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10 healthy habits to kickstart the new year

Happy New Year! It's a great time to catch the wave of new energy and set an intention for a healthier, happier year.

New Year’s resolutions can be tricky to keep if you don’t understand the science behind habits. Experts believe that turning healthy behaviour into a long term habit takes 3 main things – setting realistic goals, taking small and accessible steps to get there, and celebrating your successes. Don’t start too big – practising one small thing every day builds up to a habit, and habits slowly become engrained as an effortless part of your lifestyle. If it feels impossible, start with something smaller!

Try these 10 health hacks this year

Here are 10 small healthy lifestyle tips that we believe will set you up for a great 12 months. Combine 2 or 3 of these health hacks to quickly feel the benefits of a healthy lifestyle this year.

1. Drink more water

Are you getting at least 8 glasses of water a day? Every cell and organ in your body needs water – especially the brain and the gut. Hydration is essential for every bodily function, from cellular metabolism and skin repair to higher cognition and healthy gut bacteria[1]. Start drinking 8 – 10 glasses of water each day to improve your mood, memory and focus. You can also boost your hydration by eating foods that are naturally packed full of water like melons, squash, cucumbers, low-sodium soups and vegetable broths.

2. Take walks after each meal

Gentle walking after eating has been shown to improve blood sugar levels, which can translate to more energy, better mental focus, and easier weight management[2]. It can also help to move food through digestion and has been shown to improve health throughout the gastrointestinal system[3]. All forms of exercise have been shown to improve the health of gut bacteria, and walking is a great way to start[4]. Begin with a stroll after dinner, then work up to a walk after lunch and breakfast, too. The key is to keep it easy – don’t exert yourself too much or you could end up with indigestion!

3. Take time out to de-stress

Got last year’s stress on your shoulders? Now’s the time to deal with it and enter the new year with a clean slate. Stress has been linked to hundreds of serious diseases and symptoms, from constipation and migraines through to ulcerative colitis and even cancer[5]. Prioritising stress relief and turning it into a habit can seem tricky at first but incorporating it into your daily life will set you up for a healthy year. Yoga, meditation or tai-chi work for some people, while others prefer reading, journaling, massages or regular weekends away. Whatever works for you, make a habit of it!

4. Eat fresh

Fresh fruit and vegetables contain the highest concentration of health-supporting nutrients, and a higher intake of these foods has been shown to improve both mental and physical health[6]. Basing your meals around fresh foods can feel overwhelming at first, so start small. Add a side salad, switch dessert for fruit salad, and add extra vegetables to dinner where you can.

5. Try nutritional supplements

Whilst a varied healthy diet should provide all of the nutrients that we need, nutritional supplementation – when done correctly – can help to fill the gaps in your diet and boost you to a whole new level of health. It’s best to speak to a qualified nutritionist to identify which supplements would be best for you, but there a few safe and sure bets to start with on your own. Vitamin C, probiotics and prebiotics, and B vitamin complexes are safe if taken at the recommended dose and can help to boost energy, improve mood, and support the immune system[7].

6. Get 8 hours of sleep each night

People who get a full 8 hours are less likely to develop conditions like diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease[8]. If you’ve been running on a “sleep debt”, catching up on good quality sleep can improve your metabolic functions, blood sugar control, thyroid function, and resistance to disease[9]. Start small by prioritising your sleep over television or computer time and adopt good sleep hygiene habits like switching off your phone an hour before bedtime.

7. Take a digital detox

Social media use can contribute to brain fog, and even serious conditions like depression and anxiety[10]. Switching off your phone and logging out of social media for a day, a week, or even a month is a great way to reset for the new year.

8. Take up a new hobby

Doing more of what you love directly improves your health and wellbeing[11] and adapting to new types of hobbies can help to keep your brain healthy too. The challenge of learning new things also improves resistance to daily stress and can lead to new social connections – all of which are linked to a greater sense of happiness and fulfilment.

 9. Eat more fibre

Green vegetables are powerhouses of nutrition. They are packed full of fibre to support gut health, essential vitamins and minerals for everyday health, and phytonutrients that directly combat disease. Get more greens into your diet by adding them to smoothies, switching fries for a salad, and sneaking them into everyday meals like adding blitzed kale into a Bolognese sauce.

 10. Cut down on alcohol

The general health effects of alcohol are well known – a strain on your liver, risk of addiction, destroyed brain cells, and the all-too familiar hangover. But did you know that alcohol also affects the health of your gut bacteria? Alcohol directly alters the types of bacteria in the gut and how they function. This can contribute to a host of health issues including mood and mental health problems, compromised immune defences, and gastrointestinal problems[12]. Try cutting down on alcohol by increasing the number of alcohol-free days you have each month.

These ten healthy habits will set you up for an incredible year. Remember to start small, stay consistent, and celebrate your successes! Happy New Year!

References

[1] Riebl, S. K., et al. (2013) The Hydration Equation: Update on Water Balance and Cognitive Performance. ACSMs Health Fit J., https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4207053/

[2] Reynolds, A. N., et al. (2016) Advice to walk after meals is more effective for lowering postprandial glycaemia in type 2 diabetes mellitus than advice that does not specify timing: a randomised crossover study. Diabetologia, 59:12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27747394

[3] Xu, L., et al. (2016) The Effects of Dinner-to-Bed Time and Post-Dinner Walk on Gastric Cancer Across Different Age Groups. Medicine (Baltimore)., 95:16. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4845831/

[4] Monda, V., et al. (2017) Exercise Modifies the Gut Microbiota with Positive Health Effects. Oxid Med Cell Longev. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5357536/

[5] Liu, Y., et al. (2017) Inflammation: The Common Pathway of Stress-Related Diseases. Front Hum Neurosci., 11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5476783/

[6] Linus Pauling Institute (2018) Immunity. https://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/health-disease/immunity

[7] Linus Pauling Institute (2018) Immunity. https://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/health-disease/immunity

[8] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3764138/

[9] Kitamura, S., et al. (2016) Estimating individual optimal sleep duration and potential sleep debt. Sci Rep., 6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5075948/

[10] Seabrook, E. M., et al. (2016) Social Networking Sites, Depression, and Anxiety: A Systematic Review. JMIR Ment Health., 3:4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5143470/

[11] Pressman, S. D., et al. (2009) Association of Enjoyable Leisure Activities With Psychological and Physical Well-Being. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2863117/

[12] Engen, P. A., et al. (2015) The Gastrointestinal Microbiome: Alcohol Effects on the Composition of Intestinal Microbiota. Alcohol Res., 37:2, 223 – 236. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26695747