Five Hacks for a Longer & Happier Life

Five Hacks for a Healthier and Longer Life

For the first time in a century, life expectancy at birth has stopped increasing in parts of the Western world.  While the US has seen this decline for the last three consecutive years, ¹ the UK has also noted a similar trend in 2019. ²

Longevity is a balance of lifespan (living longer) and healthspan (living better). Though I am personally not a fan of resolutions, the New Year does provide us an opportunity to reflect on one’s life and goals. While most value quality over quantity, I don’t think any one of us would voluntarily choose to shorten our lifespans.

Improve your longevity by incorporating these five  lifestyle hacks.  Changing old habits can prove to be a challenge. Set yourself up for success by implementing small discreet changes until it becomes second nature before tackling the next. 

Move more. “The bad news is that sitting continuously for more than nine hours a day increases your chances of an early death; the good news is that doing anything at all reduces that risk dramatically.“³ Sitting is cited as the new smoking, and has been implicated in rising incidence of both physical diseases (like cancer and diabetes) and neuropsychological ones (like Alzheimer’s and anxiety). ⁴ Physical activity doesn’t need to be fancy, require any special equipment or expensive gym memberships. Even standing while you work, doing dishes, cooking or going for a stroll make an impact. If your work does require you to sit for long periods, don’t forget to set an alarm and walk for a few minutes every hour.

Eat less. Excess calories are aging… moderating your caloric intake (without reducing your nutrient intake) is good for you, no matter how you do it.⁵,⁶ Some people advocate stopping when you are 80% full. Others advocate eating during limited eating windows, also known as intermittent fasting.⁷ If you experience any kind of middle age spread, chances are you are insulin resistant (this does not necessarily imply that thin folks can’t or don’t suffer from insulin resistance too) Insulin is a hormone that allows the sugar in your bloodstream to enter your cells. When you lose the sensitivity, your body will compensate by producing more insulin, which is a very aging hormone. Curbing your appetite, eating fewer starchy foods and fasting especially, helps to restore insulin sensitivity.

Call a friend or family member. Interpersonal connections are associated with reduced levels of stress hormones, improved sleep, lesser risk of cardiovascular disease, slower cognitive decline and heightened immunity. ⁸ Social media use, both in quantity of time spent and number of platforms used, has been associated with increased risk for both depression and anxiety among young adults. ⁹ According to a 2010 study, mortality risks associated with loneliness exceeded those associated with obesity and physical inactivity and were similar to those associated with smoking. ¹⁰

Drink more water. We can survive without food far longer than we can without water. Our bodies are comprised of an estimated 60-70% water content. It regulates our body temperature, acts a transporter for nutrients and lubricate our tissues and joints. It is our universal solvent, which makes it essential for detoxification. Even mild dehydration (1-2%) can impair cognition. Nearly all of the major systems in your body depend on water. A general rule of thumb is to consume 1 cup per 20 lb of body weight.

Eat real food. If it comes out of a package, or has an ingredient list of more than five things, it isn’t food, it is a manufactured food product. I believe you should eat birthday cake (if you want it) on your actual birthday. But routinely eating dessert for breakfast, considering sugar laden ketchup a vegetable (potatoes and ketchup are the top two “vegetables” consumed in North America) or consuming a 700 calorie milkshakes made of huge quantities of fruit, coffee and whipped cream as “snacks” cannot be a logical approach to reasonable nutrition. Keep it simple by making small changes. Start with meal planning and packing lunch. Consuming home-cooked meals as a family leads to healthier and happier kids, and teens who are less likely to use alcohol, drugs, or cigarettes.¹² It creates a daily routine of social interaction, costs less money, and leaves less of a carbon footprint, which by extension, makes all of us healthier. ¹³


