The start of a new year is a peak time for embarking on fresh diet and exercise regimes, but there are some simple and relatively ‘painless’ habits that you could incorporate into your daily routine which can help you reach your health and wellness goals for the long term. Here are 6 simple health hacks which many of us already know, but few of us actually make the effort to incorporate daily.
Ditch the diet
Dieting is big business, but for most people, diets don’t actually work. In the short term they may lead to desired weight loss, but the restrictive nature of a regimented and limited diet inevitably lead to failure and many people regain the weight they lost only to go on to try the next slimming fad. Dieting can also be detrimental to physical and mental health and may encourage a disordered relationship with food.
I prefer to encourage clients to make healthier food choices for themselves and avoid calorie counting, something which eventually becomes habit. The goal is to not deprive yourself of anything - as this can lead to binging - but to focus instead on healthy, mindful eating.
There’s no need to give up ‘naughty’ foods or abstain totally from alcohol - try consuming them occasionally rather than every day and whilst the weight may not melt away as quickly as it could do if you were following a restrictive diet, over time you should find that your weight should reach a healthy and maintainable balance if it wasn’t previously.
If you are concerned that you may have an unhealthy relationship with food then it’s worth speaking to your GP for a referral, or to a qualified dietician or nutritional therapist who will be best placed to support you according to your personal needs.
Try these things:
- Balance your diet: focus on freshly prepared whole foods combining lots of vegetables, pulses, and wholegrains, with some oily fish, lean meat and eggs if you’re not a plant-based eater.
- When dining out, opt for grilled food rather than fried, and choose cuisines which are naturally light and healthy - Vietnamese and Japanese meals, for example, are good options.
- Practice ‘mindful’ eating. Take time to enjoy and concentrate on eating your meal rather than eating at your desk or on the run. Mindful eating helps reduce overeating and binging, encourages a healthy relationship with food, and can aid digestion.
- Try reducing the amount of meat you eat - being flexitarian or even adopting ‘meat free Mondays’ can be good for you, and the planet.
- Don’t skip meals - allowing yourself to get very hungry can lead to poor, high sugar food choices, overeating, and binging.
- Limit yourself to a couple of alcoholic drinks per week
- If you’re reaching for the cake or biscuits daily, try dropping this to 3-4 days per week instead.
- If you have a sweet tooth and have to follow up every meal with dessert, try savouring a square of dark chocolate (70% cocoa content) or try a serving of frozen berries topped with a spoonful of natural yoghurt instead.
Don’t sign up to gym membership
Every January people clamour to sign up for new gym memberships, and more often than not, a couple of months in and their attendance suddenly drops off. Using the gym is great, but if you’re not already a fan of self-motivated exercise, then chances are you’ll be coughing up a lot of cash every month to attend infrequently, if at all.
Try these instead:
- Consider pay-as-you go classes instead, where you’ll only be paying for what you need. You’ll also benefit from having an instructor manage your workout ensuring that there’s no slacking and that you exercise all your muscle groups. You can pick and choose what sort of class you’d like to attend depending on your mood and it’s also a great way to make new friends.
- Find a training buddy - coordinating a workout with a friend or colleague who will hold you accountable means you’re more likely to stick to training and may enjoy it more too.
- Get outdoors - hiking and running outdoors are not only free, but getting out in the fresh air helps clear your head and has been shown to reduce stress.
Exercise is more than just about physical appearance, and given that studies show that those of us who are sedentary are at increased risk of Type 2 diabetes, cardivascular disease and mental health problems, we should all be moving as much as we can. With many of us spending much of our working life deskbound, it can be difficult to get much movement in during the day, but making small habit changes to boost your activity levels can go a long way to helping boost general wellbeing and maintain a healthy weight.
Most modern mobile phones now have step counters, so if you’ve never used yours before, now is the time to get familar with it. There are some very simple things - that most of us already know, but few of us habitually do - that can help boost your step count.
Try these things:
- Taking the stairs instead of the lift or escalators, taking a short brisk walk during your lunch break - even 10 minutes is beneficial and bonus points if you can build in 2-3 brisk mini walks per day
- Getting off the bus or tube one stop early to walk the rest of the way
- Got a casual meeting with a colleague? Consider walking and talking instead of using a meeting room.
Take care of your gut
The importance of gut health is becoming more recognised as new research emerges. In fact, the state of our gut has an impact on our whole body health. The GI tract does more than just break down our food, absorb nutrients and evacuate waste products. It is home to trillions of bacteria, fungi and their genetic material - known collectively as the microbiome - which are thought to modulate everything including chronic illnesses, immunity, mental health and even our weight.
We all have a unique microbiome and many factors influence it’s balance and health;- the way we were born, where we grew up, the germs and bacteria we were exposed to in our youth, medications, alcohol intake, diet and even stress are just some of the factors which dictate the makeup of our gut flora.
Try these things:
- Eat plenty of fibre, as it does more than just keep us regular. Including plenty of fibre-rich fruits, vegetables and whole grains is one of the best ways to encourage a healthy and diverse microbiome.
- Incorporate fermented foods and beverages, which contain probiotics or ‘friendly bacteria’ as they are colloquially known. These include live yoghurt, pickles, saurkraut, kimchi, kefir, kombucha - the latter makes a good swap for your 3pm coffee.
- Consider supplementing with a quality probiotic product, particularly if you suffer from IBS.
Think about what you drink
When it comes to healthy weight management, our heart health, or even diabetes prevention, food is usually the first thing that comes to mind and often what we drink isn’t as considered. We know that excess alcohol consumption contributes excess ‘empty’ calories and can be detrimental to our health in many ways, but consider also that juices and smoothies - often promoted as healthy products - can be high in sugar and as a result can sabotage your efforts to achieve your health and wellness goals.
Try these instead:
- Flavouring water with slices of fruit, cucumber or mint leaves instead of fruit juice.
- When out at the pub for the evening try alternating between an alcoholic beverage and still or sparkling water. Not only is it better for your health, but you’ll feel better for it the next morning.
- Seedlip - an alcohol-free spirit mixer - is a great alternative to gin or vodka, contains no sugar, sweeteners or calories (you read that correctly), and won’t give you a hangover.
Sleep plays a vital role in maintaining our long term health and day to day wellbeing. Not getting enough quality sleep has been associated with increased risk of many illnesses from decreased immunity and Type 2 diabetes to heart disease, mental health problems, and obesity. If those aren’t a current concern, then perhaps the fact that quality sleep helps skin look better, eyes brighter, assists with weight management (studies show that people who sleep less than seven hours per night tend to gain more) and of course make the brain function more sharply, will be enough of an incentive to prioritise sleep.
Try these things:
- Regularly go to bed at a sensible time, allowing for a minimum of 8 hours in bed.
- Avoid screens for one hour before lights out - try reading a book instead of watching Netflix or scrolling through your Instagram feed. If the latter is difficult to give up, try moving social media apps off your homescreen to avoid using them out of habit.
- Avoid caffeinated beverages and food in the afternoon and evening.
- Try stress management techniques such as deep breathing or meditation - there are apps that can help guide you effortlessly through these.
- Sip a herbal infusion containing herbs such as chamomile, lemonbalm or lavender 45 minutes before bed to help promote relaxation.
- Supplementing with magnesium may benefit those who struggle to relax at night as it acts as a natural muscle relaxant.
If you are taking any medication you should always speak with your doctor prior to starting herbal or nutritional supplements.If you enjoyed reading this article, you might like Best vitamins to boost your energy.