By Gemma Yates
Have your New Year's resolutions gone off the rails?
Fear not, a February refocus is all you need to get those goals back on track. When it comes to making lifestyle changes, it's easy to set the bar way too high and give ourselves a hard time when we inevitably don't meet our unrealistic expectations. Let's say you're a busy working mum with minimal time to exercise, but you tell yourself that you're going to go to the gym five times a week. Unless you've got Bernard's Watch, it's not going to happen. Likewise, if you want to cut down on alcohol, abstaining completely probably isn't the best way - you're only going to want it more and never learn how to enjoy it in moderation. Instead, think of realistic habits or goals you can easily implement and actually stick to. Life improvements rather than a life overhaul. Because small changes can make a big difference. To get you started, here are 5 easy wins to add to your routine…
Drink Enough Water
Struggle to chug the recommended 2 litres of water every day? Good news - a 2022 study found that it might be more than you really need. According to the research, around 1.5 - 1.8l is plenty, unless you live in a hot or humid country, are pregnant or breastfeeding or are an athlete, in which case you'll need to up your intake. If that still sounds like a lot, let us remind you of the myriad benefits of H20. First up, both your brain and body are affected by your hydration levels. You'll see your performance in the gym suffer due to increased fatigue and altered body temperature control, while even mild dehydration can impair everything from concentration to mood. Water is also great for your gut health, helping to decrease constipation, and can even aid weight loss by increasing satiety and boosting your metabolism. If you struggle with the taste of it, try adding fruit or cucumber for a subtle flavour or make a couple of your glasses sparkling.
Nail a Solid Sleep Schedule
Like drinking enough water, eating a nutritious diet and exercising regularly, quality sleep is an important piece of the health puzzle. As well as boosting memory and performance, it can help you maintain a healthy weight, keep your immune system strong and reduce stress levels. While 7-9 hours has long been touted as the magic number, research has found that sleep consistency might be more important than sleep duration. A recent paper found that sleep regularity - ie. going to bed and waking up at the same time every day - is more important to health and longevity than sleeping for eight hours. That's not a green light to stay up binge-watching Netflix though, as the researchers maintain that getting plenty of sleep is non-negotiable, so keep aiming for that 7-9 hour sweet spot. Essentially, it's about quality and quantity. Here are 6 easy ways to create a great sleep routine:
Eat your final meal of the day 3 hours before sleep if possible
Restrict artificial light after sunset
Take a warm bath or shower 2-3 hours before bed
Avoid looking at screens 2-3 hours before bed
Turn lights out as sleep pressure ( the mechanism that tells our body that it's time for sleep) peaks.
Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.
Plan Your Meals (and Make Them Nutritious)
The saying 'fail to prepare, prepare to fail' is especially true when it comes to your diet... If you don't have healthy food in your fridge, you won't eat healthy food. If you haven't prepped lunch to take to work, you'll likely grab something ultra-processed and satisfying from the shop, adding up the pounds in both senses of the word. Meal prepping might seem like a chore, but it'll save you time (and money) in the long run. Set some time aside once a week, stick on a podcast and get prepping. Making meals ahead of time can also ensure you eat a more varied diet as you're being more mindful about what you make, reduce food waste and eliminate impulsive food choices. Make protein the focus of every meal, limit processed foods and try a savoury breakfast a few days a week to reap the benefits.
Research continually shows that spending time outside can improve our mental and physical health. As well as giving us a much-needed break from screens, being outdoors can enhance our thinking and boost our focus and creativity. Whether it's a walk, run or cycle, time spent outdoors generally increases our TDEE - total daily energy expenditure - helping us to maintain a healthy weight or even aid weight loss. What's more, regular exposure to green spaces has been shown to lower risks of depression and anxiety. Getting a hit of daylight is especially important in the morning when our cortisol levels are high. Spending time in sunlight first thing in the morning impactsour body's circadian rhythm, or internal clock, and regulates hormones, resulting in improved sleep quality, increased Vitamin D production, enhanced mood and increased productivity. Time to take your morning cuppa outside.
Make Movement Non-Negotiable
When our lives get busy or stressful, exercise is often the first thing to slip to the bottom of the priority pile. Make it a "non-negotiable" part of your week that's scheduled like a meeting or doctor's appointment and it becomes much harder to sack off. Exercise shouldn't be viewed as an indulgence - it's something that improves your physical and mental health. Of course, there are going to be days when it's harder to fit it in, but exercise doesn't always have to look like an hour-long gym class. Schedule "exercise breaks" or "movement snacks" - several short periods of exercise spread throughout the day - or get out for a walk, even if it's just around the block. When it comes to blocking out time for structured exercise, fit it into your schedule at a time that's unlikely to be affected by other variables, such as first thing before work or after school if there is someone to look after the kids.
Take Digital Breaks
It's 8 pm, you've got one eye on the telly, one eye on your phone and before you know it you've got no idea what's happening on screen but know exactly what your favourite influencer had to eat that day. The scroll hole is real, and it's doing nothing for your health. Blue light is straining our eyes, social media comparison is increasing anxiety and being "always on" is wreaking havoc with our sleep. While going cold turkey probably isn't an option, regular digital detoxes can be a great way to have a healthier relationship with our smartphones. Detoxes look different for everyone - it might be turning your phone off for one day a week, limiting screen time or taking a prolonged social media hiatus - but try and use the time gained for things that make you feel good, whether that's time with friends and family, reading a book, exercising or spending time outside. To get you started, try these tricks for reducing screen time:
Have a morning and evening phone cut-off - i.e. no phones before 8 am/after 8 pm
Keep phones out of the bedroom
Don't look at your phone when you're out for a walk, eating or watching TV
Turn off notifications and set screen time limits
Edit your social feed so it's filled with people who inspire you
Turn your phone to grayscale to make it less tempting
Its time to reset your 2024, theres 11 months to left and small changes over time will make a BIG difference!