  1. Woolf SH, Schoomaker H. Life Expectancy and Mortality Rates in the United States, 1959-2017. JAMA. 2019;322(20):1996–2016. doi:
  3. Ekelund Ulf, Tarp Jakob, Steene-Johannessen Jostein, Hansen Bjørge H, Jefferis Barbara, Fagerland Morten W et al. Dose-response associations between accelerometry measured physical activity and sedentary time and all cause mortality: systematic review and harmonised meta-analysis BMJ 2019; 366 :l4570. doi: doi: 
  4. Lakerveld J, et al. Sitting too much: A hierarchy of socio-demographic correlates. Preventive Medicine. 2017;101:77.
  5. Leanne M. Redman, Steven R. Smith, Jeffrey H. Burton, Corby K. Martin, Dora Il’yasova, Eric Ravussin. Metabolic Slowing and Reduced Oxidative Damage with Sustained Caloric Restriction Support the Rate of Living and Oxidative Damage Theories of AgingCell Metabolism, 2018; DOI: 10.1016/j.cmet.2018.02.019
  8. Holt-Lunstad J, Smith TB, Layton JB (2010) Social Relationships and Mortality Risk: A Meta-analytic Review. PLOS Medicine 7(7): e1000316.
  9. Ariel Shensa, MA, Jaime E. Sidani, MPH, PhD, […], and Brian A. Primack, MD, PhD Social Media Use and Depression and Anxiety Symptoms: A Cluster Analysis. Am J Health Behav. 2018 Mar 1;42(2):116-128. doi: 10.5993/AJHB.42.2.11.
  10. Vannucci A, Flannery KM, Ohannessian CM. Social media use and anxiety in emerging adults. J Affect Disord. 2017;207:163–166.
  11. Riebl SK, Davy BM. The Hydration Equation: Update on Water Balance and Cognitive Performance. ACSMs Health Fit J. 2013 Nov;17(6):21-28. doi: 10.1249/FIT.0b013e3182a9570f. PMID: 25346594; PMCID: PMC4207053.

Seven Surprising Facts About Sugar

Considering sugar is one of the most addictive, yet incredibly delicious substances on the planet, you have likely asked yourself – is it really that BAD for you?

Since 1989, WHO (World Health Organization) has been encouraging people to reduce intake of added sugars to less than 10% of daily calories and preferably only 5%, which translates to 6-12 teaspoons per day.  According to data from the most recent Canadian Community Health Survey, kids consume 33 teaspoons of sugar a day.

Sugar consumption has become a way of life, not only in the Western world, but worldwide.  Sugar is our celebration food, in good times and in bad, starting in early childhood and for most people, over the course of whole lifetimes.  I hope the following information helps you to make the best choices you can with regards to your long term health.

1.You’ve been duped. In the late 1960s, the sugar industry has aggressively campaigned that dietary fat is the primary causative factor of heart disease, diabetes and excess weight.  Their tactics have often been compared to those of Big Tobacco.  Since that time, sugar consumption has dramatically increased as low fat foods were introduced in the market to cater to newly adopted dietary guidelines that influence public demand.  As these policies have been implemented, that obesity and diabetes have risen to epidemic levels.  It is sad to realize that the overall health of people in the last forty to fifty years have been compromised due to dubious marketing strategies.

2. It is a serious addiction. Like other addictive substances, consuming sugar causes the brain to release opiods and dopamine into the bloodstream.  That is what makes it so difficult to have “just a little bit” of sugar.  Research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found the substance lights up the brain’s pleasure system in a way other foods do not, increasing the urge to overindulge.  When compared to cocaine, sugar (specifically Oreos) has been shown to be more addictive.  And just like humans, rats eat the filling first.

3. Sugar hides in many everyday “non-sugar” foods.  The sugar content of ice cream or candy might not surprise you, but what about pasta sauce, bread, yogurt or salad dressing?  Sugar is almost impossible to avoid, given the amounts that are added to all processed foods.  Of the 60,000 grocery items available to North Americans, 80% or more contain added sugar.  It is even worse in any foods labelled “low-fat,” as those fat calories are usually replaced with sugar to maintain the food’s appeal on the palate.  For example, a single cup (245 grams) of low-fat yogurt can contain up to 47 grams of sugar, which is 12 teaspoons.  Even foods we think of as healthy like coconut water or a green smoothie (depending on how fruit content)  can range from 20-45 grams of sugar.  Aside from the taste, sugar also acts as a preservative of processed foods and is a cheap substitute for other flavour enhancers like herbs and spices.  Possibly the worst offender are sweetened beverages, whether in the form of energy drinks, fruit juice, or fancy coffees, comprises 36 percent of the added sugars consumed.  Click here for a detailed infographic

4. Fruit counts towards your overall sugar intake. People are surprised to learn that fruit isn’t a free for all.  Fruit contains fructose which when consumed in moderation (I suggest to limit intake to 2 pieces/day), it doesn’t pose health issues. Optimal choices are low sugar fruits such as avocado, olives, tomatoes and berries. However, there are instances where fructose is overconsumed.  One example is in fruit smoothies (a Green smoothie from Jamba Juice contains 45 g of sugar), or fruit juice (a glass of orange juice contains 21 g of sugar), where numerous pieces of fruit are used to make a single serving.  Another example is the use of high fructose corn syrup (HCFS) in processed foods.

