Live long with these tips. Image by: Calaimage/ Paul Bradbury
Bad health habits are literally taking years off your life, according to a new Canadian study. But we have strategies for curbing the worst offenders.
We have bad news and good news. First, the bad: whether it’s being a couch potato, smoking, letting one glass of Chardonnay turn into the whole bottle, or indulging in a giant bowl of chips and dip, our most beloved vices are killing us. Or rather, they’re drastically reducing our life expectancy, says a new study recently published in the peer-reviewed journal PLOS Medicine. It found that smoking, eating junk food, vegging out and drinking can actually slash almost six years off the life expectancy of both men and women.
The study, authored by Dr. Doug Manuel, a senior scientist at The Ottawa Hospital and professor at the University of Ottawa, focused on the worst habits, which contributed to nearly half of all deaths reported in Canada. Using a predictive algorithm Manuel and his team created, population health surveys at the individual level were examined to learn just how dangerous these vices can be. The findings were dramatic—“smoking, by itself, was associated with 32% to 39% of the difference in life expectancy across social groups,” the study says.
But that’s where the good news comes in: though their impact can’t be understated, you can combat unhealthy habits—or at least tame them. Here are the 4 guilty pleasures that are worst for your health, and what you can do to curb them.
While only about 20 per cent of Canada’s total population smokes, it is still the reigning health hazard for Canadians. When lighting up again, remember that the overall loss of life expectancy is an estimated 2.8 years. Coming up with a smoking cessation plan can help you butt out.
2. Eating Junk Food
A poor diet can shave off 1.2 years of your life, so we think it’s safe to say that giving into your sweet tooth at every craving is not a good call. To head off that 3pm junk food craving, don’t skip meals, and keep healthier snack options on-hand.
3. Physical Inactivity
With all the hours you put in at the office, it can be hard to find the opportunity and motivation to head to the gym. But yoga, Pilates, running or even going on 15-minute walks will add an extra 2.6 years onto your life. The solution? Changing your perspective.
4. Consuming Alcohol
Drinking has the least impact of these four vices—drinking contributed to a two-week decrease in life expectancy, but we know heavy drinking impacts your health in other ways. That’s why it’s important to drink with restraint.
Put your slow cooker to work and save time with these 20 easy and satisfying recipes.
Serve this saucy pulled pork as sandwiches: piled high on buns, with bowls of garnishes, such as pickled jalapeños, sour cream, shredded cheese and thinly shredded red cabbage (or better yet, red cabbage slaw), and let guests build their own sandwiches.
This recipe can easily be left to simmer away in a slow cooker for eight hours before adding the chicken. It yields a large quantity of sauce that freezes well if you're feeding a smaller group. Serve over hot steamed basmati rice.
This roast, inspired by a classic Belgian stew, is juicy and tender over mashed potatoes, and the leftovers make the ultimate hot sandwich. Cook the bacon and onion mixture the night before so it's ready to add to the slow cooker in the morning without a lot of fuss.
This beanless regional specialty is a point of pride in Cincinnati, where fierce loyalty divides the city over which restaurant serves the best version. Cooked low and slow, with the distinguishing flavours of cinnamon and cocoa, the meaty, saucy chili is served over spaghetti.
This mild, sweet curry has all the comforting flavours of a curry without too much spice, making it a great choice for the entire family. Serve over steamed rice or with warmed naan bread.
You won't believe how tasty and easy it is to make this classic dish in your slow cooker. A piping bag - or plastic bag - makes easy work of stuffing the manicotti. Serve with a tossed salad and garlic bread for an easy family-style dinner.
A brisket needs to be cooked slowly, so using a slow cooker makes perfect sense. Ensure tender slices by cutting the brisket thinly across the grain.
Inspired by Portuguese caldo verde, this hearty, richly flavoured soup is a yummy way to use up an entire bunch of kale in one go. It freezes well, so leftovers make quick and easy lunches all week. The soup thickens as it stands; thin with water and adjust the seasonings as desired when you reheat it.
My mother, Shu-Lai Fong, makes famous pressure-cooked black bean spareribs. They're the inspiration for this recipe, which is just as delicious but uses a slow cooker. You'll find bite-size bone-in pork spareribs at most Asian grocery stores, or you can order them at your butcher's counter.
This hearty sauce is best served over a short pasta with lots of nooks and crannies it can tuck into and cling to. This ragu also makes a delicious lasagna filling when layered with sheets of fresh pasta and ricotta and mozzarella cheeses. Cost: $2.15/cup
There are few things more comforting than a bowl of rich, creamy seafood chowder. Sweet, licorice-like fennel naturally complements the seafood. Serve with oyster crackers or crusty bread and a simple green salad for a complete meal.
Chorizo sausage and flavourful spices make this chili a real treat to come home to. Stirring in chopped herbs at the end adds a welcome touch of freshness.
Slow-cooked then quickly finished on the grill, sweet and sticky glazed ribs are guaranteed to impress your guests. Pork side ribs are also called St. Louis–style ribs, but back ribs are equally delicious.
Finally a flavourful risotto that doesn't need any stirring! Dried mushrooms work perfectly to create an earthy aroma, we've used dried porcinis here as they're readily available, but any dried mushroom will do. Hearty pot barley makes adds a healthful twist and doesn't become overly mushy - even after 8 hours.
