In our busy intense lives how do we make lasting changes to better our immediate health and health outcomes for the future?
We all know the things we should be doing, but often life gets in the way. We are now almost two months into the new decade, with resolutions often left far behind. Rather than “New Year, New You”, perhaps it is better to focus on New Year, Better You! We should look to improve rather than reinvent ourselves. There is no perfect formula, but as I often discuss with patients, the place to start is with small steps, making sustainable changes that we can then build upon.
There is no exhaustive list of wellness tips, but I would recommend considering the following, and start with what resonates with you.
“If physical activity were a drug, we would refer to it as a miracle cure.”
We have overwhelming evidence for the health benefits of regular exercise- it reduces the risk of: heart disease and stroke, type 2 diabetes, colon cancer, breast cancer, osteoarthritis, hip fractures, falls in the elderly, depression and dementia. It is also associated with a 30% lower risk of early death.
The government guidelines are that adults should do at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity cardiovascular exercise a week, 2 sessions of strengthening and resistance exercises and avoid sedentary time.
We must find a way to make exercise convenient and manageable within our busy schedules.
- Set realistic goals and pace yourself. Often finding a buddy to exercise with keeps you motivated and helps you enjoy this more. Make sure you try and find activities you enjoy doing!
- Get walking – this is one of the easiest things to start getting more active, lose weight and become healthier. Try using the stairs rather than escalators or lifts, trackers such as the health app on our iPhone or apps like active 10 can help tell us how many steps we have done and how many of these have been at pace. This will help keep you fit, motivated, and burn calories. https://www.nhs.uk/oneyou/active10/home
- For cardiovascular exercise I often recommend running, as this is not dependent on gym opening times, and an excellent opportunity to spend some time outdoors. A good place to start is using the Couch to 5K app which is endorsed by the NHS, and helps to gradually build up your fitness levels – you may just surprise yourself! https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/exercise/get-running-with-couch-to-5k/
- High intensity interval training (HIIT) is also an effective way of getting fit, it can burn a lot of calories and fat in a short space of time, your body continues to burn fat after the workout, and sessions are usually no more than 30 minutes. Again, there are a number of apps to help you start, including the 7-minute workout challenge: https://www.7minuteworkout.jnj.com/
- Free weights at home or using your own body weight e.g. with yoga, Pilates or mat based exercises can be done a few times a week at home. Rangan Chatterjee’s five-minute kitchen workout is very manageable and a quick way of incorporating this into busy days. https://drchatterjee.com/5min-kitchen-workout/
- Try one new fitness activity or class every week and try and commit to at least 10 minutes of doing something every day. It can take an average of 2 months to form a habit so keep at it!
- Stand at every opportunity-consider a standing desk, taking that phone call outside or walking meetings if possible – most of us are sedentary for far too long. Sitting for too long is also associated with increased risk for cancer and diabetes, and overall increased risk of an early death.
- Stretch for 5 minutes before bedtime and after waking up, this can often help prevent aches and pains, and keeps muscles flexible, strong, and healthy to maintain a good range of movement in the joints.
- Make sure to leave your desk at lunchtime and try and have even a quick walk outside, you will feel more energised and be more productive on your return. This is good for vitamin D in the summer months, as well as lifting our mood and activity levels!
“Kindness is a language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see”. Mark Twain
- Be kind to yourself, often we are our own worst enemies and put a great deal of unnecessary pressure on ourselves.
- Research shows the act of giving kindness can also improve our mental well-being by creating positive feelings and a sense of reward.
- Do what brings you joy.
- Set achievable goals and reward yourself on achieving these.
- Take time out to do something you enjoy, for no other reason other than pleasure.
- Experiment with healthy habits to offset stress, and find a strategy that works for you.
- Identify the source(s) of stress, talk to someone who can help you reflect on these areas.
- Who do you consider your support network? Even one person that you trust and feel safe with is enough for you to be able to share how you are feeling. If you are feeling overwhelmed speak to your GP to discuss how they can help.
- Take time out for yourself, do something you enjoy, perhaps pursuing a new hobby-it’s never too late to start!
- Cut out toxic relationships
- Invest time for good relationships as they help us build a sense of belonging and self-worth, give us an opportunity to share positive experiences and provide emotional support and allow us to support others
- Learn to say NO and not feel guilty.
- Exercise – when we exercise our brain releases endorphins which are chemicals that fight stress and make us feel happier.
- Spend time outdoors – research shows that a 2 hour “dose” of nature a week boosts health and wellbeing.
- Music – findings show that music around 60 beats per minute can cause the brain to synchronise with the beat causing alpha brainwaves which are associated with the resting state of the brain,
- Breathing exercises – deep breathing helps lower heart rate and blood pressure and lower stress levels.
- Yoga – research shows that regular yoga can reduce stress, lower blood pressure and heart rate.
- Avoid alcohol and tobacco – these may help us feel better in the short term but unfortunately have a greater negative effect in the long term
- Mindfulness-pay more attention to the present moment, to your own thoughts and feelings and the world around you, which can improve mental well-being. Consider apps like Headspace or Calm. https://www.headspace.com/ https://www.calm.com/
- Track your intake and drinking habits https://www.drinkaware.co.uk/understand-your-drinking/unit-calculator
- Aim to have a few days off per week.
- Limit your intake per session, your body can only process 1 unit of alcohol per hour.
- Don’t drink on an empty stomach.
