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Is Health Just a Numbers Game?

I was never great a maths. In fact, I got an E in my GCSE and had to return to college to retake it and scrapped a pass the 2nd time. It doesn’t come easily to me.

I now find myself in a job where percentages are a daily and my Nutrition job is all about equations and numbers. How did this happen to me!!

It got me thinking about all the numbers that are involved in daily health.

How many calories you eat? How you split your macros into grams per day? How many steps you do a day? How many hours sleep to you get? How many litres of water you drink? How many plants are you eating?

Its all just numbers.

Funnily enough I’ve come to love these little targets we give ourselves and I think they are important markers to work towards to achieve your health goals.

Let’s break some of these down.

Calories – love them or hate them they are important to understand. All or the food and drink we consume are made up of these calories. Your number is individual to you and your goal. That’s why I hate meal plans. Meal plans are set calories and don’t take into consideration the individual needs. Calories are energy. If weight loss is a goal, we need to eat less energy than we burn. If you are aiming to stay the same weight you need to learn your maintenance calories. If we eat too much energy than we burn we then gain weight. It’s as simple as that but not that simple. There is so much nuance.

Steps – Why do we need a step goal? I think a step goal is powerful tool and one that is totally in our control. I love things we can control. Steps equals movement and movement equals a healthier you. Again, your step goal is individual to you. If you are a nurse then your step count is going to be higher than an office desk job worker. That’s why having a goal is great. I could happily sit at my computer all day, look at my watch and see that I only did 1000 steps all day. Seeing that will then encourage me to go for a walk until I hit my goal, encouraging me to move.

Having a step goal is great for weight management/loss but also heart health. Studies show that the sweet step count for health is 8,000 a day.

Sleep – we all know we need 8 hours, right? Well yes but no (as usual its not that simple). The eyeroll of the new parents who hear they need to get 8 hours sleep. The general sweet spot for sleep is 7-9 hours. I personally feel great from 7. My body just naturally starts to wake up then. Sleep is not always in our control but we can control other factors. As humans we actual thrive from routine. Having a sleep routine is important for our body clocks. Going to bed and getting up at the same time each day will create that routine, even if that sleep if broken with night feeds or whatever. No phones in bed. Read if you can’t sleep. Dim the lights, create a nice environment that you actually want to be in.

New mums – I promise it won’t be forever Shift workers – you can only do your best to (to much to say therefore another post)

Lack of sleep leads to an increase in the hunger hormone Ghrelin. That’s why you crave food more when you are tired. If we don’t get enough sleep it is said we can consume up to 500 calories more per day could lead to weigh gain.

Alcohol – the government guidelines say we should be drinking no more than 5 150mls glasses of wine a week. That’s 1 bottle. 1 bottle of wine a week!!!! It’s not a lot is it?

We all know alcohol is bad for us. It’s a carcinogenic and leads to increased risk in many cancers, specifically breast cancers for us women. Yet knowing this we still happily guzzle it down claiming it relaxes us. Its actually doing us no favours, it effects our sleep hence why you feel so tired the day after drinking even though you think you slept well. It leads to other behaviours such as overeating and poor decision making therefore weigh gain.

I am not the alcohol police; I definitely drink more than 1 bottle of wine some weeks but I think its important to know the harsh truths as we only see the shiny advertisements of alcohol. Most of us are not informed enough about the negative effects it on our physical and mental health.

The best bet – avoid binge drinking to much. This is classed as 4 standard drinks in 1 sitting. Try to have 4 days a week without alcohol.

Plants – Eat your plants! Aiming for 5 plus a day is ideal. Aim for different colours. Doing this will help you get the vitamins and minerals you need to help your body to its thing and make you feel better. Include at least 2 fruits, green veg for iron, your beans, pulses and legume for extra fibre.

There we have it.

Achieving optimal health is a numbers game but all of our numbers are not the same. This is the tip of the iceberg, there is so much more but I didn’t want to bore you to death.

Following generic numbers will only get you so far as they are a guide but are they right for you as an individual?

Seeing a Nutritionist to discuss your goals really is the way to go.