Many people understand that proper nutrition and physical activity are essential for weight loss and overall health. Nevertheless, there is a general disconnect with ‘what people know they should do’ and ‘what they choose to do’.
One aspect of this is that in today’s society many people would rather search for a ‘quick fix’ approach rather than put in the work and effort needed to produce the long-term results and success they desire.
In recent years more and more people are beginning to take their first steps towards a healthier lifestyle. They may be well-intentioned, but most are not focused on the long term ‘health’ benefits of a proper diet and a physically active lifestyle. They instead focus on ‘losing weight quickly’ and the aesthetic appeal, rather than on the importance and benefits of long-term optimal health.
Unfortunately, the quick fixes in the health and fitness world often lead to even more negative results. For example restrictive & ’fad’ diets tend to be unsustainable and can lead to poor relationships with food, weight regain, body dysmorphia and the dreaded seemingly never ending cycle of yo-yo dieting!
Nutrition is the basis of living a healthy lifestyle. What some people fail to realise (or they choose not to?) is that there are many additional risks of combining bad food choices with physical inactivity other than simply gaining weight. Little to no physical activity (being sedentary) and poor nutrition are considered major risk factors for several illnesses and medical conditions, including heart disease, diabetes and obesity to name a few.
In general, poor nutrition falls into one or more of the following categories:
Excess processed foods, which can be high in sodium, sugar, empty calories, and saturated/trans fats.These include: Convenience foods such a crisps, Deli & fast food options such as jambon/sausage rolls and McDonald's, etc.
Deep fried foods
Many packaged/processed foods (reading labels is important)
Excessive consumption of foods with added sugar such as: Sugar sweetened drinks like coke and fruit juices, milk chocolate and candy.
Commercially baked products, such as cakes and cookies
Excess total calories in general
The human race are moving less and less and are consuming roughly 400-500 calories more than we were 30-50 years ago! This is a major contributing factor to increased rates of weight gain and obesity.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) states that physical inactivity is a ‘Global Public Health Problem’ and reports that about 3 million people worldwide die from conditions related to physical inactivity. People of all ages, from children to the elderly, can suffer adverse consequences if they live a sedentary lifestyle and are physically inactive. (1)
Despite incredible advances in technology, including medical technology that helps us to live longer, the lifespan of the average person has started to decline, largely in part due to the rise in chronic diseases. Over time, a sedentary lifestyle and inadequate nutrition can lead to the development of chronic diseases. These diseases are long-term illnesses that are not contagious, diet-related and largely preventable. (2)
Physical inactivity and poor diet often lead to weight gain in the form of body fat and lower levels of lean muscle tissue which leads to a lower Resting Metabolic Rate (3). This means that as you continue to exercise less and lead an unhealthy lifestyle, the slower your metabolism becomes. The result is that your body needs fewer calories for fuel on a daily basis and will be more likely to store excess calories as body fat!
Excessive body fat (especially in the abdominal area) can be associated with insulin resistance, poor cardio respiratory output, high cholesterol, etc. These factors, over time, eventually lead to obesity and other chronic diseases such as diabetes, cancer, osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease. (3)
Chronic diseases account for approximately 63% of deaths worldwide, and the proportion of people dying from chronic disease is steadily increasing at 14% each year. (2) The WHO recently estimated that in developed countries, incidences of chronic diseases are predicted to increase by 10-15% over the next decade. Tobacco use, alcohol consumption, genetics, education, environmental and economic factors also play a role in the development of these diseases.
As chronic diseases are largely preventable, it is important for all of us to work on getting in enough physical activity and couple it with an overall healthy diet, but as we see by the increasing numbers of chronic diseases, this is not the case for many. Our behaviour is literally killing us.
The State of Health in Ireland
In Ireland, we are now averaging a ripe old age of 82.5 years life expectancy; 9th highest in relation to our European counterparts (4). Yet we have a huge problem on our hands in the form of inactivity and poor nutrition leading to a growing battle of obesity and other related chronic diseases.
Total public health expenditure has risen from €13.7 billion in 2007 to an estimated €15 billion in 2017. Estimates for 2017 indicate a 4.8% increase in expenditure from 2016. (5)
Irish data indicates that the current number of adults suffering from chronic disease in Ireland is set to increase to around 40% of the adult population by 2020. (5) According to the Health Service Executive (HSE), chronic disease resulted in 76% of deaths in Ireland in 2015. While in 2011, two in every five hospitalisations were directly related to chronic illness which includes cancer, cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, and diabetes. (5)
Don't become another statistic.
