, researchers found that on average, people spend four hours each day resisting desires and burning through their willpower.
So what can you do to guarantee supply to last through each day? Make your most important decisions in the morning, before you experience willpower depletion. Chart your course for the day, exercise first thing and decide on your daily meals when the sun rises and you’ll move through the day, achieving your goals, with less effort. Build a routine that you follow to eliminate desire and decision making that may thwart your way to health and fitness, and follow Mr Ferriss’ advice in The Four Hour Workweek: “Capacity, interest and mental endurance all wax and wane. Plan accordingly”.
4. BREATHE… PROPERLY
Did you know that when we breathe incorrectly, our autonomic nervous system, our bodies’ oxygen/carbon dioxide balance, our cranial shape, our brain health, and our posture will be negatively impacted? These changes then manifest in tight muscles, painful or deteriorating joints, under-functioning organs and unhealthy neural (brain and nervous system) tissue. In fact, there is not a physical attribute of the human body that is not impacted — either directly or indirectly – by poor breathing. Also, the more you breathe through your mouth, the more you will suffer from poor dental health and encourage the above symptoms.
The more you breathe into your chest rather than your abdomen and intestinal area, the poorer your digestion and detoxification will be. The faster you breathe, the greater the imbalance in your autonomic nervous system, which can lead to anxiety and panic attacks. Aim to breathe around six to eight breaths per minute by practicing slow, deep breathing. Focusing on slow exhalation rather than inhalation is a great strategy for attaining this. Another useful technique is to exclusively nose breathe while exercising (although, don’t try this with a cold or flu). It is the most basic of human habits, and yet most of us are doing it wrong — give yourself a week of intense breath-coaching and reap the health rewards.
5. DON’T OVER-EXERCISE
This one may seem counterintuitive, but getting too much exercise can have serious consequences for your body and brain. A recent study found that light to moderate runners had a lower risk of death than people who didn’t exercise (no surprise there). BUT, in a shocking turn, people who ran at a faster pace for more than more than three times per week had a similar risk of dying as the non-runners. It seems running too much, and too intensely, can undo some of the health benefits gained from regularly running. Extreme endurance exercises, like ultra-marathons, may also lead to heart damage, heart rhythm disorders and enlarged arteries in some people. One study found that repeated extreme exercise can “remodel” the heart, thickening the muscle’s walls and scarring tissue. If that’s not enough, for men, intense exercise has been shown to decrease libido due to a lowering of testosterone levels.
Another current study from Australian sports journal Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics, also shows that intense physiological stress (re: exercise) on the body can trigger Leaky Gut syndrome — a condition in which the gut lining weakens, resulting in the passage of germs and toxins into the bloodstream. And not only are those who over-exercise more at risk of illness, but they’re doubly as likely to end up bed-bound thanks to cortisol’s interference with bone building. When cortisol is in the bloodstream (and this rises during exercise) more bone-tissue is broken down than is deposited. This means that exercise addicts, whose bodies remain in a constant state of stress, put themselves at higher risk of fractures and breakages.
Lastly, studies into ‘Overtraining Syndrome’ show that those who overtrain portray the same biochemical markers as those with clinical depression — the amount of serotonin and tryptophan in the brain is altered in both disorders — and the Technical University of Munich found that young athletes who don’t have enough time to recover are 20% more likely to suffer from depression. It turns out that for ultimate health, putting in those hours in the gym is as important as putting aside some quality time on the sofa.
6. HYDRATE FOR HEALTH
The role of water and hydration in physical activity, particularly in athletes and the military, has been widely studied, and we now know that under relatively mild levels of dehydration (as little as 2%), individuals engaging in rigorous activity will experience decrements in performance related to reduced endurance, increased fatigue, altered thermoregulatory capability, reduced motivation an increased perceived effort. However, what has only been recently established is water’s role in cognition. Mild levels of dehydration can produce disruptions in mood and cognitive functioning, and impact upon attention span, alertness, focus and memory recall. As with physical functioning, mild to moderate levels of dehydration can impair performance on tasks such as perceptual discrimination, arithmetic ability, visuomotor tracking and psychomotor skills, making work life challenging.
Also important to remember is that dehydration and mineral depletion go hand in hand, so not only will you be suffering from a depletion in both physical and mental performance, but your muscles, bones and blood will suffer from a lack of magnesium and calcium, potassium, phosphorus and sodium, causing bone weakness, muscle cramping, migraines and changes to heart rhythm and blood pressure. The take-away: Dehydration does not a healthy person make.
To flip the switch on hydration, and develop new habits (while minimising that finite willpower), aim to drink two glasses of water each day upon rising (and, if the water is filtered, add a tiny pinch of pink Himalayan salt to boost mineral intake — the water shouldn’t be salty, so use sparingly). This will alleviate water loss that occurs during the night (particularly for mouth breathers), and also aim for a glass of water around 20 minutes prior to each meal to help stimulate the digestive processes and ensure adequate fluids are on hand to allow for saliva and stomach acid to do their digestive work. Sip a glass throughout the day and those IQ points will be working to full effect — maximising health. Sometimes the simple things really are the best, so before you invest in your collection of superfood powders, remember to do the basics to ensure long-term health and wellbeing. ■
Brooke Benson Campbell (BHSc) is a Clinical Nutritionist and Naturopath, speaker, writer and presenter with a passion for all things health, beauty and wellbeing. A self-proclaimed human test subject, she is constantly trialling the newest products, seeking the latest discoveries and reading the current clinical studies, in order to share her findings with the public through private practice, social media and industry education. Follow Brooke on Instagram at: @the.b.b.c
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