High-fructose diets  have been shown to cause free radical damage in the body, increase blood pressure, and impair the body’s ability to use and store glucose. ¹,²,³  Fructose confuses your hunger signals, so that you never feel full.  There are also significant detrimental effects on the brain which affects memory, learning ability and has been implicated in the occurrence of Alzheimer’s. ⁴

5. Sugar feeds cancer cells.  Last year, Medical News Today reported on a study that showed that over half of mice fed a sucrose-rich diet developed breast cancer.⁵  In an editorial in Nutrition, Dr. Undurti N. Das highlighted the fact that fructose, a constituent of table sugar, or sucrose, changes cell metabolism and raises the activity of cancer-promoting proteins.⁶ A study done in 2017 studied the process by which cancer cells generate energy.  Instead of burning sugar, cancer cells ferment it, which is not very efficient at energy production (which would not favor tumor growth). In this study, it was discovered that during the process of fermentation, there is an intermediate substance produced that is a potent activator of proto-oncogenes – which then get turned on and stimulate cell proliferation.⁷

6. Sugar causes aging. When there is excess sugar in the bloodstream, it will attach to other proteins in the body.  When it attaches to the collagen in your skin, it causes wrinkles.  When it binds to the connective tissue in your legs, it causes cellulite.  It is the same process that is involved in multi-organ breakdown seen in diabetics. A recent study linked blood sugar spiking foods to acne formation.⁸ It literally ages every cell of your body.  One study showed that one sugary canned drink per day changes cellular DNA similar to those you would see in a smoker.⁹

7. Sugar affects your hormones.  When you eat sugar, your pancreas produces insulin, which allows your cells to store that sugar as fat.  Insulin is closely connected to all of the other hormones in your body, including estrogen and testosterone. High insulin levels lead to elevated estrogen and testosterone. It also increases the production of testosterone, which is then converted into even more estrogen by fat tissue in the belly. This is true for men and women alike.

This, unfortunately, is the cold hard truth.  Tough to swallow, I know.  Breaking up with sugar is hard, I have been in those shoes.  On the up side, I didn’t expect to feel so good minimizing my sugar intake.  I hope that one day you get to feel that way too.


1. Katrien Lowette, et al.   Effects of High-Fructose Diets on Central Appetite Signaling and Cognitive Function. Frontiers in Nutrition (2015) 2: 5.
2. Walker RW, Dumke KA, Goran MI. Fructose content in popular beverages made with and without high-fructose corn syrup. Nutrition (2014) 30:928–35.10.1016/j.nut.2014.04.003
3. Douard V, Ferraris RP. Regulation of the fructose transporter GLUT5 in health and disease. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab (2008) 295:E227–37.10.1152/ajpendo.90245.2008
4. Lindqvist A, Baelemans A, Erlanson-Albertsson C. Effects of sucrose, glucose and fructose on peripheral and central appetite signals. Regul Pept (2008) 150:26–32.10.1016/j.regpep.2008.06.008
5. Yang, Peiying et al. A Sucrose-Enriched Diet Promotes Tumorigenesis in Mammary Gland in Part through the 12-Lipoxygenase Pathway. Cancer Research (2016) 76:1
6. Undurti N.DasM.D., F.A.M.S., F.R.S.C.Sucrose, fructose, glucose, and their link to metabolic syndrome and cancer. Nutrition (2015) 31:1:249-55
7. Ken Peeters, et al .  Fructose-1,6-bisphosphate couples glycolytic flux to activation of Ras.  NATURE COMMUNICATIONS (2017) 8: 922
8. Smith, RN et al.A low-glycemic-load diet improves symptoms in acne vulgaris patients: a randomized controlled trial.  Am J Clin Nutr. 2007 Jul;86(1):107-15.
9. Leung, Cindy W et al. Soda and Cell Aging: Associations Between Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Consumption and Leukocyte Telomere Length in Healthy Adults From the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys. American Journal of Public Health (ajph) (Dec 2014)

6 Simple Steps to Start a Fast (for Anything)

A fast is simply abstaining from something for a period of time.  Fasting is a time honored, often spiritual, tradition.   Though it is often associated with food, there are many elements that can insidiously insert themselves into our lifestyles when we are not paying attention.  Bad habits happen to all of us.  .

Fasting in all of its forms, is an exercise in self-control.  Whether it is caffeine, sugar, video games, shopping, cybersurfing, social media or television – pick your “vice.”. And self-control holds benefit for all—regardless of your spiritual background.