Ireland is the 8th most obese country in Europe; with 69% of men deemed overweight and 26% clinically obese. In women, this figure is slightly lower at 52% of women in Ireland are overweight with 21% classified as obese. (7)
The findings from the Healthy Ireland Survey (2015) indicate that only approximately 1/3 of the adult population is considered ‘physically active’. Of particular importance, those who are obese are more likely to have a low level of physical activity. (6)
The prevalence of obesity amongst men increased from 8% in 1990 to 26% in 2011, and among women, it increased from 13% to 21% over the same timeframe (8).
Data from the 2015 Healthy Ireland Survey shows that 60% of the population aged 15 years and over are either overweight or obese. (6)
Even more alarming is a study published by the Lancet Journal on a trend analysis of obesity rates in 200 countries which predicts Ireland to be the most obese in Europe by 2030; this analysis predicts an estimated 89% of men and 85% of women in Ireland will be overweight or obese. (9)
The fact that six out of every ten of our population is overweight or obese means that Ireland faces a dramatic increase in risk for the other related chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes. (10)
High blood pressure – the major determinant of stroke – affects over a third of the adult population and this figure doubles after the age of 60 years. Globally, 62% of stroke, 49% of coronary heart disease and 14% of other cardiovascular disease has been attributed to inadequate control of blood pressure. (11)
Heart disease & cardiovascular disease remains the most common causes of death in Ireland. It is currently the cause of one-third of all deaths and one in five premature deaths. Approximately 10,000 people die each year from cardiovascular disease – including coronary heart disease, stroke and other circulatory diseases. By 2020, thew number of people with cardiovascular disease is set to increase by 40% according to recent trends brought about by national cardiovascular health policy (12).
Diabetes will be the foremost public health challenge facing the world in the coming years, with the global incidence of diabetes likely to exceed 250 million by 2025. (13) According to the Irish health board, there are 200,000 people in Ireland with diabetes and more than 50% are not even aware that they have the condition. (13)
Approximately 800,000 adults over 40 in the Republic of Ireland are at increased risk of developing (or have) Type 2 diabetes. (6) More alarmingly, there are roughly 300,000 people aged between 30 – 39 that are overweight and not participating in the weekly 150 minutes recommended physical activity, leaving them at an increased risk of the above-mentioned health consequences. This means that there are approximately 1 million adults in Ireland that need to consider making changes to their daily behaviours regarding eating healthy and being more active. (6)
See No Evil, Speak No Evil Hear No Evil: Are We Ignoring the Facts?
What’s surprising is that Ireland as a whole has a greater perceived belief of physical health; with 83% of people who took part stated in the study believe that they are physically healthy! (6)
There seems to be a serious ‘out of sight out of mind’ mentality across the nation. We tend to sweep it under the rug when it comes to confrontational or negative topics. Many people don't want to deal with issues head on and would rather leave it until it’s too late.
Again, one aspect of all of this is that people tend to want something for nothing; especially when it comes to their health and fitness regime. In today’s ‘quick fix mentality’ society people are used to getting what they want almost immediately. People also tend to want a short-term solution rather than putting in the effort that it takes to produce long-term success. Unfortunately, many only see the light and make their health and fitness a priority when it’s too late, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
We have to realise that the health care system is reactive by design – it treats sick people, but there is a lack of preventing people from getting sick in the first place. The onus is on every one of us to take action.
It is a common assumption that one is healthy if they are disease or symptom-free. We must embrace the concept that the majority of these chronic diseases are a direct cumulative effect of years of consistent poor nutrition and lack of physical activity.
Most people know this already, however, they may not know or understand how to make effective lifestyle changes. Behavioural change is complex, and there are many barriers people can face when making lifestyle changes. Nonetheless, it’s important to take the first step and realise the vastness of the negative health consequences that will arise if we as a nation continue to turn a blind eye to this silent killer.
So how can we make a change? It's quite simple:
Move More. Eat Healthier.
Aerobic exercise (some people refer to this as ‘cardio’) can help to improve your heart health and endurance and aid in weight loss. Being at an optimal weight helps reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease, and can even help to reverse chronic disease.
Resistance/strength training can improve muscle strength and endurance, make it easier to do daily activities, slow disease-related declines in muscle strength, and provide stability to joints. It also helps to achieve and maintain an optimal weight by increasing muscle mass. Muscle is more metabolically active, therefore the more we have, the better we can maintain a healthy weight.
Flexibility exercises may help you to have more range of motion about your joints so that they can function better, and stability exercises may help reduce the risk of falls.
By incorporating exercise into your lifestyle long-term, you can greatly improve your health and reduce your risk of chronic disease. Start with incorporating small amounts at a time, and slowly work your way up. It’s also important to find something you enjoy, and incorporate a mix of aerobic, resistance, and flexibility exercises.
