SABA JAMES trained as a dancer and performing arts lecturer before moving into fitness and nutrition. She now works as a personal trainer and dance teacher for older adults, as well as being a Community Navigator for the organisation ‘Bristol Ageing Better’. She continues her study of nutrition at the College of Naturopathic Medicine, graduating in June 2019 and is passionate about transforming health and wellbeing with simple, person-centred lifestyle and food choices.

Health and Wellbeing: Pointers for a fitter, healthier life

The latest research backs-up our common sense belief that living well for longer includes a combination of Activity, Nutrition, and Mindset. Let’s not over-complicate it – here are some top tips:

ACTIVITY* – Get moving any which way
Simply moving more, rather than worrying about the type of activity we do, can help improve our health. The ‘Blue Zones’ research, based on the activities of the longest and healthiest living communities in the world, shows us how easy is it to live long and well.

  • The main priority for good health: being physically active EVERY DAY regardless of what other exercise you’re doing. A walking catch up with friends, walking to work, climbing the stairs for 5 minutes to music after an hour of sitting down, taking the grandchildren out to the park, biking to local events. If counting your 10,000 steps gets you moving more, get counting!
  • Targeted exercise for those who love it: In addition to daily activity, targeted exercise is a great way to build muscle mass, keep our brain active, maintain good cardio-vascular and metabolic health. There are so many options now, from tai chi to AirHop and The National Vintage Games! Find what you love to do, vary it, aiming for 3-5 sessions per week (3 – 5 hrs in total).
  • Targeted exercise for those who hate it or have limited time: Dr Michael Mosley, a self-confessed exercise-avoider takes his exercise in very short, intense doses. High-Intensity-Interval-Training ‘HIIT’ (5 mins: 2-3 times per week) and super slow resistance training (12-20 mins once per week) have shown health improvements in insulin sensitivity, muscle mass gain and abdominal fat reduction. See links below for resources.
  • Include some resistance training as part of your weekly dose (once per week is fine): This helps counter the decline of muscle mass as we age, supports the muscular skeletal system, and improves our metabolic health and can be done in as little as 12 minutes! Check out The Exercise Club in Redland that offers super-slow, supported resistance circuits:

*Please consult your Dr if you are new to exercise or have a health condition.

NUTRITION‘Eat food, not too much, mostly plants’ Michael Pollan
We are what we digest, absorb and transfer to our cells so activity alone will not improve our overall health if founded on poor food choices. Below are some principles we can follow in line with Michael Pollan et al., and the Blue Zones’ research.
‘Eat food, not too much, mostly plants’ sounds simple enough but what does this mean in practice?
Eat food, not products. If it has a logo, strap-line, health claim, free-from advert it’s a product!
– If the food-product has more than 3-5 ingredients your grandparents wouldn’t have understood, avoid it.
Eat whole plants every day: plants include all colourful vegetables (particularly the green ones), fruit (especially citrus, berries, apples and pears), legumes, beans and pulses, whole unrefined grains, whole raw nuts and seeds and lots of fresh and dried herbs and spices.
Pay more, eat less when it comes to meat, fish and dairy: choose quality free range pure meat/fish /dairy over excess-salted, smoked, processed-animal -products (including processed vegetarian and vegan meat substitutes)
Include meat-free meals across your week with good quality plant-based proteins: Blue Zones eat a lot of plants. See recipes here:
Eat until you’re 80% full or incorporate intermittent fasting in your week
Get cooking: it’s a creative activity, keeps you on your feet and prioritises your health
Treat sugared and added-sweetener soft drinks and barista style coffees / hot chocolates as occasional treats. They are akin to desserts and are not part of your liquid intake (we know water intake is about 1.5 – 2.5 litres depending on our size / activity levels including herbal teas). If well tolerated, good quality tea and coffee can be consumed in moderation (minus the sugar and lashings of milk). Alcohol is too big a subject to include here!
Mindset – You are the Placebo: arguably the best healing effect there is

  • Maintaining a sense of belonging, purpose, and fulfilment was crucial to the individuals across the Blue Zones’ communities. Social connection and interaction is the foundation of good health and fitness (like The National Vintage Games event). See links below for some more ideas in Bristol.
  • The impact of positive thinking and stress management. Deepak Chopra, Dr. Joe Dispenza and Dr Chatterjee (et al) champion the importance of a positive mindset to a sense of optimal wellbeing (rather than wellbeing defined as an absence of disease). Meditation, mindfulness and mindful activities, breathing, reframing negative thinking patterns and cognitive behavioural therapy can transform your physical fitness and health.
  • Creativity and laughter: find ways to express your creativity – anything from reading and researching a topic, developing a hobby, attending talks, writing, dancing, music, learning a new language, musical instrument or sport. Plus a light-hearted attitude and daily laughter create the perfect tonic.
  • Limiting factors beyond genetics and circumstance: identify the thinking limiting you from achieving your goals. It is easy to cook, be active, and engage with others when you’re inspired. The challenge is when you’re tired, grumpy and unmotivated. Plan for the challenging times and get them in your diary. Then do the 10 minute walk on that Tuesday, cook the meal you set for yourself, let your legs take you to the booked class when your mind is shouting No. Consistency equals change!