Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The (life-threatening) importance of lifestyle

Today I had the opportunity to listen to a great lecture by the highly-engaging Matthias Lidin, who is a lifestyle nurse and researcher at Karolinska Institute. His lecture, "Livsviktigt att satsa på livsstil!", covered some very interesting (albeit somewhat common sense) advice about the importance of lifestyle in our health and well-being. What I loved about his lecture was that it was based on facts, not just his opinions, and he provided tons of data to back up his recommendations about movement, eating, and mental health.

With regards to movement, Matthias talked a lot about the modern sedentary lifestyle that we live, and how small changes our daily routines can have big effects. For example, breaking up prolonged sitting has been shown to reduce insulin levels by 20% and standing at your desk burns 33% more calories than sitting. Johan Renström wrote a great summary of these sorts of studies in his blog "Stå upp och bränn kalorier", from which I shamelessly stole the graph below.

Matthias then continued to talk about food intake, and the changes that the Swedish Livsmedelsverket has recently published in the new Nordic nutrition recommendations. He started by talking about the Swedish tradition of following trends, whether it be with clothing, home decorating or eating. (Marcus Nilsson posted a great blog about trends last week.) As Matthias put it, if it is on the cover of Aftonbladet, it must be true. At least that tends to be the mentality of most. This has resulted in a number of trend diets which have invaded Sweden over the past decade, most recently with 5:2 taking the country by storm, following closely on the heels of LCHF. LCHF is not only a diet, but it is a lifestyle that is strongly defended by its followers--so much so that people distort scientific findings to support the concept of eating low carbs and high fat. For example, Sweden's Statens beredning för medicinsk utvärdering (SBU) recently published a report in which they concluded that low-carbohydrate diets are more effective as a means to reduce weight than low fat diet, over a short period of time (6 months or less). However, the agency also concluded that over a longer span (12-24 months), there are no differences in effects on weight between strict or moderate low carb diets, low fat diets, diets high in protein, Mediterranean diet or diets aiming at low glycemic index. This conclusion was published by The Local and even BMJ under headlines touting that "Sweden touts low-carb diet as key to weight loss". These articles in turn resulted in a Wikipedia article claiming that Sweden was the first Western country to actually stop recommending low fat diets and to start recommending low carbs. (I've since gone in and corrected this on Wikipedia.)

If it's on the cover of Aftonbladet, it must be good for you.

Matthias, basing his recommendations on scientific data, suggested that the risk of these diets is yet unknown, since no long term studies have been completed. However, what we do know is that the diet of people living in Mediterranean countries has been shown to have a positive effect of lifespan, and this is what is reflected in the new recommendations from Livsmedelsverket, which are summarized below. 

This does not mean, according to Matthias, that we can't eat traditionally Swedish. Quite the opposite! But he emphasized the importance of reducing highly refined carbs (what he calls replacing "fast carbs" with "slow carbs") and in reducing the amount of red meat that we eat in Sweden in favor of fish and chicken. 

Finally, Matthias spent 15 minutes discussing stress, and the negative effects it has on our bodies. Everything from reducing testosterone levels to raising LDL cholesterol levels and blood pressure to increasing our risk of cancer, stoke and more. His advice is that we need to find ways to deal with stress either by recognizing our triggers for stress and changing our behavior or by practicing relaxation techniques such as medicinal yoga. (Esquire recently published an article with similar advice, "A Useful Guide to Chilling the F**k Out".) 

All in all, much of what Matthias talked about was common sense, but then again we all need to be reminded from time to time of the importance of these things. And his well researched data provided some great insights into what is truth and what is legend. If you get a chance to see this lecture, I highly recommend it. 


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