Sweet honey and tender shallots mellow the typically strong flavour of lamb shoulder. Serve with roasted potatoes and steamed greens for a complete meal.
We've swapped beef broth for chicken broth and onions for tender leeks but kept all the flavour in this lighter version of classic French onion soup. When you get home, just toast the baguette, broil the cheese and enjoy!
This veggie-loaded chili is so hearty that even meat lovers will ask for seconds. To freeze it, cook as directed, but don't add the mushrooms. Cook them separately and add to the chili after reheating it. Serve with crusty bread to soak up every bit of sauce.
Inspired by the traditional Mexican tacos served with spicy thin pork slices and pineapple, this slow cooker version features pork shoulder broken into tender bite size chunks. If you don't want to serve these as tacos, try serving the pork on top of steamed white rice instead.
This all-in-one meal is a roast version of classic beef and barley soup. The barley thickens the cooking liquid to make a delicious gravy.
Using stewing beef instead of ground meat adds delicious bulk to this otherwise classic chili. Serve as is or use it as a topping for baked potatoes.
Our experts answer reader questions about dropping the last 10 pounds—or more.
Question: I've heard that lifting weights helps the body burn calories even when you're not active. True or false? — Reiko
Answer: That's true. A lot of women prioritize cardio because they want to lose fat, but that burns calories only while you're exercising; as soon as you stop, you're no longer burning as much. Instead, lifting weights revs up your metabolism, so you'll continue burning calories for a few hours after your workout. And don't worry about bulking up; women don't have enough testosterone for that. But you will get leaner!
— Trudie German, certified personal trainer and owner of bodyenvy.ca, Toronto
Question: Is it possible I'm meant to be this big? I've been about the same size all my adult life, give or take a dress size. My mom and my sister are both size 14, and so were my grandmas. Maybe it's genetics? — Anne
Answer: Your genes do play a role, but it's more important to remember that size isn't really a good measure of health. If you're active, feeling good and sleeping and eating well, you probably don't have to worry. According to the World Health Organization, obesity is defined as "abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that may impair health." Of course, as you get heavier, there's a greater likelihood your health could be negatively impacted. But it's impossible for me to tell just by having you step on a scale; I have to do all sorts of tests to see if your weight really is affecting your health.
— Dr. Arya Sharma, founder of the Canadian Obesity Network and professor at the University of Alberta
Question: I'm injured and I can't work out. Is it still possible to lose weight? (Even if I'm eating my feelings about not being able to exercise?) — Katie
Answer: It's certainly possible! In fact, what you eat has more of an impact on your weight than exercise. You won't be able to work off extra calories, so be particularly mindful of other factors that influence weight, too, by getting enough sleep, finding ways to manage stress and choosing healthy whole foods in appropriate portions. And try these tricks: Serve vegetables family-style so they're within easy reach, but keep richer foods on the stovetop; use a smaller plate; and focus on your food—you're more likely to overindulge if you're distracted, so try not to eat in front of the TV, in the car or at your desk at work. Lastly, don't deny your hunger; eventually, it will backfire and you'll find yourself overeating or grabbing a convenient but unhealthy snack. People often think they have to cut back on food if they're going to lose weight, but I counsel my clients to eat more during the day. The idea isn't to willpower your way to weight loss; it's to make sustainable changes.
— Casey Berglund, registered dietitian and owner of worthyandwell.com, Calgary
Try this simple way to beat stress and help relieve symptoms of anxiety and depression.
If you're into yoga, there's a practice you might already be doing that's been shown to benefit people who suffer from mental illness.
A recent study from the University of Pennsylvania found yogic breathing, a practice known as Sudarshan Kriya, helped "alleviate severe depression in people who did not fully respond to antidepressant treatments," and lessened symptoms, such as stress, associated with the mental illness.
Karusia Wroblewski, who teaches yogic breathing in her yoga classes at Toronto's Yogaspace, says the technique has significantly improved the lives of both herself and her students. "They have more energy and their outlook on life improves," she says. "One student reported being able to cut back on anxiety medications. I just received a thank-you letter from a student who had suffered from deep depression, panic, anxiety attacks and insomnia."
Yogic breathing is more than just slowed inhalation and exhalation—it requires a conscious effort in recognizing and regulating our breathing patterns by adjusting the speed, rhythm and volume of each breath. According to Wroblewski, we often neglect the importance of breathing because it's a natural process. She says injuries, stress and even strong emotions can affect "healthy breathing."
Thankfully, for those who can't make it out to yoga class, you can practise yogic breathing at home. It's entirely safe for beginners. Wroblewski suggests finding an experienced instructor if you want to try intermediate or advanced techniques. Here's how to do it.
When: Try practising when you wake up in the morning, or at night right before you go to bed. It's not ideal to do this type of breathing on a full stomach.
Proper position: Start by lying on your back with a pillow under your knees and interlace your fingers, resting them on your abdomen. Close your eyes. Let the tension in your body melt away.
The basics: Inhale gently through your nose—imagine a balloon inside your body slowly inflating. Exhale through your mouth while the air escapes the balloon. Control your breathing; your breaths in and out should be smooth. While you're breathing, try not to dwell on your thoughts—just let them come and go, as if they were on a cloud floating by. Repeat the breaths three to four times, then close your mouth while continuing to breathe through your nose.