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Small Change Big Difference

By Dietitian, Juliette Kellow BSc RD

Although most of us know it’s important to eat healthily and take more exercise if we want to stay fit and well, many of us still find it hard to incorporate these things into our daily lives – possibly because they seem so intimidating.

Fortunately, the government has come to the rescue with the launch of a new initiative called Small Change, Big Difference that aims to encourage people to make small changes to their lifestyles in order to achieve big health benefits so they live longer, healthier lives. Although not as direct as Denmark's fat tax, this intiative certainly has far reaching potential.

The launch was supported by research from Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge, which revealed that small changes in diet and physical activity could add years to your life. The research used data from a population study, that involved collecting information from 22,000 men and women aged 40 to 79 in 1993, and again in 2004.

What Impact Can Lifestyle have on Health?

Focusing on eating habits, the study highlighted the importance of fruit and vegetables in the diet. Compared with the 20% who ate the least fruit and vegetables, the 20% who consumed the most were half as likely to have died of any cause between the two dates; less than half as likely to have died from cancer and around a third less likely to have died of heart disease. Each 50g increase in fruit and vegetable consumption was associated with a 20% lower risk of death.

The research highlights once again the fact that only around 25% of the UK population eats the recommended five a day portions of fruit and vegetables. For more information on healthy eating see healthy heart diet.

The study also showed that adding just moderate amounts of physical activity to your life, for example, by walking up the stairs instead of taking the lift, was found to help adults live an extra three years. For some ideas about how to increase your activity level throughout the day see The Importance of Regular Exercise.

Public Health Minister Caroline Flint, who launched the initiative together with Tony Blair said, "We all know we should eat more fruit and veg and get more exercise to improve our health but sometimes this can be daunting. Small Change, Big Difference is about showing people there are everyday, simple choices they can make in their lives, which will have a direct impact on their health. Eating an extra piece of fruit or walking up the stairs can help people add years to their lives."

Sadly, a survey carried out by Holmes Place at three of London’s busiest tube stations the day after the launch, revealed that only 1.3 percent of Londoners had taken any notice of the new campaign. A massive 98.7 percent of commuters still chose the escalators over the stairs when entering and leaving the stations! Holmes Place fitness experts say this is a shame because walking slowly up and down just 200 steps every day during the working week can burn an extra 1,600 calories a month – enough to shift 5lb in a year! Christian Mason, Fitness Director for Holmes Place said, "Taking the stairs at the train station instead of standing on the escalator is one of the simplest ways to incorporate exercise into daily life. It’s easy to follow the crowd and jostle for the escalator when, in fact, even making this small change in your lifestyle could improve your health, make a real significance to your weight and save you time on your journey too".

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