In It For Life

by on February 17, 2013

in News

It was my honor to do an interview with the CALGARY HERALD in February 2013

Here is a copy of the interview “In it for Life”

In it for life – healthier and happier

How you can make your healthy changes last

By Yvonne Jeffery, Calgary Herald February 13, 2013

When I tell you what I’ve learned in two months of researching Health Club, you’re going to roll your eyes. Because you probably already know it.

• Eat a healthy diet.

• Exercise.

• Maintain a healthy weight.

• Don’t smoke.

• Reduce sodium in your diet.

• Manage stress.

• Sleep well.

• Manage chronic conditions such as diabetes and arthritis.

All easier said than done, right? Right. Because if it was easy, we’d be doing it, and most of us aren’t, at least not consistently.

What would really make a difference?

If you’re looking to improve your health, Calgary pediatrician Dr. Peter Nieman has a diet suggestion for you — and he’s deliberately calling it a diet, although deprivation isn’t part of it.

“It’s the Mediterranean diet,” he says, noting the good, healthy fats it contains, with healthy plant-based foods, moderate portions and lots of fish. “It’s passed the test of time for decades.”

According to the Mayo Clinic (which has an excellent description of the diet at, the diet includes getting plenty of exercise, eating primarily plant-based foods such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts, replacing butter with healthy fats such as olive oil and canola oil, using herbs and spices instead of salt to flavour foods, limiting red meat to no more than a few times a month, eating fish and poultry at least twice a week, and, if you want, drinking red wine in moderation.

Vegetables, says Nieman, who is also the founder of Calgary’s Pediatric Weight Clinic, are a big part of the solution.

“If we talk about keeping kids healthy, I’m sure that one of the reasons (they’re not) is that they’re not consuming enough vegetables: for example, in vegetable omelettes and vegetable soups,” he says.

“We’re overweight and undernourished — because we’re getting enough of the macronutrients, but we’re not getting enough of the micronutrients, and a great source of micronutrients is vegetables.

“Another advantage of veggies is that you have to eat slower . . . (which) really helps you not to get hungry so quickly.

“I think if nutrition was a newspaper, I would put vegetables on page one and I would put fruits on page two. Vegetables are such an important thing and are undersold. You can try hard enough to cut sugars, but you can’t ever try hard enough to get enough vegetables into your child.”

Nieman also says it’s important to know yourself — to understand what an optimal, healthy weight would be for you, instead of judging your body by anyone else’s standards, particularly those that emphasize weight loss over health.

And if you or your children are struggling to reach a healthy weight, he says checking on your emotional health can be as important as your physical health, as issues such as family dynamics, self esteem and emotional eating can all play into the choices we make about food.

“If I reflect on what I’ve learned, behaviour is a key thing,” says Nieman. “. . . it’s difficult to do this without a psychologist. It’s like arriving at the Super Bowl without a quarterback.”

The role model effect

Over at Calgary’s Cardel Place, they want to leave us with one more reminder.

“(It’s) the importance of modelling behaviours as adults so that kids can see healthy living in action,” says spokesperson Lorrie Lancaster.

“Just reinforcing or highlighting simple tips that parents and kids can do to start healthy living at home right away.”

They recommend an excellent online resource guide by the Alliance for Healthier Generations that says good health starts at home. Here are three of their strategies for kids, with one of their tips for each:

1. Get one hour or more of physical activity each day (teach your kids to dance while they talk on the phone, watch TV, brush their teeth or clean their rooms).

2. Get nine hours of sleep each night (if your children lie awake worrying about the day ahead, have them write in a diary or make a to-do list. Jotting down notes before sleep helps to clear and settle the mind).

3. Eat fruits and vegetables at every meal (add them to foods that are cooked or baked. Toss veggies into pasta sauce, lasagna, casseroles, soups and omelettes. Mix fresh or frozen berries into pancakes, waffles or muffins).


Is there a magic bullet?

According to Dan Buettner, author of The Blue Zones, 9 lessons for living longer from the people who’ve lived the longest (National Geographic, 2012, $16.95), there isn’t just one answer to living longer, healthier, happier lives.

In fact, there are nine. Nine strategies that he was able to distil from years of researching the world’s “Blue Zones,” where the proportion of healthy 90- to 100-year-olds in the population is unusually high.

Originally, I was just going to review Blue Zones for Health Club — a quick read, and on to the next article. But then I realized just how valuable Buettner’s approach is. Because he not only describes the nine strategies, he breaks them down into tips presented in an “a la carte” approach that makes it easy to choose a few to work on at a time.

There are no extremes. You don’t have to go vegan (unless, of course, you want to). You don’t have to spend hours in the gym each week. Yes, fruits and veggies and whole grains are important. Yes, you need to move more. (If this sounds like the Mediterranean diet, it’s no coincidence.)

But, like many of the experts we’ve spoken to over the past four weeks, he’s a big believer in making small, sustainable changes that will be with you for a lifetime.

As important as taking care of your diet and your body, though, is taking care of your mind.

“Okinawans call it ikigai, and Nicoyans call it plan de vida, but in both cultures the phrase essentially translates to “why I wake up in the morning,” Buettner writes.

He encourages us to consider our sense of purpose, our approach to stress, our spirituality, our family ties (natural or created) and our support network.

There’s no prescriptive plan here. Buettner suggests picking any three changes — preferably the three you believe are easiest (I love the way this man thinks). Like, adding an extra serving of veggies to every dinner. Going out for a walk around the block. Using smaller plates. Having a glass of red wine a day (just one). Being early to events instead of late. Spending time with supportive people.

He suggests limiting yourself to those until you’ve made them part of your lifestyle, part of who you are, and then choosing some more.

It’s a practical, achievable approach that really will make a difference to your health and happiness.

Further reading for a healthier, happier life

The Slow Fix: Solve Problems, Work Smarter and Live Better in a World Addicted to Speed, by Carl Honore (Random House, 2013, $32)

Fat Chance: Beating the odds against sugar processed food obesity and disease, by Robert Lustig (Penguin, 2013, $27.50)

The Nature Principle: Human Restoration and the End of Nature-Deficit Disorder, by Richar Louv (Algonquin Books, 2011, $18.77)

Yvonne Jeffery’s Heart of Calgary column focuses on social issues and community engagement.” TARGET=”_blank”>

© Copyright (c) The Calgary Herald

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