TOP 10 (EVIDENCE-BASED!) HEALTH HACKS
Okay first thing’s first: what even is a hack? We see this term all over the place, especially social media, with people generally referring to ‘lifehacks.’ Put simply a ‘hack’ or ‘lifehack’ is any technique, trick or tool that makes an aspect of someone’s life easier, more convenient and/or efficient. Following on from this a ‘health hack’ has the same principle but relates to our health; they are techniques and tools designed to improve our overall health in simple, efficient and innovative ways.
Here are my current top ten health hacks, with a more detailed break-down than the video counterpart. These are hacks that either I observe myself or have learned through my nursing practice. With each hack however I have also included some evidence or research to back them up. This step is crucial as the boom of the internet and social media means that so many people have a voice, which can be a wonderful thing, but it also means there is a lot of noise and misinformation online. Human psychology means that if we see a lot of people doing something, if it becomes a social norm, then we are more likely to do the same thing. For a macro example of this think fashion trends and for a micro example think about your friendship group, if a few friends start eating a certain type of food, swearing by the power of Kale, then we are more likely to start doing the same. Before you adopt any health hack that will change your routine or habits be sure that it is supported by a credible organisation or some excellent evidence and/or data.
GET A REGULAR GP (OR MEDICAL PRACTICE)
The benefits of having a regular doctor are well documented. You will have an established connection; this person will know your history and can use that powerful clinical tool to help current issues. You will also have more trust in that person and therefore be more willing to speak honestly about your health. A GP is a generalist, having a great rapport with this healthcare professional who looks at you holistically means you are more likely to practice preventative health measures and have positive health outcomes.
Interestingly, some research shows that even if you don’t prescribe to one particular doctor even just having a regular medical centre is beneficial. All your records are stored in the one place, so your clinical history is available, you’ll have more easy access to appointments and you develop comfort with the setting which means you are more likely to return and regularly engage with primary health care. Having all your records stored in one place also means that they are easily accessible as a full file if you need to move locations or in the unlikely event you need to go to hospital.
‘Why it’s important to have your own GP’ from the National Home Doctor Service (2017) : https://homedoctor.com.au/Blog/why-its-important-to-have-your-own-gp-133
‘The effects of having a regular doctor on access to primary care’ from a peer-reviewed journal article in Med Care (1996) : https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8632688
The effectiveness of medication is all about adherence. If you miss doses then the level of medication in your system can drop below therapeutic level. This may mean you aren’t getting benefit from your medication, such as uncontrolled pain levels or high blood glucose levels and the subsequent implications, or in serious cases it can allow mutation of an illness and resistance to develop, such as in HIV antiretroviral therapy. Despite knowing how important our medication is it can be easy to forget. A big health hack would be to download one of the many amazing medication reminder apps that exist if you take any regular medication. Not only will you not miss a dose but you will have a reliable record of the name, dose and schedule of your medication if a healthcare worker needs this information.
There are so many apps out there, how do you know which is the best? A recent study by the University of Sydney actually put this to the test! Based on their findings and my own experimentation with these apps I strongly recommend the following two apps:
Medisafe Pill Reminder & Medication Tracker (Medisafe) - an excellent app that is simple and easy to navigate. It features: pill reminders, refill reminders, store appointments, research medications, family health trackers and more!
My Heart My Life (My Heart) - an easy to use app from the Heart Foundation designed to keep you heart healthy. It features medication reminders (for all medications) and a research database for medications, and also includes an ability to track your cardiovascular health. There are also links to websites for advice, healthy recipes, etc.
University of Sydney study on medication reminder apps (2017): https://www.imedicalapps.com/2017/01/study-best-medication-adherence-medical-apps/
20/20/20 RULE FOR SCREEN TIME
We live in a screen revolution! Smart phones, tablets, laptops, desktops, TVs… they are everywhere and we can’t really avoid them. Obviously these devices have revolutionised our lives but it’s important to understand that overuse can pose a health risk to our eyes, neck, back and mental health. A very common hack that you can adopt in your life to reduce this risk is 20/20/20: for every 20 minutes of screen time you have, take a 20 second break and stare at something 20 feet away. This is a wonderful way to reduce the eye strain that comes from harsh back light and close proximity of screens and also to give your mind a short rest and rejuvenation.