- Aim to try and lower your alcohol intake, even if this is already within the guidelines.
- Make alternate drinks a non-alcoholic beverage.
- Consider low alcohol alternatives.
- Avoid salty snacks like crisps or peanuts as this makes you thirsty and inclined to drink faster.
- If you are pregnant or trying to become pregnant are the safest approach is to not drink any alcohol at all.
Smoking is the biggest cause of preventable deaths in England, accounting for nearly 80,000 deaths each year. One in two smokers will die from a smoking related disease.
- Make a list of reasons to quit – and keep rereading this for motivation!
- Speak to your doctor or nurse about options available to you including medication.
- Make a plan, set a target stop date and try and find a buddy to stop with you.
- Consider your diet – some foods (and drinks) e.g. meat, fizzy drinks, alcohol, tea and coffee may make cigarettes more satisfying.
- Change your routine looking at associations when you crave cigarettes.
- Support – find your local stop smoking service or call the NHS Smokefree helpline – 0300 123 1044
- Consider what might work for you e.g. medication, counselling, hypnosis, apps, books e.g. Alan Carr
- Get moving – research shows that exercise helps reduce cravings.
- Keep your hands and mouth busy e.g. with nicotine replacement or handheld inhalators.
- Keep trying – many people try several times before giving up for good, don’t give up!
- Choose a reward from the money saved. https://www.nhs.uk/smokefree/why-quit/cost-calculator
Our lives have been made so much easier with technology – from computers and the internet to smart phones and wearable health trackers, but we must find a balance for our health.
- When using a computer or laptop, take at least a 5-minute break every hour away from the screen, and make sure you change posture regularly, refocus your eyes; and do some simple stretching exercises at your desk.
- Maintain proper posture when using your smartphone, there has been a rise in neck, back and shoulder pain because of this, and repetitive strain from typing with thumbs and repeated swiping movements.
- Be present, make meal times and family outings gadget free, and some gadget free time at weekends and evenings for a break.
- Consider stopping checking emails at the latest by 8pm.
- Stop using your devices entirely by 9pm to limit blue light exposure which affects multiple areas of health including the production of melatonin.
- Get a separate alarm clock to resist using your phone.
- Turn off notifications from e.g. social media apps.
- Keep electronic devices out of the bedroom, and charge them in another room.
- Consider limiting your access to addictive apps – ironically there are a number of apps to help you e.g. https://offtime.app/
- Use technology to benefit your health e.g. trackers like Fitbit or the apple watch, smart scales, period trackers for women e.g. www.helloclue.com, and health related apps to keep you on track and support you.
Most adults need between 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night and research has shown that too much or too little can have detrimental effects on a variety of areas. Chronic insomnia has been linked with insulin resistance, poor mental and physical performance, heart disease, obesity, cancer and depression.
- Keep regular sleeping times which programs the brain and internal body clock to get used to a set routine.
- Find the best way that works for you to wind down such as a warm bath, relaxation exercises such as light yoga stretches, relaxation music or mindfulness.
- Avoid using smart phones, tablets or other electronic devices for an hour or so before bed as the blue light from the screen may have a negative effect on sleep.
- Make your bedroom just for sleep and sex, and make this a relaxing environment as there is a strong association in our minds between sleep in the bedroom.
- Ideally keep the bedroom dark, quiet, and at a temperature between 18 to 24°.
- If you have problems with your sleep do keep a sleep diary and follow-up with your GP.
Eating a healthy balanced diet is a key part of maintaining good health. This means eating a wide variety of foods in the right proportions as detailed in the eat well guide. By eating healthier you will reduce your risk of diabetes, heart disease stroke and cancer.
- Aim to have at least 5 portions (400 g) of a variety of fruit and vegetables a day. These are a good source of prebiotic fibre, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, and research shows a diet high in these helps lower risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes and obesity.
- Have whole foods – plant foods that are unrefined and unprocessed, and try and “eat the rainbow”, as plants derive their colours from different phytochemicals found in them, reflecting different nutrients.
- Avoid processed foods – they are usually low in fibre, protein and micronutrients and high in sugar and refined grains which add empty calories.
- Have more oily fish – a great source of healthy fats which lower the risk of several conditions including heart disease, dementia and depression.
- Look after your gut health by eating at least 30g of fibre a day, dietary fibre is found in cereal foods, including bread, beans, lentils, fruit & vegetables. A high fibre diet can help reduce cholesterol, reduce the risk of diabetes and can help protect against obesity and bowel disease.
- Probiotics help to restore the natural balance of bacteria in your gut when it has been disrupted by illness or treatment. There is evidence to show it is helpful when taking antibiotics and for symptoms of IBS. Capsules are not very effective, so take it in liquid form or sachets e.g. Symprove or VSL3.
- Avoid sugary drinks – these are associated with obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
- Swap to healthy snacks like a handful of nuts – they are a good source of antioxidants, essential fats, magnesium, vitamin E, and fibre.
- Reduce red meat (beef, lamb and pork) and processed meat consumption which is associated with increased risk of bowel cancer – this needs to be reduced to a maximum of 70g per person per day.
- Planning is important, keep your kitchen well-stocked with foods that make eating simple healthier meals easier, such as fruits and vegetables and healthy snacks such as nuts and seeds
- Meal prepping can also be helpful such as setting aside a few hours at the weekend for shopping and quickly planning e.g. the lunches to take to work.