I remember when I first started in my professional career I had a boss who would say “David, if you really want to stuff this job up and get fired – here’s what you gotta do…..” He then proceeded to tell me the plethora of ways my performance would be career limiting. It worked. I knew which behaviours I had to steer clear of if I was going to stick around. It’s a sometimes powerful spin to use if you’re not ‘getting through’ to people. When it comes to health I find a lot of people don’t ‘get it’. So here goes…A negative take on five sure-fire ways of completely ruin your health:

1. Smoke. On a bleak Saturday morning on January 11th, 1964 the Surgeon General of the USA, Luther L. Terry announced there was evidence pointing to a causal relationship between smoking and lung cancer. The findings hit the country like a bombshell and reverberated around the world. Truth being, food science is still in it’s infancy. We can’t prove definitively whether saturated fat is a killer or whether sugar is at the core of the world’s obesity woes, but one thing is certain: cigarette smoking kills. It does this surely and decisively. In fact, one out of every two people who smoke will surrcome to its cancerous thread. It’s a binary proposition. If there was ever proof to the saying ‘he who lives by the sword, dies by the sword – this is it. Whilst I’ve never smoked, I’m under no illusion how difficult it would be to give up. Nicotine does that. It draws you into it’s spell and convinces you that life is not the same without it. People smoke for a reason. Perhaps it’s to forget; or maybe to forgive. Maybe we smoke to manage our weight, or the weight of the world. Whatever the outlet, a simple strategy to give up is to substitute a healthier option to deal with these things. I said it was simple, not easy.

2. Drink alcohol. Whilst I’m in no position to tell you to stop drinking alcohol (let’s face it, we’re all adults), know this: alcohol will get in the way of your health without fail. let’s be clear – alcohol is a poison and class two carcinogen. The only reason why it doesn’t come packaged with a cross-bone symbol is that it probably wouldn’t sell as well as it does! In addition to bashing your liver around as it tries to detoxify you, alcohol is a potent fuel for the body. It’s calorie-rich and nutrient poor. It’s rocket fuel. It will loosen your tongue and tighten your belt. TV ads tell you to go boating and camping with it and to drink it down after a hard days work. Hell, parents even buy it for their teenagers because ‘at least we know they can drink safety at home”. Safe? Really? Only you know your relationship with alcohol. Is it standing in the way of your health? Is your intake under control? As Shakespeare more eloquently said, “I would not put a thief in my mouth to steal my brains.”

3. Consume Excess Sugar. It is just a coincidence that added sugar in bread, milk, water, vegetables, fruit and meat products is linked to the rise in obesity, heart disease, diabetes type 2 and dementia right around the world? As celebrity and healthy-eating advocate Jamie Oliver once said, “There’s sugar in eeeverything”. You see, since the day we worked out how to refine sugar from the stick of cellulose that it is, and then systematically started adding it to our staple foods (because sugar made food more appealing, thus increasing sales) we began to see the death rate increase in both developed and developing countries. Can I prove it? Nope. Can I show you a study where such results are confirmed? Nope again. Why? because random blind studies which require a higher than average correlation proving causation are almost non-existent. We can’t gather 60,000 babies at birth and randomly divide them, feed them mostly sugar and track their health progress over time. Excess sugar’s health effects will never be proven (this is the central argument from soft drink makers) but it sure as hell turns up at the scene of every crime. Quite simply, we (or more specifically, our pancreases) are not designed to consume 30 teaspoons of sugar a day, day after day. It’s a perfect recipe for diabetes type 2 and spending the rest of your days with the threat of blindness, limb amputations and liver disease. It’s not exactly my idea of a happy retirement. Keep your intake to 4 teaspoons a day; always look on tinned or packaged food for added sugar in the ingredients.

4. Overeat. King George IV was so good at this he was once described as ‘A Voluptuary under the horrors of Digestion’. There are two ways you can overeat: 1. Eat beyond feeling full 2. Eat to full on high calorie food. The first has to do with satiation (hunger suppression) and the second with satisfaction (craving control). In other words, both the quality and quantity of food matter enormously and each person needs to understand which factor matters most to them. Believe it or not, you can still gain body fat on a diet which is extremely healthy but is overly consumed. As an example, I eat healthy everyday: eggs, milk, cheese, veggies, fruit, lean meats, wholemeal bread etc but I will tend to go for ‘seconds’ more than I should. At 50 I don’t need the calorie intake as what I did at 25. It’s important to me to recognise if I’m going to keep my body weight under control as I age. I need to ‘course correct’ my behaviour.  As a result I’ve stopped eating any further food after dinner (I used to have ‘supper’). I’m also better at listening to my body and recognising when I’m actually hungry rather than responding to how I feel or what time it is. Another great strategy for serial over-eaters is to eat off a smaller plate. Many studies have shown this is an effective means to eat less volume of food. If you struggle with food quality, employ the 80/20 rule. Try to eat ‘clean’ Monday to Saturday and be less stringent on Sunday. Rather than rely on abstinence (which is really difficult at first) restricting your vices (sugar, alcohol, dough nuts) to one day is a more effective strategy.

5. Be Inactive. Early hunter and gatherers (40,000 years ago) used to kill animals by endurance running. As large beasts sheltered from the hot African midday, we used to prod them with rocks to up and move. We then ran behind them to the next shady spot. Another volley of rocks to get them moving ensued. After a few hours the beast would lay down from exhaustion and we’d go in for the kill with a wallop to the head. We were ingenious and fit. These days we’re more ingenious than fit. You see, our bodies are designed for movement. The tendons of our major locomotion muscles (calves) have insertions at 90 degrees to our bones for maximum force. This didn’t happen by accident. Nothing over the last million years has changed human health as much as the cost of sitting 8 hours at a desk . Early man walked approx 9-15 km per day compared to the average Australian who walks 500 metres and travels 50km per day by car. Adults who exercise halve their chances of contracting the ‘big 4’ – heart disease, stroke, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. Exercise will also strengthen the heart, reduce body fat, lower the amount of fat in the blood, decrease levels of inflammation in the arteries; strengthen muscles and prevent osteoporosis. Its normal to be physically active throughout life so it should come as no surprise that the absence of it should promote ill-health. The prescription? Raise your heart rate at least three times per week with resistance training. 

King George in all his glory