As 2013 draws to a close, a new survey has revealed the top health habits Australian women are trying to achieve to become healthier.
According life insurer AIA Australia's third annual Healthy Living Index Survey released today, Aussie women say that drinking more water (61 per cent) and eating more vegies and fruits (60 per cent) are the key changes they would like to make.
This annual national survey also revealed that 41 per cent of women are aiming to eat less sweet/snacks and 37 per cent are trying to eat less processed food. Other healthy habits Australian women are trying to adopt are bringing homemade food to work or school (33 per cent), drinking less alcohol (28 per cent) and using less salt (27 per cent) and saturated oils (22 per cent).
AIA Australia's General Manager of Life Insurance, Damien Mu, said that there is a genuine desire from Australian women to try and improve their health.
'On the whole, the survey results show that as a country we have a real willingness to take active steps to improve our health, but we struggle to put these steps into action. It is promising to note that four in five women are taking more actions to be healthier now than five years ago.
'The New Year is a great time to renew a commitment to healthier habits and many popular New Year's resolutions focus on how to improve our health. It is helpful to know what your friends, family and colleagues are trying to achieve health-wise so you can support each other to sustain those habits through the year."
Establishing these healthy living habits are crucial as the survey also revealed that 80 per cent of Australian women are trying to lose weight compared with 66 per cent of men.
Finding out if your health goals align with people in your networks and discovering ways to keep each other motivated through the year is important, agrees Melanie McGrice, spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia.
For a Healthy New Year, Ms. McGrice recommends the following:
Have a supply of healthy snacks such as fruit, low fat yoghurt or wholegrain crackers on your table to snack on between meals.
Keep a refillable bottle of water with you at all times – many a mid-afternoon energy slump is caused by dehydration.
If you find it hard to shop for and prepare fresh vegetables, try buying tinned and frozen varieties as an alternative.
Add whole grains such as barley and legumes to soups and stews to keep you fuller for longer.
Plan your meals for the week. Pick some healthy meals and snacks, and make sure you have all the ingredients ready. Freezer essentials for quick healthy meals include frozen vegetables, high fibre bread, filo pastry, lean meat, chicken or fish and fries cooked in canola or olive oil.
Sweeten your cereal or porridge with berries, banana or dried fruit. You'll get extra fibre, vitamins and minerals – for the same kilojoules as sugar.
Try mineral water mixed with a twist of lime and bitters for a low alcohol alternative at parties.
'By conducting this research, AIA Australia gains a better understanding of how we can help Australians achieve their lifestyle goals. We are committed to empowering Australians live longer and healthier lives by investing in health and wellbeing solutions that are adaptable for a range of lifestyles and life stages," said Mr. Mu.
The 2013 AIA Australia Healthy Living Index Survey is an in-depth survey of over 600 Australians conducted by global consumer research company, TNS, into perceptions, actions and satisfaction levels around healthy living. The survey also found that the new modern day threats to healthy living are internet addiction, weight management challenges, food safety/integrity concerns and a growing list of pollution issues.
AIA Australia Limited is an independent life insurance specialist with over 40 years of experience building successful partnerships. One of the country's leading life insurers, AIA Australia offers a range of products that protect the financial health and welfare of more than two and a half million Australians.
AIA Australia is the country's largest group life insurer by market share and works closely with major financial institutions and corporate partners.
In addition, AIA Australia offers retail insurance products through financial advisers and a valued network of affinity partners.
By having a partnership philosophy at the core of its business, AIA Australia is focused on building sustainable relationships that add true value to its business partners. Numerous industry awards over the past year, including the AFR's Blue Ribbon award win for best term life/TPD insurance product and ANZIIF's Life Company of the Year (2013 and 2012), and 2012 Smart Investor Life Insurer of the Year, stand as testament to our commitment to productive partnerships.
AIA Australia is part of the AIA Group, a market leader in life insurance across the Asia Pacific region with over 90 years' experience.
Question: What are the main health changes Australian women have made this year?
Melanie McGrice: The main health changes I've seen women make this year are a focus on decreasing sugar from their diet and women are turning to new sources for their nutrition and health care advice. There are a lot more people looking online and doing webinars and so forth to get their nutritional information, in the last twelve months.