Another way to incorporate this hack is for every 20 minutes of screen time, get up and walk at least 20 feet away for a 20 second break. This will help to counteract the very negative impact that extended periods of sitting is causing.
For more information about overuse of smart phones, see my previous video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-M5yxfnAaW0).
‘The 20-20-20 rule’ from the Canadian Association of Optometrists (2017): https://opto.ca/health-library/the-20-20-20-rule
‘Use the 20-20-20 rule to fight the effects of sitting all day long’ from lifehacker and the New York Times (2013) : https://www.lifehacker.com.au/2013/01/use-the-20-20-20-rule-to-fight-the-effects-of-sitting-all-day-long/
DON’T USE Q-TIPS TO CLEAN YOUR EARS
Obviously using Q-Tips is incredibly satisfying but it is probably the worst way to try and clean your ears. In fact if you look on a box of Q-Tips it generally says, ‘do not insert into ear canal,’ which is ridiculous because of course that’s why people are buying them! Firstly using Q-Tips is generally ineffective; the amount of wax they pull out is often minimal. Secondly, and most importantly, Q-Tips are more likely to jam wax further into the canal and the action of using a Q-Tip can damage the very sensitive ear canal, leading to infection and more.
Okay but then you might ask, what do I clean my ears with?! Well, nothing. A little wax is a good thing as it traps dirt and debris and prevents infection. Furthermore the ears are self-cleaning, they do a remarkable job on their own of removing wax. If you do want to clean your ears or find you have excessive wax build-up then I would recommend simply using a tissue after you shower to clean around the back of your ear, the tops of your ears (including the folds of cartilage), and just around and before the opening to the ear canal.
‘Should I use Q-Tips to clean my ears?’ from Time Magazine (2016) : http://time.com/4290668/q-tip-ear-wax-removal/
‘Why shouldn’t I use Q-Tips to clean my ears?’ from Everyday Hearing (2017) : https://www.everydayhearing.com/hearing-loss/articles/why-shouldnt-i-use-q-tips-to-clean-my-ears/
Walking is one of the most beneficial forms of exercise. It improves cardiovascular health, helps joint mobility and pain, improves lower back pain, reduces stress, the list goes on! Walking is not a new phenomenon or industry secret, however it has become so important now more than ever given the amount of sitting we are doing (see above re 20/20/20!). Sitting is slowly killing us and this is a great, low impact way to get moving and stay healthy.
Walking doesn’t need to be a huge, strenuous hike or activity. Incorporate walking more into your everyday life; get off public transport one stop early and walk the rest of the way, take the stairs instead of the elevator, when you meet up with friends plan a walk rather than a movie or coffee-date! Combine this with other regular activity and you’ll be surprised how fast you see the benefits.
‘Walking for good health’, from Better Health Channel (2015) : https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/walking-for-good-health
BRING HEALTHY SNACKS
How many times have you realised you’re hungry at work and need a snack? You know what looks better than buying an apple from the cafe... EVERYTHING ELSE! It is so easy to buy junk food because it’s readily available and it’s marketed to look so appealing. Regular, unhealthy snacking can start to take a toll on your health and waistline (ask anyone who has worked their first office job!).
Try to bring healthy snacks with you whenever you’re out for extended periods of time. Having a piece of fruit, a small salad, a low-sugar muesli bar or something similar will reduce temptation to buy bad food and help your health and wallet. (Note: be careful with perishable food items as it can be easy to forget about them. We have all one time or another found that forgotten banana in the bottom of a bag and learned the hard way!).
‘How bringing your own lunch to work can help your energy levels, overall health and bank balance’, from Huffington Post (2016) : http://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/2016/04/12/bringing-lunch-to-work_n_9675486.html
‘Why are healthy snacks important?’ from Livestrong : https://www.livestrong.com/article/392588-why-are-healthy-snacks-important/
DRINK WATER (from your own bottle!)
