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Get healthy and wise.

Source: Top Sante / Pan Media. Photograph: Thinkstock Images. Article is from the January 2012 issue of Bona Magazine.

The truth about fat, cancer and hormones are just some of the top 10 things you should know.
Get healthy and wiseGet to know your pelvic floor

It’s important to clench your pelvic floor if you want to laugh hard without wetting yourself. But what exactly is a pelvic floor? It is a broad sling of muscles, ligaments and tissue that stretch from your pubic bone (at the front of your body) to the base of your spine. “Imagine a trampoline that supports all your pelvic organs – including your bladder, bowel and uterus; that’s your pelvic floor,” says Clare Claridge from the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy.

“It should be tight. However, excessive pressure on it during pregnancy, for example, weakens and stretches it.” Because of this, the pelvic organs become less supported and are more prone to pressure changes, which is why your bladder leaks when you cough or go on a real trampoline.

What are ‘Super’ foods?

Goji berries are, but potato chips aren’t. So, what makes a particular food reach ‘super’ status? “There’s no official definition, but any food that’s rich in antioxidants, such as broccoli or blueberries, tends to be labelled this way,” says Anna Denny, a scientist at the British Nutrition Foundation. “However, these foods only play a role if you enjoy a balanced diet. If you don’t, you can’t just eat some berries in the hope of obtaining a quick health fix.” Denny adds, “There’s no such thing as a super food, only a super diet.”

Know the amount of calories your body needs.

“How much energy you need depends on how much energy you burn – by simply existing – combined with your daily activity levels,” explains David McCarthy, professor of nutrition and health at London Metropolitan University.

To work out your basal (basic) metabolic rate (BMR), multiply your weight in kilograms by 10 (eg: 60kg x 10 = 600). Multiply your height in centimetres by 6.25, and add that (eg: 154cm x 6.25 = 962.5 + 600 = 1562.5). Subtract it to five times your age (eg: 1562.5 – 150 [5 x 30] = 1412.5). Finally, subtract 161, but if you’re a man add five instead (eg: 1412.5-161 = 1251.5).

The BMR of the average female is between 1 300 and 1 500 calories per day. Once you know your BMR, you can work out your daily calorie needs. If you do little exercise, multiply your BMR by 1.2, and if you do light exercise (one to three days a week) multiply it by 1.375. If you exercise three to five days a week, multiply it by 1.55, and if you are very active (hard exercise or sport six to seven days a week) multiply it by 1.725. These are the calories needed to maintain your current weight. To lose a half a kilogram a week, regarded as a safe weight loss rate by the British Dietetic Association (BDA), reduce your BMR by 500 calories.

The truth about metabolism

One of the biggest myths about metabolism is that larger people have slower metabolisms than slim people. According to Prof McCarthy “Overweight people often have more muscle and fat than slimmer people, and because a kilogram of muscle burns 15 times more calories while resting than a kilogram of fat, overweight people burn more calories and have a faster metabolism. However, the problem is when you consume more calories than you burn.”

The low down on hormones

Hormones are chemicals that regulate everything from appetite to growth.

“When the brain wants something done, it triggers the relevant endocrine gland to release a specific hormone,” says Dr Mark Vanderpump, consultant endocrinologist at Royal Free Hospital in London. “These carry ‘instructions’ through the bloodstream to the target organ,” he says. “It could either be to release an egg, if it is for a female sex hormone, or produce insulin to break down sugar – if it’s for a metabolic hormone.”

Fighting free radicals

If free radicals are molecules responsible for ageing, tissue damage and a range of diseases. “A free radical is a charged atom or a piece of a molecule,” says BDA dietician Ursula Arens. “In order to establish its own stability, a free radical steals an electron from your cells; you could end up with a bit of DNA or a piece of your cell wall missing. It may not seem like much, but these little damages add up and can result in anything from premature ageing to cancer.”

Benefits of antioxidants

If free radicals are evil electron stealers, then antioxidants are protective chemicals that offer up their own electrons for the free radicals to use – sparing you the cellular damage. “Every time an antioxidant neutralises a free radical, the antioxidant loses an electron and stops being able to function as an antioxidant,” says Adam Mead, dietician at Kingston Hospital in London. “You should continually top up your antioxidant levels with a range of fruit and vegetables.”

The cause of cancer

There are about 200 different types of cancer with a wide range of causes. Cancers occur when normal cell division goes wrong, due to an abnormal change in the genes of a single cell. This is caused by something specific and external, like radiation or viruses, or it can happen spontaneously and seemingly without cause. Chemotherapy prevents cancer cells from multiplying, but can also kill off healthy cells, which is why the side effects are so unpleasant.

Why fat is the enemy

Fat does more than make your jeans fit tight. Glasgow University researchers found that it releases an inflammatory chemical that makes blood stickier, putting the heart under increased pressure and raising the risk of fatal heart attack by 75 percent.

“Obesity is also the leading cause of Type 2 diabetes,” says Dr Ian Campbell from Weight Concern. “Excess fat makes your body resistant to insulin, so your cells can’t get the energy they need. Fat has also been linked to many different types of cancer, as it releases hormones that can disrupt cell division.” According to Dr Campbell, “If you lose just five percent of your body weight, your risk of coronary heart disease and diabetes can halve.”

The science behind stem cells

Stem cells are young cells that have yet to develop into a specific type of cell. They can be produced from early embryos, umbilical cord blood or adult tissue. The reason scientists are so excited about stem cells, is that they can become absolutely any tissue.

In theory, they could be used to regenerate whole organs – from your pancreas to your teeth. “In future, stem cells may provide cures for a host of diseases, such as diabetes, Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis,” says Malcolm Allison, professor of stem cell biology at the University of London.

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