Medical experts have long recognised the effects of diet on the risk of CVD, but the relationship between diet and many other conditions, including specific cancers, diabetes, renal stones, dental disease, and birth defects, have emerged in recent years.
The following lists six aspects of diet for which strong evidence supports a reduced risk of chronic disease:
Consume healthy types of fats. Replace saturated and trans fats with unsaturated fats, including omega-3 fatty acids
Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables
Replace refined grains with whole grains
Limit sugar intake
Limit excessive calories (especially from highly processed, low-nutrient foods)
Limit sodium intake
Having said all of this, if it were easy to live a healthy lifestyle, more people would be doing it! Our environments are not always supportive of making healthy choices, for many different reasons. It’s important to know this, and if you struggle with making healthy lifestyle changes, know that you are not alone.
Many people tend to try to take on too many changes at once, and then get overwhelmed and give up, sometimes blaming themselves. If this sounds like you, it doesn’t mean you have failed; it just means perhaps you tried a strategy that wasn’t a good fit for you or you took on too much. We are all so unique, so what works for one person may not work for another.
The secret to success is to break down your healthy living goals into mini goals that are easy to manage and track your progress. Goals should also be SMART which represents ‘Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-bound’ (more on this in a later blog post)
Nutrition is a science, and there is so much misinformation out there in the online world. Please take the time to seek fitness and nutrition information from credible sources, and work with reliable, certified nutrition professionals.
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(1) World Health Organisation (WHO) 2017. Physical Inactivity: A Global Public Health Problem. Available from: http://www.who.int/dietphysicalactivity/factsheet_inactivity/en/
(2) WHO, Raising the priority of non-communicable disease in development work at global and national levels. http://www.who.int/ncdnet/events/booklet_20100224.pdf
(3) Booth, F. W., Roberts, C. K., & Laye, M. J. (2012). Lack of exercise is a major cause of chronic diseases. Comprehensive Physiology, 2(2), 1143–1211. http://doi.org/10.1002/cphy.c110025
(4) Health in Ireland. Key Trends 2016. Available from: http://health.gov.ie/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/Health-in-Ireland-Key-Trends-2016.pdf
(5) Health Service Executive 2017. Prevention and Management of Chronic Disease. Available from: http://www.hse.ie/eng/about/Who/clinical/integratedcare/programmes/chronicdisease/
(6) Healthy Ireland Survey 2015. Summary of Findings. Available from: http://health.gov.ie/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Healthy-Ireland-Survey-2015-Summary-of-Findings.pdf
(7) Safe Food Survey 2011. Weight Status of the Population of the Republic of Ireland. Available from:http://www.safefood.eu/SafeFood/media/SafeFoodLibrary/Documents/Professional/Nutrition/Adult-and-children-obesity-trends-ROI.pdf
(8) National Adult Nutrition Survey 2011. Summary Report. Available from: http://www.iuna.net/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/National-Adult-Nutrition-Survey-Summary-Report-March-2011.pdf
(9) Trends in adult body-mass index in 200 countries from 1975 to 2014: a pooled analysis of 1698 population-based measurement studies with 19·2 million participants
The Lancet, Volume 38, Issue 10026, 1377 – 1396. Available from: https://secure.jbs.elsevierhealth.com/action/showCitFormats?pii=S0140-6736%2816%2930054-X&doi=10.1016%2FS0140-6736%2816%2930054-X&code=lancet-site
(10) European Health Interview Survey 2016. Almost 1 adult in 6 in the EU is considered obese. Available from: http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/documents/2995521/7700898/3-20102016-BP-EN.pdf/c26b037b-d5f3-4c05-89c1-00bf0b98d646
(11) World Health Organisation 2016. Cardiovascular Diseases (CVDs). Available from: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs317/en/
(12) Irish Heart Foundation 2015. The Cost of Heart Failure in Ireland. Available from: https://static.rasset.ie/documents/news/cost-of-heart-failure-report-web.pdf
(13) Diabetes Ireland 2017. Diabetes Prevalence in Ireland. https://www.diabetes.ie/about-us/diabetes-in-ireland/
(14) Booth, F. W., Roberts, C. K., & Laye, M. J. (2012). Lack of exercise is a major cause of chronic diseases. Comprehensive Physiology, 2(2), 1143–1211. http://doi.org/10.1002/cphy.c110025
(15) Diet and Chronic Disease - WHO and FAO (World Health Organisation and Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations). 2003. Diet, Nutrition, and the Prevention of Chronic Diseases: Report of a Joint WHO/FAO Expert Consultation. Report 916. Geneva: WHO.