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5 New Year's health resolutions based on real research

15 January 2019
Easy-to-keep resolution ideas, backed by our health experts
A new year provides the perfect opportunity to reset your health and fitness goals. While you always want to aim big, the best strategy for success is to start small. Here our experts offer 5 simple ideas based on our top 2018 research findings.
woman power walking

Walk at a pace that makes you slightly out of breath or sweaty.

1. Walk faster to live longer.

The secret to living longer could be as simple as picking up your pace according to the experts.

New research has found walking at an average pace to be associated with a 20 percent risk reduction for all-cause mortality compared with walking at a slow pace, while walking at a brisk or fast pace was associated with a risk reduction of 24 percent

The findings, which were published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine and edited by lead author Professor Emmanuel Stamatakis from the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre and Sydney School of Public Health, suggest that increasing your walking pace may be a straightforward way to improve your heart health and risk for premature mortality.

“A fast pace is generally five to six kilometres per hour, but it really depends on a walker’s fitness levels; an alternative indicator is to walk at a pace that makes you slightly out of breath or sweaty when sustained,” says Professor Stamatakis.

The protective effects of walking pace were also found to be more pronounced in older age groups. Average pace walkers aged 60 years or over experienced a 46 percent reduction in risk of death from cardiovascular causes, and fast pace walkers a 53 percent reduction.

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applying sunscreen

Sunscreen should be applied whenever the UV Index is 3 or above. In Australia, peak daily values in summer are regularly in excess of 12-14.

 

2. Wear sunscreen every time you go outside.

Make wearing sunscreen a part of your normal everyday routine and reduce your risk of developing melanoma by up to 40 percent.

A world-first study led by University of Sydney has found that Australians aged 18-40 years who were regular users of sunscreen in childhood and adulthood reduced their risk of developing melanoma by 40 percent, compared to those who rarely used sunscreen.

Given that two in three Australians will be diagnosed with melanoma or other types of skin cancer by the time they are 70 years old, it seems obvious to make applying sunscreen an everyday habit (rain, hail or shine), however few people actually do it.

Lead researcher, Associate Professor Anne Cust, who heads the Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention Research group at the University of Sydney’s School of Public Health and Melanoma Institute Australia, says “sunscreen should be applied regularly during childhood and throughout adulthood whenever the UV Index is 3 or above, to reduce risk of developing melanoma and other skin cancers."

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High-sugar diets are linked with an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, dementia and 11 different types of obesity-related cancers.

3. Say no to sugar. Seriously.

For the average adult, limiting your sugar intake to around 12 teaspoons a day could ward off all sorts of diseases.

Most of the concern about excess sugar consumption has been focused on weight gain, and rightly so. Our livers can turn sugar into fat. Too much sugar can lead to visceral fat being deposited on your waist. Too much visceral fat and your risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes is significantly increased.

But the bad news doesn’t stop there. Emerging research suggests a link between high-sugar diets, dementia and cancer. We can’t definitively say that sugar causes dementia or cancer but researchers have found links to suggest it’s a contributing factor.

A recent analysis of more than 3,000 people found that those who drink sugary beverages were more likely to have smaller brains and perform worse on a series of memory tests. Post mortem research has also found brain glucose concentration at death to be highest in those with Alzheimer’s disease.

Then there’s also the increased risk of developing 11 different types of obesity-related cancers, or fuelling cancer growth by stimulating insulin secretion - a potent hormone signal for cell growth.

Dr Kieron Rooney, an exercise physiology and nutrition expert at the Faculty of Health Sciences says, “whether or not the sugar itself is the culprit, sugary foods are linked to health problems – and that should be reason enough to cut down.”

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woman sleeping

Sleep-wake disturbance is associated with cognitive impairment and mental health disorders.

4. Prioritise sleep for good brain health.

Promote healthy brain ageing by ensuring you get a minimum of 7 hours of sleep every night.

With more than 50 million people globally living with dementia and 10 million new diagnoses each year, clinical neuropsychologist Professor Sharon Naismith from the Brain and Mind Centre and Charles Perkins Centre is investigating the role of sleep in accelerating cognitive decline, which can lead to dementia.

New scientific evidence shows that sleep is like the brain’s plumbing system – it drains toxins and harmful proteins associated with many types of dementia and flushes them out. It's also vital for consolidating our memories overnight, regulating our immune system and inflammatory responses and for the growth and integrity of our brain cells.

Given that sleep-wake disturbance is something that most people can control, it’s a no brainer to ensure you prioritise sleep to promote good brain health and potentially prevent dementia down the track.

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dinner plate with sad face

Craving a muffin or an ice-cream? There’s no reason you shouldn’t treat yourself, as long as the treat is occasional.

5. Ditch the diet.

Reset your body’s natural weight to become slimmer and stay that way.

In his bestselling book Interval Weight Loss: How to trick your body into losing weight the scientific way – one month at a time, obesity expert Dr Nick Fuller explains the science behind weight loss and why people who attempt fad diets - such as keto, Atkins or military – generally end up regaining the kilos they’ve lost.

His research suggests that each person has a ‘natural’ weight at which their bodies feel most comfortable. In order to lose weight and keep it off, you need to reprogram your bodies 'set point' and you don’t get there by dieting.

Instead, Nick’s research suggests giving your body a rest at regular intervals to prevent the natural ‘fight-or-flight’ response your body takes to weight loss – the decrease in metabolism slowing down your body functioning and the change in appetite hormones telling you to eat more.

“Research has clearly shown that irregular eating and a history of dieting are two key factors that actually accelerate getting fatter, rather than preventing it,” Dr Fuller says - so make 2019 the year you ditch the diet.

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