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Keeping fit 17 Mar 2017

Heart health

Work life balance

Illustration of man juggling work and parenthood

In modern life, an imbalance between work and home life is inevitable – and usually signals our devotion to something very important to us. The big task, then, is not to find the perfect balance, but to be able to choose your particular imbalance wisely.

The inevitability of imbalance

It’s easy to set yourself up for an unrealistic work-life balance and then fall into two problem areas.

You might try to cram everything into one particular amount of time and then feel disappointed that you can never manage to fit everything in. Or, you might think ‘I’ll just work as hard as possible for the next 25 years so I can finally do what I want when I retire’. Neither of these is optimal for your well-being.

Secondly, the demands of work tend to be clear and precise. You are told what needs to be done and by when. But the ‘life’ side of the equation is harder to pin down. At home you can put things off or tell yourself a walk in the park or coffee with a friend is not a pressing priority.

In this article we help you to focus more on a particular area of your life. It might be your relationship, the baby, the promotion, the new job – each of these requires a concentration and devotion so intense that it pushes the most reasonable of other goals aside. What’s needed is a more refined perspective on managing our time.

Choosing your imbalance

Everyone talks about getting their work-life balance in order and it’s important to get the most out of your life, by finding a solution that’s right for you.

For example, if your career gives you great satisfaction and is a big source of motivation in life, it may be exactly the right choice for you to spend an enormous amount of your time at work. After all, as the essayist Anais Nin noted, the most meaningful achievements in civilisation have always come from a certain kind of excess - from people who were willing to put in a lot more time on something than everyone else around them. There’s nothing wrong with choosing to work exceptionally hard - or not to. The clincher is whether it is something you have consciously chosen.

We need to select our focus and then develop our own, very personal, work-life balance to match it. This won’t be the same as everyone else’s, because we’re all unique, with different responsibilities and delights.

Choosing a focus also means emphasising some things at the expense of others, which means that we’ll inevitably have to accept sacrifices and trade-offs. We can’t do it all, so something will have to go in order for us to commit to something else we care about even more.

It can be painful to think about making these sacrifices, and therefore difficult to adopt a more single-minded focus. One way to uncover the best imbalance might be to consider what the worst outcome would be. You might ask yourself, what will I most regret not having done?

Is cholesterol the culprit?

Cholesterol is a fat (lipid) that’s produced by your liver and carried around your body by proteins called lipoproteins. It’s vital for the formation of cell membranes, vitamin D and certain hormones.

There are two types, often referred to as ‘good’ and ‘bad’. High-density lipoprotein (HDL) protects the heart because it mops up bad cholesterol from your bloodstream. Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and triglycerides are known as bad cholesterol because they can contribute to plaque formation in your blood vessels. For some people, high LDL cholesterol levels are genetic and treatable with drugs. For others, they are due to eating too much food that’s high in saturated fat.

High cholesterol levels produce no outward symptoms, so if you have concerns it’s best to speak with your family physician and see if they feel a cholesterol check is necessary.

What are the measures that really matter?

"The rate of obesity around the world is spiralling, but there’s also an increasing awareness of the importance of weight and body fat composition. Body Mass Index (BMI) is useful but it is increasingly questionable how much we should be guided by this", says Dr Sethi.

BMI doesn’t distinguish between fat and muscle. Muscle weighs more than fat, so muscular people may be wrongly defined as overweight or obese. Conversely, people with normal BMIs can still carry a lot of fat around their waists, which may indicate an increased risk of heart problems.

Some research now suggests that the ratio of waist circumference to height may be a better gauge for cardiovascular risk, with the healthiest ratio being a waist circumference that's less than half your height.

What makes a heart-healthy diet?

It’s important to note that while a healthy waistline is crucial, a heart-friendly diet isn’t a zero-fat one – it’s a diet that favours unsaturated fats over saturated. Unsaturated fats help to lower ‘bad’ cholesterol. Soluble fibre can reduce it too.

To eat the right fats and maintain a healthy waistline, try this simple checklist:

  • Focus on unprocessed, high-fibre foods such as fruits and vegetables, legumes, wholegrains and nuts.
  • Choose foods high in unsaturated fats, like nuts, seeds, oily fish and avocados.
  • Opt for fish, chicken and lean meat to reduce saturated fat intake.
  • Limit red meat that's high in saturated fats.
  • Reduce your salt intake at the table and read the backs of packets to check for ‘hidden’ salt.
  • Exercise regularly as this can lower your triglycerides and increase your HDL levels.

“Stopping problems years before they manifest is much easier. If we eat good food, keep our triglyceride levels low and exercise regularly to create muscle mass that can help burn off excess calories, we can maintain a healthy weight and heart, now and into the future,” says Dr Sethi.

It truly is those small daily decisions that add up through the years.


Sources:

1. NHS (http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/obesity/Pages/Introduction.aspx), last accessed in January 2017

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