Be the one who skips across the finish line

There's good news: Life expectancy is steadily increasing. Modern medicine is so good now that it is possible to keep us alive for longer than ever. The bad news is: Healthy life expectancy is not increasing.

According to data published by Public Health England in July 2017, life expectancy in the UK is now 79.5 for men and 83.1 for women. Healthy life expectancy however, is 63.1 and 64.4 respectively. 19.0 years less for men and 16.1 years less for women. As life expectancy is increasing, but healthy life expectancy is not, we are spending more and more time of our life sick.



By the time we hit 65, 40% of us are going to have at least one chronic illness: heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, hypothyroidism, depression, dementia, arthritis, and cancer are just the most common ones. How thrilling is it to know that we’re going to live longer, but that we’ll spend a significant chunk of that time in pain?

The human body is an amazing thing. It takes a lot (a lot!) of punishment without complaining and works hard day and night – particularly at night though – to repair the damage we do to it and at least maintain us on a reasonably healthy level. That works really well for many, many years. But there is a point when that repair and maintenance begins to slow down. It is usually only then that we start noticing, and from my own observation I would say that that is at around age 40.

Most of my clients are over 40 and it’s not as if I wouldn’t be happy to see younger clients, it’s just that their diet and lifestyle hasn’t caught up with them yet. When you’re young, you can cope with short nights – whether that time was spent studying, partying, looking after a baby or working long-hours in a stressful job. Our body takes it all: junk food, eating on the run, smoking, drinking and even recreational drugs barely leave a mark (that we can tell). Injuries, like broken bones and torn ligaments, heal quickly and we get back on our feet in no time.

But once we hit our late 30s or early 40s the cracks are beginning to show: Suddenly there is a spare tyre around our middle that didn’t used to be there. Where did that come from? We haven’t changed anything! Anxiety, depression, insomnia, tinnitus, thyroid malfunction, high blood pressure, achy joints, hormonal imbalances, fertility problems, sexual dysfunction, and constant, leaden tiredness suddenly appear.

We’re feeling like cr*p, but at this point we are still looking at a good 20 or 25 years of a working life that is not going to let up. We are still expected to turn up at the same time every day and work hard, be efficient, be brilliant, make a contribution for at least 8 hours a day – as we always have. Once we get home, there is still housework to do, kids – or at this stage parents – to look after, bills to pay, friends to be seen, and just stuff to do. We simply do not have time to collapse on the sofa or crawl into bed to recover for another day.

Meds will help us through: anti-depressants, acid blockers, statins, beta blockers, thyroid hormone, HRT, metformin – once we hit 45, most of us are on at least one or two of those. While prescription drugs may be necessary, they are not going to fix anything, they’ll merely tide us over. All drugs come with side effects, which sometimes require another drug to deal with.

At retirement age, we have finally paid off the mortgage, the children have their own families, we’re not responsible for anyone but ourselves anymore. This is the time to spend the day just the way you like it: socialising with friends, cycling, gardening, volunteering, heck, you could even downsize, buy a camper van and go travelling.

However, if we even make it to retirement, 40% of us merely limp across the finish line, only to then collapse (statistically) and succumb to at least one chronic illness. We might not have the inclination or be in good enough shape to do any of the stuff we had planned.

But that’s old age for you, right? That’s what happens. It’s to be expected that by age 45 we’ve got to be on two or three meds. It’s normal to lay down extra fat and be achy in the morning and tired in the evening. That’s what happens when you age.

Well, actually no, it isn’t. We have come to accept all this as normal, because it is so common. It’s not inevitable though. It is our diet and lifestyle choices that have brought us to this point, and diet and lifestyle are what is going to turn it around for us. Obviously, the sooner you get into healthy habits the better, but it’s never too late!

So, what is it that makes us sick and old?

1. Stress

More than anything else lifelong stress sets us up for chronic illness. Over the time of our lives, most of us are exposed to a lot of psychological and physiological stress. For many, this starts even in childhood and while humans have remarkable resilience, it can catch up with us in middle age.

2. Diet

We still treat diet as an optional factor in health. Yeah, healthy eating is all well and good, but who has time or money for that? We’re busy people and shoving a burger into our mouths during a 15-minute lunch break is just going  to have to do. Or it could be a bag of Wotsits, or a stack of digestives. Anything is sustenance, right? Wrong. Do this for 20 years and you’ll no longer be able to ignore the consequences.

