7 small changes that could change your life for the better
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No matter how long it’s been since you were last in a classroom, when September rolls round it always has a bit of a back to school feel to it.
The seasons are changing, you get back into your routine after the summer holidays and the start of the new term feels like a clean slate.
So, what better time to get into some good new habits?
Perhaps, 17 months into the pandemic, you’re not feeling as fit and healthy as you might.
And you’re not alone. A recent survey by Public Health England revealed that out of the 5,000 people polled, 41% had put on weight since the start of the first lockdown in March 2020.
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Most gained an average of half a stone, with one in five reporting gaining a stone or more as we turned to eating habits like snacking and comfort eating.
The statistics were revealed as PHE launched its Better Health campaign to encourage adults to eat more healthily and incorporate more activity into their lives.
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The good news is that small lifestyle changes can make a big difference to your wellbeing – and more now than ever we’re aware of how important it is to look after our physical and mental health.
So, whether you want to sleep better, eat better, move more or lift your mood, here are a few ideas to get you started
1 Add more plant-based foods to your plate
Emma Jamieson is an East Anglia-based registered nutritional therapist and health coach. She specialises in digestive health, helping people find freedom from their symptoms of IBS and other digestive troubles through dietary and lifestyle changes.
You’ve heard of getting your five fruit and veg a day? Well variety is the spice of life.
To support your digestive health, she recommends that we should be aiming for 30 different types of plant foods in a week.
“There is an increasing awareness of the importance of the role beneficial gut bacteria play in supporting a healthy digestive system,” says Emma.
“A key way to increase the numbers of these bacteria, and encourage a wide diversity of different species, is to feed them a wide variety of plant foods: vegetables, fruit, herbs, spices, nuts and seeds.
“They each like something slightly different, and by giving them as wide a choice as possible throughout the week we can do our bit to boost their levels.”
Fitting in 30 different plant foods a week may sound daunting, but Emma has some handy hints and tricks to boost your intake.
"Try to fill half of your plate at each meal with vegetables,” says Emma. “Add an extra couple of varieties when making a smoothie or soup; make a herb pesto by blitzing handfuls of different herbs with some pumpkin seeds, a clove of garlic and some olive oil. Add a spoonful to soups, pasta, salad dressings etc.”
Emma has a recipe for the pesto on her website – visit emmajamieson.co.uk/herb-pesto/ for details.
2 Get moving
The conveniences of modern life mean that we’re much more sedentary than previous generations.
Our bodies weren’t designed to sit in front of a computer for seven and a half hours a day – and then spend another couple of hours on the sofa bingeing a boxset.
And that lack of movement can create a whole host of health problems, from aches and pains to weight gain and the conditions associated with it.
But getting active doesn’t necessarily have to mean a sweaty HIIT class or training for a 10k (unless that’s what you enjoy, in which case go you and carry on!).
Make a start by incorporating more walking into your day – it will help keep your weight in check, and getting outdoors is a great mood booster too.
If you’re back in the office now, could you do part of your commute on foot rather than driving or taking the bus?
Could you get out for a walk in the evening after your dinner?
The benefits will all add up.
3 Stop scrolling
Ah the smartphone. The wonder of the modern age, you’ve got the whole world right there in the palm of your hand. And endless entertainment and distractions, perfect for the procrastinator in all of us.
How many hours are you willing to admit to whiling away watching unboxing videos on YouTube/getting riled up by people’s opinions on Twitter/enviously scrolling through Instagram and refreshing the news headlines?
But you shouldn’t feel bad about not being able to resist – phones and apps are designed to be addictive and keep your attention.
Think of the little hit of dopamine that you get when you pull and refresh Insta and some new posts pop up. Or how when you get a new notification on your phone that bright red circle is impossible to ignore.
For all their genuine usefulness, phones and social media can also provoke negative emotions, so it’s wise to take a break every now and again.
To make it less enticing, try turning off notifications and set time limits on the apps that eat up most of your time – there's even a function to make the display greyscale.
Or, if needs be, hide it in a drawer for a couple of hours, or even a whole weekend. And then go out and...
4 Embrace nature
The benefits of nature to our wellbeing is well documented, so it’s little wonder that when the first lockdown happened many of us turned our attention to tending the plants in our gardens, and yards, on balconies and windowsills.
No matter how big or small your space, adding a bit of greenery and looking after a plant and helping it to thrive is a really rewarding experience.
And while lockdown has eased in the last few months, many of us have continued the habit of getting out and exploring our region’s parks, forests and countryside.
You’re connecting with nature and getting exercise at the same time which is brilliant for both body and mind.
5 Do something creative
One of the current buzzwords in wellbeing is mindfulness.
It’s the practice of being in the moment and concentrating on the here and now, rather than ruminating on the past or planning for or worrying about what might happen in the future.
And the benefits of practising mindfulness are said to include a decrease stress, anxiety and depression.
And one way to do that is to absorb yourself in a creative activity.
In recent years people have rediscovered the joys of crafting and making as a way to switch off from our increasingly hectic and digital lives.
And there are many ways to be creative. Olympian Tom Daley uses knitting and crochet as a way to switch off from the pressures of sport – how amazing was the Team GB cardigan that he made in Tokyo and showcased on social media?
Embroidery and cross-stitch, dressmaking and pottery are just a few more of the traditional hobbies that have made a comeback in recent years – why not give one of them a go?
6 Stand on one leg
A healthy life is all about balance – in more ways than one.
As we get older, maintaining our balance gets more important than ever – according to research by the Department for Work and Pensions, falls affect a third of people over 65 and 40 per cent of people over 80 - and over a quarter of falls result in hip fractures.
A good way of starting to improve your balance is to stand on one leg.
Holding on to a chair or similar for support if needed, lift one foot off the floor – a few centimetres is fine to start with – for 30 seconds. Then swap to the other foot.
Do this regularly and over time you will see your stability increase – just by taking a minute out of your day.
7 Learn something new
It’s good to keep our brains active and challenged and learning something new is a great way to keep the grey matter stimulated, whether that’s a new language or how to play a musical instrument.
Or websites such as OpenLearn from the Open University (open.edu) have lots of free short courses on a wide variety of subjects from history and the arts to maths and personal finance.