It can be a challenging process for many when attempting to follow the latest diet plan or exercise program claiming various health benefits. There is an easy way to cut through all the rhetoric regarding these types of diet plans and so-called healthy programs by simply getting more of the following each day: sleep, spinach, steps and strength. Here are some of the health benefits when you get more of each on a regular basis.
GET MORE SLEEP: Sleep should be first on everyone’s list of things to try to get more of because when you’re deficient in it, everything from how you feel to what you eat is affected negatively. Research has shown that people who get less than six hours of sleep a night have higher blood levels of inflammatory proteins than those who get more than 6 hours of sleep.
This is important because inflammation is linked to diabetes, stroke, heart disease, arthritis, and premature aging, according to data published in the Centers for Disease and Control and Morbidity and Mortality Report.
Research conducted in 2004 has shown that sleep deprivation can enhance the release of specific peptides in the body that produce hunger. Men that slept only four hours each night for two days witnessed a decrease in specific hormones such as leptin and an increase in ghrelin compared with men who slept ten hours during that same time period. Leptin is an appetite suppressant hormone that is produced by adipose (fat) tissue, and ghrelin is released from the stomach in response to someone fasting and promotes the feeling of hunger. The hormone leptin acts on the central nervous system, most notably the hypothalamus, by not only suppressing food intake but stimulating energy expenditure as well. Ghrelin levels typically increase before meals and decrease after meals. This particular hormone stimulates appetite as well as fat production and can lead to increased food intake and a gain in body weight. A second study from the University of Pennsylvania Sleep and Chronobiology Laboratory looked at the sleeping and eating behavior of 225 people. They reported in the journal Sleep, when you’re awake between the hours of 10 p.m. and 4 a.m., you’re more likely to consume extra calories. The group ate, on average, an additional 553 calories typically choosing foods higher in fat when they were kept awake until the early morning hours. So you may want to start getting more Z’s beginning tonight. A good tip is to eliminate all caffeinated products by early afternoon if you typically have trouble sleeping.
Recommended reading: The Promise of Sleep by William Dement, MD, Dell Publishers, 2000.
Research study: A Prospective Study of Change in Sleep Duration: Associations with Mortality in the Whitehall II Cohort, Sleep, 2007.
EAT MORE SPINACH: Eating more of a plant-based diet, including spinach, would in fact be a good thing for all of us. There is a 32 percent less chance of getting heart disease on a plant-based diet. Spinach is considered at the top of the healthiest vegetable list for nutrient richness. Not only is it rich in vitamins and minerals, it also has an abundance of health-promoting phytonutrients such as carotenoids and flavonoids to provide you with powerful antioxidant protection. In one study on the relationship between the risk of prostate cancer and vegetable intake — including the vegetables spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, brussels sprouts, collards, and kale — “only spinach showed evidence of significant protection against the occurrence of aggressive prostate cancer.” If you’re interested in trying to eat cleaner, healthier and more of a plant-based diet, like we were, than the Boston-based food delivery service Purple Carrot may be just what the doctor ordered. Visit Purple Carrot and use the promo code “koko” for a $25 discount on your first order.
Research study: Nutritional Update for Physicians: Plant-Based Diets, 2013.
GET MORE STEPS: The odds are that you have heard the old adage “use it or lose it” more than once. It can be a good idea to do a reset, especially before the upcoming Holiday season that is about to take over your life and have a goal of changing your mindset regarding daily activity. The fact is if you’re not finding the time to stay active as you age, your body will slowly begin to “shut down.” When this begins to happens over time – everything from energy levels to metabolism to aerobic capacity to strength – are effected and slowly begin to decrease. Simply getting out for a walk/run/hike will help offset those areas and more. Hippocrates once said, “walking is a man’s best medicine.” To find out if his 2,400 year-old remark was actually valid, two scientists from University College London performed a meta-analysis of research published between 1970 and 2007 in peer-reviewed journals. After studying more than 4,000 research papers, they identified 18 studies that met their high standards for quality. These overall studies evaluated 459,833 test-subjects who were absent of cardiovascular disease at the start of the investigation. The subjects were followed for an average of 11.3 years, during which cardiovascular events (i.e. heart attacks and deaths) were recorded. Their meta-analysis makes a strong case for the benefits of good old walking. The group of studies showed that walking reduced the risk of cardiovascular events by 31 percent, and decreased the risk of dying during the time of the study by 32 percent. A good tool for your tool box is to wear a pedometer to make you more aware of your daily activity via daily steps. Find your 3-day average for steps and start adding 500-1000 steps/week until you’re in the 7,500 to 10,000 steps ball park. For additional information on the benefits of pedometers look into my TBC4 Plan.
GET STRONGER: There is no way around it, you need to get stronger and maintain strength as you age. Getting and staying stronger as you age will help you hold onto your functional ability. The only way to “hold on” to your strength is work on getting stronger now by becoming more active and sticking with strength training for the rest of your life! An area that is often neglected, when it comes to strength, is grip strength. Research has shown for a long time now that elevated grip strength level is associated with increased longevity. In addition to grip strength, focus on getting your big muscle groups stronger, like your back, buttock and legs.
According to research, individuals who did not strength train lost about 5 to 7 pounds of muscle every ten years and the by-product of this was a reduction in their metabolism by about 50 calories a day. As you grow older, the loss of muscle becomes more pronounced and by the time you reach the age of 70, the muscular system has experienced a 40 percent loss of muscle mass and a 30 percent decrease in strength. With the loss of muscle mass comes the loss of strength and power. A person’s balance, mobility and functionality are also compromised. Strength appears to peak between the ages of 25 and 35 and is maintained or slightly lower between ages 40 and 59 and then declines by 12-14 percent per decade after 60 years of age, according to research published by Doherty in 2001.
Research study: Prognostic value of grip strength: findings from the Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology (PURE) study, Lancet, 2015.
Doherty TJ, (2001). The influence of aging and sex on skeletal muscle mass and strength. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care 4:503-508.
Centers for Disease and Control and Morbidity and Mortality Report.
Nedeltcheva AV, et al., (2010). Insufficient Sleep Undermines Dietary Efforts to Reduce Adiposity. Annals Internal Medicine 153, 435-441.
Spiegel, K. et. al, (2004). Sleep Curtailment in Healthy Young Men is Associated with Decreased Leptin Levels, Elevated Ghrelin Levels, and Increased Hunger and Appetite. Annals of Internal Medicine, 141: (11) 846-85.
Rogers, M. A. and Evans, W. J. (1993). Changes in skeletal muscle with aging: Effects of exercise training. In J. O. Holloszy (Ed), Exercise and Sport Science Reviews. Baltimore: Williams and Wilkins.
The Total Body Conditioning Plan, Wood, M, (2016).