Here’s how to start:

  1. Choose your element – ask yourself what is the one thing you don’t think you could live without.
  2. Choose a timeframe – I recommend starting small and working your way up – can be one day, a week, a month, or even one day per week.
  3. Prepare yourself for the commitment you have made for yourself. If you decide to give up coffee, you might want to ensure you have an alternate beverage to replace it with. If you decide to give up eating out, you will need to make sure you take the time to prepare your meals.
  4. Expect it to be difficult – especially at the beginning. Let it be hard, accept that the difficulty is part of the process. If you don’t find it difficult, maybe your choice wasn’t as much of an issue for you as you may have thought.
  5. Be gentle with yourself. If you don’t manage to achieve your goal, be humbled by your efforts to try.
  6. Once the fast is over, then re-introduce the item back into your life gently and consciously. Let yourself decide if and/or how much this space this item/habit is permitted in your new routine. Choosing to do/eat something consciously changes the experience completely. Moderation will often be the “new normal.”

Fasting isn’t sexy, but it is of great value.  You will discover things about yourself from this practice.  You will regain self-control over all of the elements in your life.  You will feel better about yourself – you deserve it.


15 Household Spots You Should Be Cleaning

There are about 150 different species of bacteria found on the average human hand – some harmless, some beneficial and some capable of causing serious illness. Germs get spread every time you touch something.  On average, about three hundred different surfaces get touched every thirty minutes.  Regular household germs are thought to be responsible for causing over 65 percent of colds, 50 percent of diarrhea and 50-80 percent of food-borne illness.  Frequent hand washing is probably one of the simplest and most effective strategies for keeping household germs at bay.  Another is ensuring germ hotspots get cleaned regularly – here are fifteen household sources that are easily overlooked.

    1. Toothbrush

      According to researchers at the University of Manchester in England, your toothbrush is home to more than 100 million bacteria including E. coli and staphylococci (Staph) bacteria, including fecal germs. Every time you flush, bacteria are released into the air and can travel up to five feet away. The fix: Replace your toothbrush every three to four months, or more frequently if bristles are frayed, if you experience illness or your immune system is weakened.  For an electric toothbrush, replace the head as frequently as you would a regular disposable brush. Children’s toothbrushes may need to be replaced more often than adult brushes. If possible, store your toothbrush in the medicine cabinet (it still needs to be upright) or at least as far away from the toilet as possible.  Allow your toothbrush dry between uses (some people have a different morning and a bedtime brush).  Close the toilet lid when you flush.  Avoid using toothbrush protectors as they can harbour bacteria.

    2.  Toothbrush holder

      Given its location in the bathroom (and close to the toilet), it comes as no surprise that the toothbrush holder also showed high levels of bacteria (27% coliform, 14% staph, 64% had mold/yeast contamination).The fix: Either wash manually in hot soapy water or in the dishwasher twice per week. Better yet, get rid of it and store your toothbrushes (upright) in a covered part of the bathroom (like the medicine cabinet).

    3. Bath Mat

      Bath mats sit on the bathroom floor (one of the most contaminated parts of the bathroom) and provide a moist dark environment where mold spores, bacteria and fungus can thrive and survive for weeks.  The fix: Launder mats once per week on the highest heat and with bleach (follow manufacturer’s instructions).  Launder separately from bedding or other clothes.

    4. Hand towels

      Towels are such great bacteria traps because every time you use a towel, you transfer your natural skin bacteria, and any other germs you’re carrying, onto their surface. Towels are made to absorb water, which is great for drying your skin, but not so great when it comes to discouraging bacterial growth.  Face, hand and bath towels spread bacteria and viruses among family members who use the same towels.  To add insult to injury, most people don’t wash their hands properly – so you end up rubbing bacteria into an ideal growing environment. In one study, nearly 90% of bathroom towels were contaminated with coliform bacteria and about 14% carried E. coli. The fix:  Use your own individual towel (for face, hand and bath).  Wash all towels after two days of use, in hot water and bleach for best results.

    5. Loofah

      Like a kitchen sponge (full of holes and crevices), your loofah is a prime place for germs to accumulate.  It picks up germs from your body, plus anything it might contact from shower surfaces.  Using a germ-ridden loofah sponge can also contribute to acne.  The fix:  It is probably better not to use one at all, and swap it out for a washcloth instead.  But if you must, rinse them with super hot water at the end of a shower, allow them to dry between uses and always, always replace them every three months.

    6. Tub & Shower

      Your bathtub may have 100 times more bacteria than the trash can, according to an in-home bacteria study conducted by the Center for Hygiene and Health in Home and Community. The fix: Disinfect tubs and showers twice per week to get rid of dead skin cells left in the tub that can carry germs too.

