This way or that? The little health choices that can make all the difference

Jane Garton / 20 March 2013

Information overload means making the right health choices can be tough. But don’t worry, help is at hand

There is so much health advice out there – some of it conflicting – that you could be forgiven for sometimes feeling baffled. How often, for example, have you dithered over the healthiest options at the coffee-shop counter, been unable to make up your mind whether to ride your bike or walk, or even deliberated over which brush is best for your teeth – electric or manual? These may be small choices but, according to a new book, making the correct one can have a huge impact on health and wellbeing. Read on for some pointers to set you on the right track.

Shower or bath?

Answer: Shower
A long, relaxing bath may be heavenly, but – brace yourself – a shower, especially if you alternate blasts of cold and hot water, is better for your circulation. The heat brings blood back to the surface of the body, while the cold drives it back to its core. Exposing your head to jets of water also boosts the blood flow to your grey matter, while zapping painful joints with hot water can be as effective as any massage. A shower also uses considerably less water than a bath, so you’ll also be doing your bit to save the planet.

Heels or flats?

Answer: Heels
Sensible they may be, but flatties, such as ballet pumps, are best left in the cupboard. The truth is that they don’t give your feet the support they need, and the absence of a strap can force toes to ‘claw’ to stop shoes slipping off. Much better to go for a strappy gladiator-style number with a thick heel for shock absorption and a supportive arch to keep feet in place, says the Society of Chiropodists and Podiatrists. That said, wearing the same pair of shoes day after day is not a good idea, nor is trying to totter on heels higher than about 3-5cm (1-2in).

Walk or cycle?

Answer: Walk
When it comes to burning calories, there’s not much to choose between a brisk walk and cycling. The big benefit of walking, however, is that you don’t need to wear a helmet, worry about lights, or that your bike may be vandalised or stolen. What’s more, a nice stroll gives you the chance to let your mind wander or tune in to your iPod – a definite no-no in the saddle, where you need all the concentration you can muster.

Big lunch or big supper?

Answer: Big supper
Eating lots for lunch can make you sleepy, because the resulting raised blood sugar can dampen down those brain cells that keep you on your toes, say scientists. Some foods, such as pasta, can also make you dozier than others. So if you’ve got the choice, especially if you’re facing a busy afternoon ahead, keep the big meal for the evening, when staying awake for hours isn’t necessarily a priority.

Still or fizzy water?

Answer: Still
If you know anything about chemistry, you may imagine fizzy water is full of nasty carbon dioxide (CO2) and tooth-rotting acid, but that’s not the real reason for giving it a miss. The level of CO2 is negligible and unlikely to be harmful, while it’s the sugar and acid in sweetened soft drinks, not the bubbles in fizzy water, that damage teeth.

The real reason for avoiding the gassy stuff is that the bubbles have to go somewhere – your digestive system – and the only way they can escape can be embarrassing.

Cooked breakfast or croissants with jam?

Answer: Cooked
Both can clock up around the same number of calories. However, most of those in a croissant with butter and jam come from unhealthy saturated fat and refined carbohydrate. By contrast, a traditional breakfast, such as two slices of lean back bacon with grilled mushrooms, tomatoes and a poached egg on wholegrain toast, offers more sustaining protein, less fat and two of your five-a-day of fruit and veg.

Manual or electric toothbrush?

Answer: Electric
How you brush your teeth is more important than the brush you use, say British Dental Association boffins, but electric toothbrushes make the job that much easier. And if you go for one using rotation oscillation (where the brush rotates in one direction, then the other), up go your chances of reducing gum inflammation and removing plaque, according to a review of recent research.

Vacuum the floor or mow the lawn?

Answer: Mow the lawn
Pushing a mower burns more calories – around 190 in 30 minutes, as opposed to 110 for vacuuming – and you don’t have to be a psychologist to know that being outdoors and communing with nature is one of the best mood lifters that there is.

Food diary or a list of good things in your life?

Answer: A list of good things
A popular weight-loss tip is to keep a food diary, noting what you eat during the day. But, say the gurus, diaries can be misleading because hundreds of calories often go missing! Far better to make a list of all the good things in your life, past and present. You may not end up any thinner, but you could feel so good about yourself you’re more motivated to stick to that diet.

Cranberry juice or cranberry supplement?

Answer: Supplement
Often hailed as cystitis’s little saviours, cranberries are thought to contain a substance that can help stop offending bacteria clinging to the bladder walls. But which is the most effective – juice or supplement? Latest research says capsules. But ensure your daily intake contains at least 200mg of cranberry extract – as recommended by the experts.

Latte or cappuccino?

Answer: Cappuccino
Coffee-shop drinks could have something to do with the nation’s rising obesity. Milk, or rather the proportion of it to water, is to blame. The white stuff may be nutritious, but large, sweetened, milky coffees aren’t. If you can’t do without your daily milky coffee, swapping a semi-skimmed grande latte for a tall, skinny cappuccino can save you around 60 calories.

Extract adapted by Jane Garton from Latte or Cappuccino? by Hilly Janes (Michael O’Mara Books, £9.99).

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.