It is great to see women are making healthier changes and we really encourage people to keep going with those changes as they're doing really healthy things. Keep it up!
Question: The survey showed women aim to bring their food to work rather than buy it, how does this contribute to our health?
Melanie McGrice: I actually think bringing your lunch to work is one of the best things you can do for your health due to our current environment. A few years ago when people were eating out there were healthier food options but now the number of options that are available to women when eating out (cafes and food courts) seem to have significantly decreased. Taking their meals to work will give them back so much more control over what they're eating and their portion sizes.
Question: Women this year have actively tried to increase their water consumption. How important is hydration, in regards to losing weight? And, how much water do we need to drink?
Melanie McGrice: The amount of water that a women needs to drink actually depends on her weight which is a common source of confusion. Our body is over 80% water and if someone is 120kg they will need a lot more water than someone who is 60kg. Although we tend to hear the standard drink 2 litres of water a day, somebody who is overweigh needs a lot more fluid.
Hydration is very important because it helps to keep our body hydrated and provide fluid for the brain so we can think clearly. Hydration also helps to reduce constipation, for healthy motions and a healthy digestive system. Water can help minimise non-hungry eating as well if people choose to drink a glass of water rather than eating a snack. Water is very important.
Question: How many servings of fruit and vegetables should we be having a day?
Melanie McGrice: The recommended servings of vegetables are five serves a day and two serves of fruit. We are still seeing an issue with these recommendations particularly with vegetable; clients that I see struggle to get their five serves of vegetables each day. Vegetables are essential for soluble fibre intake and antioxidants which have a huge impact on reducing risks of cancer and heart disease.
Question: Can you talk us through the importance of food preparation?
Melanie McGrice: I certainly find that planning is key, once people get into a routine of doing their grocery shopping on the same day, every week and planning their meals for the week (even a general idea) means they are less likely to wait until they're hungry until they start thinking about that meal, often when it is left till too late they want something now and are much more likely to choose processed or take away foods. Health does come down to planning and preparation and I recommend to clients to choose one day a week and do their meal planning, grocery shopping and food preparation on this day. Preparation doesn't take very long, particularly if you order your groceries online which means you can have a pre-set list and make a few changes and that can be a convenient way to order your groceries when they're delivered to you.
Alternatively, I shop at the market and for me that is something that I enjoy doing, each week. I enjoy wandering around the market and seeing beautiful foods and choosing fresh options; I do my big cook up on a Sunday afternoon.
Question: Could you talk us through what a balanced day needs, in regards to food groups?
Melanie McGrice: The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend that you incorporate lean protein food (lean red meat, poultry, fish, seafood, eggs, nuts or legumes), fresh fruit, vegetables, low fat dairy, wholegrains and healthy oils.
Question: What are the main health challenges Australian women should aim to work on over the coming year?
Melanie McGrice: I find that portion size is a big issue with my clients as a lot of people consume twice the portions that they should be consuming for their height, weight and exercise requirements. I encourage everyone to have one consolation with an accredited Practicing Dietician in 2014 to work out what dietary requirements will suit them. Also, I encourage everyone to decrease their alcohol intake as alcohol is a big issue; it is high in kilojoules and has a big impact on people's health and their waistline.
Question: How can we stay healthy during the upcoming holiday period?
Melanie McGrice: It is important to be aware of your alcohol intake as it is so easy to significantly increase the amount of alcohol that you drink during this period. It is important to be aware of alcohol and choosing when you're going to drink. I suggest having a sparkling mineral water rather than a champagne or wine just because it was offered to you. Think wisely about your choice of alcohol.
Make sure that you still exercise regularly during the festive season; people often stop exercising due to parties and events. Still try to find time to exercise, in your day, during this busy holiday period.
Be careful with how often you are eating festive foods, you can quite easily go to a Christmas Party every day in the few weeks leading up to Christmas, I caution people from eating those treat foods, every day. If you're going to go Christmas Parties, daily, that's fine but I suggest you eat something healthy before you go to some of the parties.
Interview by Brooke Hunter