Fifteen things Canadians can do to be healthier this year

The Globe and Mail

Lose weight. Eat better. Finally get fit. The grand ambition (not to mention blind optimism) of New Year’s resolutions also makes them near-impossible to achieve. In a bid to improve our odds of success, we called top health and fitness experts for more manageable goals. We asked them: ‘What is one thing Canadians can do to be healthier this year?’ Here is what they said.

Joren Cull for The Globe and Mail

A pickle a day

At one time, fermented foods were common with every meal. Research has now shown that fermented foods are full of good germs that improve our overall health. By bringing foods such as sauerkraut, kimchee, kombucha, fermented sausages, fermented vegetables (pickles and garlic), cheeses, yogurts and of course, probiotic beer and wine back into our diet, we can live better in a natural and delicious way. Eat, drink and be germy!

Jason Tetro, Ottawa-based microbiologist, author of The Germ Code

Don't drink your calories

While liquid calories are often delicious, they are undoubtedly the lowest hanging fruit of weight loss. If weight’s a concern, there are no health benefits available from liquids that you can’t get from far more satiating solids. Your goal with liquid calories is simple. Drink the smallest amount you need to like your life. Putting this another way – don’t drink your calories unless you love them.

Yoni Freedhoff, obesity expert, family physician, author and assistant professor at the University of Ottawa

Relax your mouth

Right now, you are clenched. In fact, you don’t even know you’re doing it. Unclench with me, right now: Simply drop your lower jaw from your upper jaw, let it hang like those heavy metal mouth-breather dudes in Grade 12. You’ll rock relaxation.

Bif Naked, international recording artist, activist and cancer survivor based in Vancouver

Try a revolutionary ‘new’ treatment

There is a superexpensive new drug coming out. It reduces heart disease by 60 per cent, cancer by 27 per cent, Alzheimer’s by 50 per cent and arthritis by 47 per cent. It’s now our best treatment for fatigue and low back pain. It cures a third of erectile dysfunction, and cuts anxiety and depression by 48 per cent. People even lose weight on this stuff … Okay, it’s not new or expensive or even a pill. It’s walking. If I had to pick one thing, I’d say movement is the best medicine.

Mike Evans, staff physician at St. Michael’s Hospital, associate professor of family medicine and public health at the University of Toronto

Put down the device

My No. 1 tip for families with young kids: Make a designated cellphone- and screen-free time every evening. That means for 30 minutes absolutely no phones, tablets or TVs are allowed to be on. This time should be spent doing something that your child chooses – maybe reading together, walking the dog, playing a game or just catching up.

Jeremy Friedman, chief of pediatric medicine at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children, University of Toronto pediatrics professor

Stop doing situps

Stomach crunches shorten your torso, round your shoulders and encourage forward head posture, which you certainly don’t need more of in your life with all the hunched-over sitting you do each day. Crunches also put downward pressure on the pelvic floor, which is never good news and they will never flatten your tummy.

Kim Vopni, pelvic floor expert and post partum doula in Vancouver

Go to bed …

Good-quality sleep keeps your appetite hormones in check, cools those inflammatory chemicals that promote heart disease and cancer and keeps your waistline trim. A recent study in the American Journal of Science showed that a good night’s sleep is like clearing your neurological cache. In other words, sleep clears out the clutter. So aim for 7 1/2 to eight hours of shut-eye a night for these benefits.

Joy McCarthy, holistic nutritionist and author of Joyous Health: Eat & Live Well Without Dieting

… But set your alarm

Wake up at the same time every day. The timing of our sleep and waking is conducted by a master clock. One of the best ways of allowing this master clock to do its job beautifully is to rise at the same time each day, seven days a week. Not only does this encourage the best sleep, it also aligns and strengthens other body rhythms, such as our hormones, appetite and mood. There’s nothing like it.

Judith Davidson, sleep expert and psychology professor at Queen’s University

Enjoy your food – slowly

If you spend less than 60 minutes a day eating – you are eating too fast. It takes at least 20 minutes for your gut to tell your brain that you’ve eaten. Paying attention to what you are eating, chewing and savouring each bite, eating without distractions, such as driving, phone calls or texting, goes a long way to reduce overeating. Vegetables, fruits and complex carbohydrates all take more time to eat than prefabricated processed foods.

Arya Sharma, chair in obesity research and management at the University of Alberta

Breathe

Take seven minutes each day to focus on your breath. Slowing down to six breaths per minute for seven minutes is enough to calm the nerves and allow our bodies to physically recover. Let’s face it, there are so many things that we should be doing to live healthier lives that it often feels overwhelming.

Jennifer Heil, Olympic gold and silver medalist in freestyle skiing and fitness advocate

Clean up your kitchen

Make 2014 a year of clean eating on a plant-based whole-food diet, minimizing foods that have been processed, sprayed with pesticides, genetically modified or adulterated in other ways. In the words of Hippocrates: “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”

Jennifer Pearlman, staff physician at the Menopause Clinic at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto

Shake a leg

Move regularly and you’ll think, sleep, work, play and even love better. Move every day for as little as 15 minutes and the rewards are even greater. How great? How’s reducing your risk of some types of cancer by up to 50 per cent? So swim, walk, run, shovel snow, do yoga, play golf, it doesn’t matter what it is as long as it gets you moving.

Greg Wells, assistant professor at the University of Toronto and associate scientist of physiology and experimental medicine, the Hospital for Sick Children

Strap on protection

If you are younger than 44 in our country, death by trauma is your No. 1 stalker. So, listen up: Protect your brain by wearing a helmet, slowing down on the slopes and playing safe in general. Winter snow activities are great but wouldn’t it be better to be able to come back to them next year?

Charles Tator, neurosurgeon and brain and spinal cord injury prevention expert, Toronto Western Hospital

Invest in yourself

Remember: Health is wealth. I retired from Olympic sport this year and subsequently fell out of my daily fitness routine. I was prioritizing generating financial wealth over looking after my health. I finally recognized this as the source of my underlying – and at times overwhelming – unhappiness, and recommitted to a daily dose of physical activity. I’m happier, more productive, and most importantly, more engaged with my children. What could be a greater source of wealth?

Simon Whitfield, Olympic gold and silver medalist in the triathlon

Take it outside

Go for a noontime walk outside, especially in winter. Why? You get at least five times as much light as the brightest office (even on dark, stormy days). You get exercise (well, at least some activity). And you avoid big lunches (or at least have less time to eat). All of which helps your mood, memory and weight.

Raymond Lam, professor of psychiatry at the University of British Columbia and director of the Mood Disorders Centre, UBC Hospital

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