New Year always feels like a great opportunity to make a fresh start. While it’s unlikely that anybody but a saint or somebody with an iron will could stick to a complete top-to-toe conversion to better habits, we’ve explored ways in which more achievable goals can be met. By adopting the smaller changes, you can make a big difference to your health and wellbeing – hopefully for the whole year and maybe your whole life!
By Gary Buswell
Perhaps the most crucial aspect of making successful changes in your life is to keep things achievable. Many of us probably dream of being much fitter or living fuller lives, but the important thing to remember is that this is done by making a series of incremental changes rather than going for an overnight transformation.
This is why, whatever you want to achieve in life, you need to plan out a series of measurable steps to reach your end goal. This will make what you are trying to achieve more manageable and more likely.
A few tips that might help you, include:
- Start with your outcome in mind and work backwards in planning what you need to do in order to reach your goal.
- Create a series of milestones with deadlines (e.g. joining a gym, 30 minutes of gentle exercise daily or lose 10kg of weight by a certain date) to keep your overall goals on track and incentivise yourself.
- Make use of resources such as websites, local groups and apps to help you with your progress (e.g. local Weightwatchers groups or fitness apps). These may also include opportunities to share your story with others, gaining mutual support throughout your journey.
Make sure that you don’t:
- Expect immediate unrealistic, radical change.
- Be vague in your goals. It’s not enough to simply say ‘Become more sociable’ without having a plan as to how you’re going to do this.
- Try to reinvent the wheel. Whatever changes you want to make, there will be tried and tested methods you can use as a blueprint.
Eating more healthily
Going on a diet is one of the most popular New Year’s resolutions, with millions vowing to shed the pounds each January. However, research has shown that 87% of New Year dieters don’t make it past the second week of January.
Obesity is a big problem, affecting around one in four adults in the UK and can lead to issues including diabetes, heart disease, stroke and some types of cancer. This is why certain types of dieting, or eating more healthily, can be a positive move if you want to make changes.
There are many different types of diet to consider, so a good starting point is to visit: www.nhs.uk and search: ‘healthy weight diet’ for a range of ideas.
If you’re looking to diet or eat more healthily:
- Consult your GP before selecting a diet. They can help you choose the right one based on your needs and will make sure you avoid any unhelpful dieting fads.
- Stick to regular meals and cut out snacks. If you stick to high energy foods, it will help to avoid lethargy and food cravings during the day.
- Cut out potentially harmful foods with a sugar swap or reducing your salt intake.
- Stick to sensible portion sizes.
- Remember, everything is OK in moderation. If you find it tough to completely remove a treat from your diet, cut it back instead.
Visit: www.nhs.uk/apps-library/category/healthy-living/ for a list of healthy living apps.
Exercising is great, both for your physical and mental wellbeing. Research suggests that getting regular exercise can reduce the risk of heart disease by 35%, bowel cancer by 50% and osteoarthritis by 83%.
You don’t need to go to extremes. Research shows that doing 15-30 minutes of gentle exercise that raises the heart rate slightly each day is enough to sustain a healthy lifestyle.
The great thing is that combining better exercise with eating more healthily can really help towards transforming your life, by helping to combat a range of health conditions. No matter what your level of physical ability, there will be activities you can do to improve your health.
- Joining a local gym – many gyms now have programmes/equipment for everyone ranging from fitness fanatics to chair-based exercises. The Inclusive Fitness Initiative (IFI) supports leisure centres to become more welcoming and accessible environments for disabled people. Find accredited facilities via: www.activityalliance.org.uk/get-active/inclusive-gyms
- Trying a new sport – this could be anything from swimming to wheelchair basketball. Visit:
- www.healthysportindex.com to help you choose the most appropriate sport according to your abilities and the health benefits you’re seeking. Similarly, you could also use:
- parasport.org.uk/find-an-opportunity to find clubs and activities in your local area.
- Join a local initiative such as a walking group.
- Exercising at home.
- Aim for a minimum amount of daily exercise (e.g. 15 minutes) where you get out of breath, even if it’s just for a stroll.
- Try to build exercise into your daily routine, even if it’s just a visit to the local shop rather than driving, or even a spot of vigorous housework.
- Link your exercise to measurements, e.g. weight loss or reduced cholesterol, so that you can see progress.
Visit: www.nhs.uk search: ‘health and fitness trackers’ or: ‘get active with a disability’.
Improving your mental health
Good mental wellbeing is linked to good diet and physical activity as well as many other areas of life. Poor mental health affects around one in four people in the UK.
There are a number of techniques that you can employ to boost your mental health. A good one is mindfulness, which is being promoted by the NHS at the moment. Mindfulness is a way of de-stressing by paying more attention to the present moment in order to understand ourselves better. It involves things such as:
- Spending time appreciating the beauty in everyday life.
- Confronting negative emotions in order to understand them and deal with them.
- Acknowledging good things in your life by making lists of things you are grateful for.
- Meditative exercise, such as yoga and tai chi.
Staying mentally healthy:
- Keep a gratitude diary or gratitude jar, where you regularly make a note of things that you are happy or grateful for. You can read through these suggestions to inspire a positive mood in times when you’re struggling.
- Play ‘brain games’ to keep your mind active.
- Talk regularly with people. Make a goal to have regular meaningful conversations with people. (Perhaps phone a friend at least once a week for a chat.
Try something new
Learn a new skill
Another great way of making the New Year more interesting is to learn a new skill. This could be a practical skill that will benefit your day-to-day life, or something more creative that will make you feel better about yourself.
More and more people are getting involved in lifelong learning. Benefits include:
• Improved confidence.
• Keeping your mind active.
• Expanding your horizons by creating new opportunities for yourself.
• Learning to sew or learning a DIY skill.
• Learning a foreign language.
• Learning an artistic skill such as painting or playing a musical instrument.
Or perhaps you could just decide to read and learn more by joining a library or a local book group.
Visit: www.skillshare.com to access over 20,000 classes.
Get more involved in social activities
Plenty of research indicates the obvious physical and mental health benefits of socialising. The great thing is that almost any change you want to make in your life – from improving your fitness to learning more – can be linked to increased social opportunities.
- Joining a local club – this could be a club based on a particular interest (perhaps films, food or local history). Ask your local authority or community centre for details of groups that meet locally, or search online for local opportunities. Visit: www.meetup.com
- Reconnect with friends and family – do you have old friends or relatives you’ve lost touch with or don’t speak with often? Drop them a line and maybe suggest meeting once a month for a coffee.
- Volunteer – helping out in your local community can be a great way of improving your wellbeing. You can find opportunities close to you by contacting your local volunteer centre. Visit: www.ncvo.org.uk/ncvo-volunteering/find-a-volunteer-centre
- Explore new places
- You don’t have to jet off to the other side of the world to create great new holiday memories. There are plenty of places closer to home. This could mean heading off for a short break or simply getting away from your usual surroundings for a day. Either way, taking trips away from home is a wonderful way of boosting wellbeing and recharging your batteries.