This hack is super simple but has a lot of benefits. Such a large part of our body is made up of water and it’s important that we stay hydrated to maintain a balance. This is especially true when we are sweating more so than usual, for example during exercise or in the heat. How do we know what’s enough and what is too much? A great guide is to look to your pee; our urine should be the colour of hay/straw. If it’s too concentrated, which will look dark, might smell strongly and/or be slightly irritating to pass, we are dehydrated (headache, dry mouth and tiredness are other good signs!). If our pee is too clear we might be over-hydrated which can impact homeostasis.
Carrying a water bottle with you everywhere, just like bringing healthy snacks with you, will also encourage you to avoid buying unhealthy drinks, saving your waist and your wallet, and also discourage bottled water which has a huge negative impact on the environment.
‘How much water do we need to drink a day?’ from ABC Health & Wellbeing (2017) : http://www.abc.net.au/news/health/2017-10-18/how-much-water-do-we-need-to-drink-a-day/8996668
‘Water - a vital nutrient’ from Better Health Channel (2014) : https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/water-a-vital-nutrient
USE SMALLER PLATES
Reducing the size of your plate is an amazing way to ensure your portion sizes aren’t too big! We are so use to eating large meals in restaurants or from take-away that we have a slightly skewed idea of what makes up a correct portion size. Moreover our eating is often not mindful and so we don’t realise we’ve eaten too much until after the meal is over. Using a smaller plate, finishing the meal and waiting 20 minutes will demonstrate to our brain the amount of food we actually need to be eating. Depending on what meal you’re having a smaller plate will also introduce balance into your meal by making you more conscious of the ratios of food-groups you are having.
‘What is a serve?’ from Eat for Health (2015) : https://www.eatforhealth.gov.au/food-essentials/how-much-do-we-need-each-day/what-serve
‘Smaller plate study’ from Wikipedia (2017) : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smaller_Plate_Study [Okay, I know this is a Wikipedia article, however it was the best source I can find to consolidate all the various research together in a simple article, rather than linking a whole bunch of different journals. To confirm the findings look to the References section to see the raw links for the various studies that have been conducted.]
It’s the dreaded ‘F’ word. We go to the dentist, they ask, we lie... flossing feels like a massive task but it is an incredibly important step in our oral hygiene. Flossing is as important as brushing and a lack of flossing is often the reason we need fillings (and then some!). Regularly flossing will save pain at the dentist and a huge amount in your dental bills as well!
If you struggle to floss there are two simple steps. Find floss that is comfortable and easy for you to use – if it’s too thick / thin or you find the action awkward then you won’t do it. Finally try to combine flossing with some kind of (non-food!) reward; floss while listening to a podcast you’ve been putting off, or watching a short video online, or listening to music!
‘Flossing’ from Australian Dental Association (2017) : https://www.ada.org.au/Dental-Health-Week/Oral-Health-for-Busy-Lives/Flossing
"It did to my mind what going to the gym did to my body -- it made it both stronger and more flexible,” is a quote from Dr Hedy Kober, a neuroscientist studying the effects of mindfulness meditation. There is abundant research to show that simple, regular meditation can have wonderful benefits on your health. It can improve energy levels, creative thinking, decision making and also dramatically reduce stress. Being healthy is about more than having a healthy body. Health is holistic and if you aren’t caring for your mind, and your mental health, then you aren’t practicing self-care.
Meditation seems scary because it’s not innate, like walking, and the actual practice often gets lost in the uplifting Instagram quotes, on-point yoga pants and heavily filtered photos and articles. Meditation doesn’t need to be glamorous and it can work however is right for you. If you don’t know where to start I would recommend the Headspace app - it is an amazing tool for learning meditation and deepening an existing practice. It has helpful videos and even has meditations specific to certain situations (love, career, exercise, stress, etc.).
‘Meditation health benefits: what the practice does to your body’ from Huffpost (2013) : http://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/entry/meditation-health-benefits_n_3178731
‘Six ways meditation can boost health’ from ABC Health & Wellbeing (2015) : http://www.abc.net.au/health/features/stories/2015/04/09/4213468.htm