    7. Sponge

      Your kitchen sponge is ironically the germiest item in your home.    In a recent study, 77 percent harbored coliform bacteria, and another 86 percent contained yeast and mold and another 18 percent contained staph bacteria. Bacteria flourish in moist environments offered by kitchen sponges and rags.  Using a dirty sponge or rag to wipe kitchen counters only transfers bacteria from one place to another.  The fix: Sponges should be replaced frequently, ideally weekly. Use a clean rag every day or two.  Dry sponges and rags between uses (ensure they are free of organic debris before drying). Kitchen rags and towels should be laundered in hot water with bleach for best results.

    8. Coffee Maker

      Fifty percent of reservoirs swabbed for the study had mold and yeast, and nine percent had coliform bacteria.  The fix: A simple way to disinfect it while also removing mineral buildup? Fill the water chamber with half vinegar/half water, then “brew” a pot halfway. Turn the pot off and let it sit for 30 minutes before finishing the brew. Run a clear water mixture through next (do this step twice) and you’ll have a clean coffee pot ready to brew delicious coffee.

    9. Oven handles/light switches/microwave screens

      Since a lot goes into cooking a meal/food preparation- handling uncooked meats and unwashed produce, cutting boards, opening cabinets/refrigerator/oven/microwave, it is easy to see how germs could be transferred from one surface to another.  The fix: Disinfect frequently used kitchen surfaces, especially before and after meal preparation   Keep a spray bottle of diluted vinegar and clean rags on the counter for easy access.

    10. Kitchen faucet

      After you handle raw meat in the kitchen, naturally you turn on the tap to wash your hands, and may not realize the transfer of bacteria that are left on the faucet (this also holds true for bathroom faucets)  More than half of faucets in American homes are covered in bacteria.The fix: Disinfect all surfaces regularly using hot water and soap or a diluted solution of chlorine bleach and water.

    11. Dishwasher

      Dishwasher detergents are designed to clean your dishes, but are not effective in keeping the insides of the dishwasher sanitized.  Food particles, soap scum and grease cling together and create an ideal breeding ground for various microorganisms.  In one study, 62% of the dishwashers tested positive for fungi, 56% of which were black yeasts. The fix:  Regularly run your dishwasher empty with a cup of vinegar and a cup of baking soda, and don’t forget to clean out the trap regularly.

    12. Remote

      The TV remote – gets dropped on the floor, coughed on, sneezed at and handled by every household member.  A remote control’s surface were found to be one of the germiest surfaces in the household (consider this when travelling in hotel rooms too). Almost half of remotes tested were contaminated with cold viruses.  The fix:  Clean the remote regularly using a microfiber cloth, a solution of 50/50 rubbing alcohol/water, a toothbrush to clean with and a cotton swab.  Buy a remote with a flat design for easier cleaning.  When travelling (remotes to be shown second only to a bathroom counter in the average hotel room for bacterial counts), don’t use the remote and use the TV on/off button instead.

    13. Makeup and makeup Brushes

      With every touch, you transfer all of the microorganisms from your skin into your product.  Same holds true for any brush or applicator.  So over time, your makeup becomes a ripe source of  microbial contamination, which gets spread around with every time you doll yourself up. 60% of women rarely wash their makeup brushes, if at all.  One survey revealed that 39% of women wash their brushes less than once a month and 22% admit to never washing them.

      The fix:  Clean your makeup (think pressed powders, foundation, metal tools and makeup bag liniing) with a small spray bottle filled with isopropyl alcohol (allow to dry before using) on a weekly basis.  Use alcohol wipes for items like lipstick, concealer, eye and lip liners and metal tools.  Wash makeup brushes and sponges brushes in warm soapy water on a regular basis. Discard and regularly replace expired products (every three months for mascara, every six months for liquid liners and foundations and every year for gloss, creams).

    14. Purse/Backpack/Computer Bag

      One study of office workers found that women’s purses were one of top three dirtiest things they touched throughout the day, with E. Coli on 25 percent of purses tested.  This holds true for any type of bag that is being used on a daily basis.  The fix: Don’t rest it on the bathroom floor, use the hooks provided in public restrooms whenever possible.  Clean the bottoms of all bags regularly with a disinfectant wipe (vinegar and water will suffice) every few days.  Purchase bags with a non-permeable fabric on the bottom for more effective cleaning.

    15. Keyboard/Tablet/Smartphone

      For most people, the cellphone is probably the one items that gets touched the most.  One study found one in six phones was shown to be contaminated with fecal matter (we have our own unwashed hands to blame).  The fix:  Power down the device once per week (more during cold and flu season) and wipe with a disinfectant cloth.