We’re told to get our eight hours, watch our salt intake and embark on daily sweat sessions, yet where exactly is the science behind these health rules we follow so religiously? Read on to discover the nine health sins that may not be as sinful as you first thought...
Skip The Gym For A Lie-In
Don’t beat yourself up for turning off your alarm and skipping your morning workout if you’re tired or feeling a bit below par. High-intensity workouts can cause cortisol levels to soar, especially if you’re already fatigued or stressed out, which will do you no favours later in the day. If your workouts are regularly making you crash in the afternoon or if your muscles are so sore you can barely move, think about taking a rest day.
Forget About BMI
Forget obsessing over your Body Mass Index (BMI – a ratio of your weight to your height) as an increasing amount of research suggests it may be irrelevant when it comes to assessing your health. Critics say BMI ignores muscle mass as well as hip circumference, meaning you can have a high BMI but very little body fat; at the same time, someone who is very inactive may have a BMI in the ‘normal’ range yet have high levels of body fat and little muscle, even though they may not look out of shape. Instead, aim for a balanced diet and plenty of exercise to let your weight settle naturally.
Eat Your Eggs
After years of being sidelined, health experts have gone full circle on the humble egg. Contrary to popular belief, the cholesterol in the food you eat has virtually no impact on the cholesterol level of your blood. This is, in fact, down to sugar and refined carbs, so you’re better off cutting the sugar from your latte instead of the yolk from your avocado toast. One large egg contains around 80 calories and is one of the few food sources to contain a full spectrum of amino acids; plus, two large eggs will provide your daily RDA of vitamin B12, which is essential to keep your metabolism ticking and nervous system healthy. Aim for two per day and buy the best you can afford.
Get Eight Hours Of Sleep
Struggle to get your eight hours? Fear not. Instead, try to think about your sleep in cycles rather than hours and plan your bedtime this way. Each full sleep cycle lasts 90 minutes and is normally repeated several times each night; most of us need four or five cycles in a 24-hour period to feel fully rested and refreshed. If you know you’ll be out later than 11pm, accept you’ll only be able to get four cycles in – get to sleep around 12:30am and wake up at 6:30am and we guarantee you won’t feel tired in the morning. You heard it here first.
Give Breakfast A Miss
Inextricably linked to the ongoing fasting debate, recent studies suggest skipping breakfast isn’t so bad for us after all. Experts say the idea that metabolism slows in response to the lack of a meal is wholly inaccurate and that, instead, it’s the amount of calories you take in and their composition, i.e. proteins, carbs and fats, that really has an impact on metabolism. At the same time, research has shown intermittent fasting reduces insulin levels, enabling improved blood sugar management and allowing us to re-tune our bodies for the better and recognise when we are truly hungry. Moreover, skipping breakfast could help to steer you away from typical high-carb breakfast foods such as toast, granola and biscuit bars, which trigger an insulin response and kick your body out of fat-burning mode.
Scale Back Your Protein
Hear us out on this one – while there’s no denying the importance of a protein-rich diet, especially if you lead an active lifestyle, it can be easy to overdo this vital nutrient. As a rough measure, women who workout for 45 minutes three to five days per week need around 0.45g per pound of body weight. So for a 64kg woman, this translates to 50g of protein daily as a minimum. You’d be surprised how quickly this adds up – just two palm-sized portions of chicken or fish and you’ve hit your daily target. Amino acids are found in almost every plant, grain and animal food, so if you’re getting enough calories, it’s almost impossible to be protein deficient. And while you should consume around 15-25g protein after any type of exercise that stresses the muscles, don’t forget about your carbs, too, as it’s the clever carbs that help transport amino acids into your body’s cells to trigger recovery.
If you suffer from high blood pressure or have heart problems, lowering your salt intake can help. But for healthy, active people (especially those who workout at least three times a week – your 6g RDA can easily be lost in an hour of sweating), adding an extra pinch of sea salt to your veggies won’t do any harm. In fact, sports nutritionists claim this can help your body to recover more quickly and salt has also been proven to speed up cortisol clearance from the blood, meaning your body can more efficiently deal with ‘stressful’ situations – be it a work deadline or an emotional situation. Just be sure you’re eating unrefined sea salt, such as Maldon Salt, and not processed table salt.
Have Another Drink
We’re all about balance here at SL, meaning that when it comes to alcohol, we’re the first to tuck into a second glass of wine. While it’s nothing new, the key to a healthy relationship with alcohol is all about moderation – aim for 14 units per week (a bottle of wine is 10 units), ideally spreading your consumption over several days rather than drinking the full allowance in one go. And before you pour that glass of red, give a thought to white wine, too, as studies show it contains similar levels of antioxidants. When it comes to spirits, consider tequila – it’s naturally lower in sugar and carbs than other spirits – as well as Polish vodka, where the appellation control means you can’t add sugar to the spirit, a law that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world.
Thanks to the likes of Joe Wicks and Kayla Itsines, carbs are making a comeback with the wellness world turning their back on protein-only and carb-free lifestyles. As one of the three macronutrients (the other two being protein and fat), carbohydrates are essential for our bodies to thrive – they are, in fact, the body’s main source of fuel for energy, stamina and concentration and help to regulate our heart rate, digestive system and breathing. Studies show the right balance of macronutrients will not only help you lose weight but will also make your body more efficient at burning fat and building lean muscle. Aim for at least 150g per day (stick to unrefined, unprocessed and complex varieties) for optimum energy, especially if you hit the gym more than three times per week.