3. Alcohol, smoking and recreational drugs


4. Overweight and obesity

The most damaging thing excess body fat does for us is that it fuels inflammation. Temporary inflammation is a good thing and vital. When the immune system finds something wrong, it springs into action and deals with the problem. There will be redness, swelling and pain for a few days, but then we’ll get better. Chronic inflammation is silent and much less noticeable, but unfortunately chronic: It doesn’t stop. Fat cells, and particularly visceral fat (the fat on the inside) promote chronic inflammation, which is at the root of most chronic illness we experience when we are older.

Address these issues now – whatever your age – and make sure that you are going to be one of those people who skip across the finish line into retirement, ready to face their freedom!

Case Study: Exhausted, stressed and fed-up

A busy mum of two, with job, house, exercise, friends, and not least the mother taxi service ... Laura was exhausted, tired and fed-up. As if life wasn't stressful enough, the sporty and formerly athletic woman was even growing a spare tyre around the middle. Where was that coming from? Laura decided to do something about it and picked up the phone. Read on to find out what happened next. 

Food Allergy or Food Intolerance? What's the difference?

Did you know that 45% of us are suffering from some kind of food intolerance? Yet most of us don't even know it and have accepted the often mild, but niggling symptoms as part of the way we are. Others are quite sure that something doesn't agree with them. Note though that 'food allergy' and 'food intolerance' are not the same thing. Read my today's blog to find out how they differ.

How stress can make us fat

We have all heard that stress has a myriad of detrimental effects on the body: It makes us tired and irritable, disrupts sleep, messes with our digestion, drives blood pressure up and upsets our hormone balance to name but a few. Unfortunately, this time of year is associated with stress for many people, not just during the run up to Christmas, but also at Christmas proper when families come together.

Christmas stress diabetes anxiety depression weight gain fat

A lesser known side effect of stress is that it can contribute to weight gain and make it harder to lose weight. Our physical reaction to stress – the ‘stress response’ – is mean to help us out of situations in which we are physically threatened. The ‘fight-or-flight’ reaction is supposed to get us out of real danger, and the stress response is perfectly suited for that (click here for more on the stress response).

As we need to run or fight, we are going to require energy. The stress hormone cortisol ensures the release fat and glucose into the blood stream to provide that energy. Only, we are stressed because of year-end deadlines at work, the long line at the till, our December bank statement or our mother-in-laws special dietary requirements, not a polar bear about to pounce. We are not going to run or fight and are not going to use up that extra energy, so it ends up stored away around the middle, either as visible abdominal fat or visceral fat, the fat around the organs.

Meanwhile, we are also experiencing cravings to keep energy levels up, particularly for sugary foods. There is never any shortage, but before Christmas it is even harder to avoid temptation as well-meaning colleagues bring mince pies into work, we’ve got Christmas lunches and dinners, shops offer family-sized tins of biscuits and chocolates, and home-baking makes the house smell sweet. Resisting temptation is hard enough, put baked goods in front of a stressed person, and they don’t really stand a chance. These sugary foods now add to the already high blood sugar and ultimately even more belly fat. 

In the long run, high cortisol levels can interfere with thyroid function, too. The thyroid regulates your metabolic rate: the amount of calories you burn at rest. A slow metabolic rate means weight gain.

Yes, we all know that stress can ruin your festive mood, but prolonged stress does much more than that: It can lead to anxiety and depression and contributes to heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and dementia. It is also the most common underlying reason for tiredness. Testing your cortisol levels will tell you whether stress has begun to affect your health and can help identify your individual requirements. A nutritional therapist can assist you in getting tested.

It’s not easy to reduce stress, especially in December, but it is worth doing whatever you can to do just that. Is there anyone who could help you? Could your kids contribute some more to running the house, perhaps by putting their own stuff away? Is there anything you can cross off the list, because it’s not actually that important? Can you carve at least 5 minutes out of your day to get away from everything and practise deep breathing techniques or meditate? Anything you can do to lighten your load is going to be helpful.

But knowing when and what to eat can help us cope better with the stressors we cannot remove. Tomorrow’s Nutrilicious News will tell you which foods help build resilience to stress. It is not too late to subscribe. 

If you struggle with stress or illness as a result of stress, why not come and see me in clinic at The Body Matters in Leigh-on-Sea?

An epidemic spiralling out of control: Type 2 Diabetes

Are you or someone close to you affected by diabetes? If your doctor has told you that you are prediabetic, it is time to take action now! Luckily, you can: Making changes to your diet and lifestyle, losing some weight, if necessary, and getting into an exercise routine will help you significantly reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes. It's in your hands.