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A Healthy Curiosity

A Healthy Curiosity: 6 reasons to stick to a healthy lifestyle

May 22nd 2015 / Peta Bee


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Ready to fall off the health wagon? Peta Bee has six unexpected reasons why you shouldn't

You have taken the first strides towards a healthier body and mind, but sticking with your resolve requires effort. Everyone falls off the healthy wagon at times, but get back on and you will reap untold benefits. For it's not just your waistline that improves when you eat well and become more active. Read on to discover six unexpected improvements that you will notice as you transform your wellbeing...

1. You’ll be less stressed

There’s little doubt that a healthy diet can reduce stress. There’s evidence that some healthy foods like porridge can boost levels of serotonin, a soothing brain chemical that combats stress. “Other foods can help to lower levels of cortisol and adrenaline, stress hormones that build up over time,” says Louise Sutton, dietician at Leeds Metropolitan University. Omega 3 fatty acids found in healthy oily fish like salmon and mackerel are great stress busters.

Drinking tea instead of coffee can also help. “Green and black tea have been shown to aid recovery from stressful events more quickly,” Sutton says. “Although you probably need around four cups a day.” Activity will also help. Researchers at the University of Missouri found that increasing the tempo of a workout had profound effects on reducing stress and anxiety, particularly among women. Effects of a high intensity exercise session were shown to lower tension for up to 90 minutes after it was over.

2. You’ll have a better body image

We are a generation plagued with body insecurities - few of us escape the withering self-esteem issues that stem from a dissatisfaction with the way we look. But of all the means of boosting your self-worth, the one guaranteed to have the most profound effect is a healthy lifestyle. In 2013, Dr Katherine Appleton, a researcher in psychology at Queens University, Belfast, found that people's body image improves after just two weeks of moderate exercise and even before they have lost any weight or toned up.

Subjects in her trial filled out body image questionnaires and had their body weight and shape measured at the start and end of two weeks of either reading or exercising (results were kept secret). Neither produced any physical changes after just two weeks, but the three moderate workouts a week exercise significantly improved body image. The boost to self-esteem “may be more rewarding for those embarking on an exercise programme" than focusing on the scales, Dr Appleton said.

MORE GLOSS: 6 ways to put your body confidence gremlins to bed

3. You’ll be less likely to suffer PMT

Limiting caffeine, sugary foods, alcohol and salty foods (salt can increase water retention) is known to be helpful when it comes to reducing symptoms of PMT. “Consuming more foods that contain magnesium might benefit too,”says Sutton. “The mineral is important for nervous function and energy release, and deficiency is found in whole grains, nuts, pulses, seafood, lean meat, bananas and green vegetables.”

Edocrinologists at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver have also suggested in research that exercise helps by altering the action of the hypothalamus in the brain. As a result, “the pituitary gland and ovaries get a signal to bring a woman’s system into better balance”. In studies, they have shown that women who do aerobic activity that raises their heart rate above 120 beats per minute for 20-30 minutes, 3-4 times a week - that can be anything from walking to a bootcamp circuit - have fewer symptoms of PMT.

4. You’re less likely to be depressed

There is little doubt among experts that diet and exercise can help to relieve mild to moderate depression. Moderate activity stimulates neurochemical effects on the brain that closely mimic the effects of antidepressant medication. And whereas drugs target a few mood-enhancing transmitters, exercise appears to boost the supply of a wider array of feel-good chemicals including dopamine, seretonin, endorphins and norepinephrine, all of which have been linked to depression.

“Depression has been linked to a decrease in the synthesis of new neurons in the brain,” explains psychologist Dearbhla McCullough of Roehampton University. “It is because activity promotes the production of these neurons that it may be so helpful.” Numerous studies have also shown that diet can protect against depression. With significantly fewer cases of depression in Mediterranean countries, researchers think it may be the healthy diet, rich in fresh vegetables, whole grains and olive oil, that boosts mental health.

MORE GLOSS: 12 ways to stay motivated to keep fit

5. You’ll have fewer wrinkles

Critics argue that exercise is more likely to cause wrinkles than prevent them, yet scientists recently proved otherwise. In findings that will prick the conscience more sharply than a Botox needle, they discovered that an active lifestyle will plump the skin to keep it look younger and may even reverse skin ageing in people who take up fitness in later life. An initial trial at McMaster University in Canada showed that exercisers had significantly thinner and healthier stratum corneum and thicker dermis layers after the age of 40, factors important for a youthful bloom.

To test this further, Professor Mark Tarnopolsky, an exercise scientist, recruited subjects aged 65 and older with normal skin for their age and asked half to jog or cycle three times a week at 65 percent their aerobic limit (a puffing but not exhaustive pace) for three months, and half to do nothing. Among the exercisers, the outer and inner skin layers both resembled what scientists typically expect to find in healthy 20- to 40-year-olds.

MORE GLOSS: 10 anti-ageing skincare tips you need to know

6. …And be less likely to get dark circles

Reducing levels of caffeine and sugar in your diet are great steps to improving your sleep patterns, says Sutton. Making sure you stay hydrated is also crucial. “Cutting down on alcohol and processed foods can also help to reduce dark circles just as eating plenty of antioxidant-rich raw fruit and vegetables can help them to diminish.” Daily activity helps boost circulation and keep stress under control and improve sleep patterns. Indeed, a short daily stroll could boost sleep quality according to a recent study by the US National Sleep Foundation.

“If you are inactive, adding a 10 minute walk every day could improve your likelihood of a good night's sleep," said Max Hirshkowitz, author of the report. "Making this small change and gradually working your way up to more intense activities like running or swimming could help you sleep better." In their survey, vigorous exercisers were almost twice as likely as non-exercisers to report "I had a good night's sleep" every night or almost every night during the week.


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