Why Healthy Doesn’t Mean Slim

We live in a society where if you’re slim, you’re considered healthy, and if you’re not, you’re unhealthy. The truth is that we shouldn’t reply on weight as an indication of health.

Losing weight isn’t easy. Weight loss diets often require so much restriction of calories, carbs or fat that it’s natural to start feeling deprived. Even when you have lost weight, there’s a good amount of research showing that you’re likely to gain it back over the next few years.

Many experts now believe that focusing on weight loss as the ultimate goal isn’t helpful, and that promoting healthy behaviours is more achievable and may have better outcomes.

With this approach, “if a person loses weight through changing their health behaviours, weight loss is a beneficial side effect, not the primary goal,” says accredited practising dietitian Zoe Nicholson in the RACGP’s newsGP.

Don’t focus on weight

There are a number of problems with making weight loss your only goal, believes Nicholson. While you can actively take steps to improve eating and exercise habits, you may not lose the desired amount of weight. And without the visible change on the scales, you may not be motivated to continue.

Reduced body weight tends to get the credit for improved health, but this is often also the result of changes such as eating better and exercising more.


Healthy behaviour and longer life

There are a number of studies that link a higher Body Mass Index (BMI) with a shorter lifespan. Fewer have investigated healthy behaviours and longevity, independent of body weight. One largescale study of over 11,000 people, published in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine, examined the impact of four behaviours on death rates: eating more fruits and vegetables; exercising regularly; moderate alcohol intake; and not smoking. The researchers then crunched the numbers according to people’s body weight.

The results? Size mattered, to a point. Being thinner was protective – but only if you didn’t have a healthy lifestyle. Having a BMI over 30 increased your risk of dying early – but only if you weren’t following the four healthy behaviours.

What the study did show was that the association between body weight and dying early dropped away almost completely once behaviours were taken into account.

What can we take away from research such as this? Changing your eating patterns and increasing your activity may or may not lead to the desired drop in kilos. But no matter the shift on the scales, your health is going to benefit.

Look After Your Skin

If you are washing your hands frequently or you work with detergents, solvents, oils or acids, you’re at risk of contact dermatitis.

And in today’s environment, when you are encouraged to wash your hands thoroughly for at least 20 seconds every time you handle objects others might also have touched, you are likely to be washing your hands much more frequently than you normally would.

Even before the current encouragement to thoroughly wash your hands, if you worked in the health care industry, handled food, or worked with your hands, you are most at risk of occupational contact dermatitis (OCD).

It is important to note that OCD can affect people from any type of work, including office work. Or indeed, it can affect you even if you’re working from home.


So how do I know if I have OCD?

If you’ve got skin that’s red, dry, swollen, itchy and sore, these are all signs of OCD, and it can have a significant impact on your ability to do your job. OCD is one of the most commonly reported and underestimated occupational diseases. Worldwide, it’s estimated there are between 50 and 190 cases per 100,000 workers each year.

The two most common types of OCD are irritant contact dermatitis and allergic contact dermatitis.

Irritant contact dermatitis:

Approximately 75 per cent of OCD cases are irritant contact dermatitis (ICD). ICD can develop quickly, from accidental exposure to a strong irritant. Most cases, however, are caused by frequent exposure to a weak irritant, such as water, soap or detergent, so anyone who regularly washes their hands is at risk. These can dry and irritate the skin, eventually causing an inflammatory reaction. Contact with a mild irritant may initially only cause your skin to redden, but after continued exposure you may notice small lesions or sores appearing on the reddened area. If you think the ICD is being caused by the soap you are using at home, you may be able to reduce the recurrence by changing your brand of soap.


Allergic contact dermatitis:

About 25 per cent of OCD cases are allergic contact dermatitis (ACD). This is different from ICD as it involves your immune system responding to a substance you’re working with. This allergic response can take days, weeks or even years to develop. Allergens that commonly cause ACD include cosmetic ingredients such as fragrances, metals in jewellery (like nickel), latex, some textiles, and strong glues.

Treatment for OCD includes avoiding the cause where possible, using protective clothing and gloves, and applying moisturising treatments that cover your skin with a protective film.


Look out for dermatitis

Make sure you regularly check your skin for early signs of dermatitis: dryness, itching and redness. This may develop into flaking, scaling, cracks, swelling and blisters. If you’re at work, report any cases of dermatitis to your employer who may refer you to an Occupational Health Doctor or Nurse. If you’re at home, consult your doctor.


28 April is World Day for Safety and Health at Work.

Take a Stand

You may have heard sitting is bad for your health, but does that mean we should stand all day instead?

If you’re an average office worker, then you’re probably spending over six hours a day sitting at work. Studies tell us that prolonged sitting may increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and stroke, even if you’re a keen exerciser. Sitting without breaks can also lead to a sore and stiff neck, shoulders and back.

But standing all day can be hard on your body too, and a combination of sitting and standing seems to bring the most benefits. In 2015, the British Journal of Sports Medicine published a review of the scientific evidence on how to best address sedentary behaviour in the office. They recommended ‘accumulating at least two hours per day of standing and light activity (such as light walking) during working hours.’

The sit-stand desk

One popular solution to the increasing sedentary nature of our jobs is the sit-stand desk, which allows you to move between sitting and standing while at work. But how do you use these to ensure you get the recommended two hours of standing or light activity?

