Gone are the days of pokey ribs and razor cheekbones – it seems that nowadays, much of society’s attention has turned to washboard abs and biceps to kill. The recent health craze sweeping over much of Western society has been interesting to watch, as blogs about fitness and diet are constantly multiplying and the amount of joggers on the street and gym enthusiasts have followed suit. The problem with such an abundance of different information available to us today means that it’s hard to see what’s accurate and what isn’t, what is actually healthy and what could be doing us more harm than good. Cleanses and detoxes, ‘clean eating’ and strength training, all seem to incorporating themselves into daily life, but is this fitness fad really a fad, or could it finally be the beginning of society seeing sense?
It seems fitness and health is all the rage in the media, with magazines and newspapers making fitness and diet sections a regular feature in their publications, and going online today, it’s hard not to come across a picture of some healthy food or the much-loved status about the daily gym session. Has it actually become fashionable to be fit? Co-owner and editor of SnappedUp.ie Stephanie O’Quigley is the writer of the Diet and Fitness section of the popular Irish blog, and thinks of it in terms of trends: “If you look back on media fashion trends in the last few years, in 2004, 2005, around that time, it was the skinny trend. It could possibly go back to that but I really don’t think so, how can we go back after learning what we know now? Fitness is the new version of sexy, the new look to aspire to nowadays in the media.” It’s known that many people, especially girls, look to role models in the media for their appearance goals. A few years ago, that may have been the Nicole Richie for being thin, but now Stephanie thinks it’s definitely all about the healthy girl for inspiration.
So skinny as a goal is pretty much out of the picture; for now anyway. But fitness is no easy feat without knowledge on nutrition and diet. One of the most common disadvantaging routes people take nowadays is all exercise and no diet. We may be progressing by looking for health instead of pure weight loss, but detox diets and even turning to a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle have become more and more popular for health enthusiasts. How beneficial are these routes? Dr. Kate Younger, lecturer of Nutrition and Physiology at Dublin Institute of Technology, says it can be more dangerous than people realise. “People taking on these lifestyles need to be highly educated on what they’re doing but the problem is that many people begin them randomly, without doing any research, and end up becoming deficient in certain nutrients. This can cause long term damage to their bodies.” And it turns out that those detox kits you keep seeing may not be so great either, as Dr. Younger thinks they’re really just a money-making tool: “There are 50 different types of detoxes, the only ones that really have any benefit are things like putting a lot of liquid through your body after an over-consumption of alcohol, or giving up coffee; I would be sceptical at commercialising the idea of detoxing.”
Educating yourself on your health is something that all of our experts agree is lacking in the public today, but is something that is extremely important. Dr. Younger attributes the bombardment of different messages as an effort to glamourize healthy eating, when actually, it’s a pretty standard subject. Stephanie says “I just think you really owe it to yourself to research things properly, like there are two sides to everything on the internet and you can’t trust everything you see straight away, you need to make sure to know what’s right.” South Dublin personal trainer Keith Ryan was asked if he thinks people are being fed too much false information from the internet and media and he definitely agrees: “100% yes. Every day on the internet there is something new. People need to take a realistic approach to eating and training. For a complete beginner to go on and be told to do a low carb diet and tons of cardio to lose weight is setting themselves up for failure with all this bad information.” For example, protein powders and the like are constantly being marketed to men and women to bulk their muscle and improve their physique. But as it turns out, (surprise surprise) what makes muscle is muscle training, not any powder. Amino acid powders, Dr. Younger tells us, actually don’t do anything for muscle growth, and the same as commercial detoxes, are mainly used as money makers.
We all know that exercise affects mind-set – it has been found to do everything from treat depression to improve memory, and the release of endorphins in the brain while exercising makes us feel better and improves our mood. Keith Ryan says that he’s hopeful for fitness nowadays, as he sees more and more people enjoying working out and feeling good about themselves in the process. But how does food come into it? “There are certain pharmalogical effects which affect the chemistry in your brain that come with certain food types; for example obviously eating chocolate makes us feel good. Foods high in fibre benefits our digestive system and makes us feel physically better as well,” says Dr. Younger, while Stephanie O’Quigley says she always makes sure to “eat to feel good.” And it doesn’t stop there – there are hundreds of foods that have shown to have positive effects on the brain. Blueberries have been found to help protect against degenerative brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia, Vitamin E found in nuts and seeds can help with cognitive decline as we age, the choline found in egg yolk improves memory, and on and on and on.
So this whole health thing is no fad. The interest in it is (hopefully) here to stay and it’s growing every day as a new lifestyle choice for people. So what are the best tips for fitness and health? This is where all three experts come together on their opinions – you need to be able to permanently change. There is no quick fix for lifelong health, and fad diets and week-long exercise bursts won’t give you the results you want for life. The key is to find an exercise routine that suits your lifestyle and to give plenty of variety in your day to day foods. Plenty of fruit and veg, whole grains, lean meats, avoid saturated fats – we all know all of this, and as Dr. Younger says, it’s not very exciting. Nor is a healthy balance of daily cardio and strength training. But it works and your body will thank you much more for this than that week-long juice detox followed by 4 hours in the gym you’re thinking of doing.