The answer, according to Alan Hedge, Cornell University ergonomist, is the Sit-Stand-Stretch or 20-8-2 regimen. The involves, for every 30 minutes of your workday:

  • 20 minutes of sitting (in good posture)
  • 8 minutes of standing, and
  • 2 minutes standing and moving.

For an average workday of seven and half hours, standing for two hours and moving for 30 minutes.

Tomato time

Even if you don’t have access to a standing desk you can still take regular breaks from sitting. One way to do this is to work in 25-minute bursts, after which you stand up and take a five-minute break. This is also known as the Pomodoro Technique, so named because the bursts of time can be measured using little tomato-shaped kitchen timers – Pomodoro is Italian for tomato.

Use your five-minute break to move your body – perhaps walking to the kitchen to refill your water glass or grab a tea or coffee, or doing some simple neck, shoulder and back stretches.

If you don’t have a tomato timer, there are plenty of apps online that can keep track of your sessions.

How to Spot a Heart Attack

Heart disease is responsible for the most deaths worldwide for both men and women of all races. Heart attacks and strokes make up the majority of this group. The symptoms of a heart attack are not always obvious and can differ between men and women.

Women don’t expect to have a heart attack. Even though men are twice as likely to have a heart attack, heart disease remains the second leading cause of death for women.

A heart attack occurs when blood supply to the heart becomes blocked, reducing the amount of oxygen getting to the heart muscle. This can lead to permanent heart damage.


Warning signs of a heart attack

We’re familiar with the classic Hollywood heart attack of a man clutching at his chest and falling to the floor. The reality can be quite different. Heart attack symptoms are not always sudden or severe, can start slowly with only mild pain or discomfort, and may be different for men and women.

The most common symptoms, for both men and women, are sudden central chest pain or discomfort in the chest that doesn’t go away. It can feel like pressure, tightness or squeezing.

You can also experience symptoms you may not expect, such as:

·       pain radiating down the left or both arms

·       dizziness and/or nausea

·       pain in the jaw, back, neck or shoulders

·       stomach pain or reflux (burning feeling in the throat)

·       fatigue

Research shows that men and women can have different heart attack symptoms. The Australian Heart Foundation says that just over half of women who have a heart attack experience chest pain. Many other women will only experience non-typical symptoms like breathlessness, nausea and arm or jaw pain.

The American Heart Association agrees. According to their 2016 statement published in the journal Circulation, women can report shortness of breath, muscle weakness and fatigue, anxiety, loss of appetite, and profuse, cold sweating.

Women are more likely to put down their symptoms to less life-threatening conditions like acid reflux, the flu or normal ageing and as a consequence will take longer to reach a hospital and get treatment.

By knowing the warning signs and acting quickly you can reduce the damage to your heart muscle and increase your chance of survival. If you experience any symptoms you suspect might be a heart attack, stop, rest and call emergency services.

The Link between Depression and Sleep

Sleep is often considered an optional extra for busy people, trying to cram as much as possible into their day. Yet if you are one of the many people who toss and turn at night, the relief of sleep eluding you, then you will know the agony of insomnia.

While a number of factors can trigger difficulty sleeping, research tells us that if you have depression you are more likely to experience sleep problems. These include problems falling asleep (sleep onset insomnia), difficult staying asleep (sleep maintenance insomnia), or early morning wakening.

It works the other way, too. If you have troubling sleeping, then you have a ten-fold risk of developing depression compared to those who fall asleep easily.

Sleep is a problem for many

The rates of depression are increasing worldwide and so too are sleep problems. A 2019 report commissioned by the Sleep Health Foundation revealed the extent of sleep problems in Australians. It found almost 60 per cent of people regularly experience at least one sleep symptom (like trouble falling or staying asleep). This is concerning, given that sleep problems are also linked to depression.

“It’s troubling to see just how common it is for people to struggle with their sleep when it’s such a vital aspect of good health and happiness,” said Professor Robert Adams, lead author of the report and spokesperson for the Sleep Health Foundation.

“Failing to get the quality of quantity of sleep you need affects your mood, safety and health, not to mention your relationships with family and friends,” he explains. It’s very important to get it right.”

Backed by research

American studies have confirmed the strong link between sleep and depression. A Michigan study followed 1,000 adults over a three-year period. It found those people with insomnia were four times more likely to develop major depression over the three years, compared to those who slept well. In another study that looked at 300 pairs of twins it found that sleep problems in childhood significantly increased the chance of developing depression later in life.


Get the help you need

It is crucial to seek help early for sleep problems. This can reduce the risk of developing depression. And for those people who already have depression it will improve the effectiveness of treatment for your depression.

Talk to your GP if you are experiencing any difficulty falling or staying asleep. You may need to look at your nightly routine and other things during the day that may help or hinder your sleep. Your doctor can also make an assessment of your mental health and recommend treatment if necessary. Sleep psychologists treat insomnia with a form of talking therapy known as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). This is an extremely effective treatment for sleep problems.

Q: Is meat the food most likely to cause food poisoning?

Food poisoning affects at least 600 million people every year and can range from mild to fatal. It can have very serious health consequences for anyone considered at risk, such as pregnant women, the elderly and anyone with a compromised immune system.