It’s common knowledge that we shouldn’t smoke, overeat or drink too much, but have you heard the phrase prevention is the greatest cure?
Optimising your health for the long term shouldn’t just be about cutting out the bad habits, which can feel like a punishment and come with associated feelings of guilt, when you overdo the chocolate or wine. There are many ways in which you can take ownership of your health to feel strong and healthy and the most effective method is to gradually introduce lifestyle changes to your everyday routine.
You don’t need to splash out on expensive equipment or superfoods as many healthy habits such as getting out into nature and getting a good night’s sleep are free. Research demonstrates that the more healthy habits you pick up and stick with, the longer you can expect your lifespan to be, so here’s a few tips to get you started:
As a starting point, eat a good range of brightly coloured fruit and vegetables to boost nutrient density and variety. Add in eggs, which are the equivalent of nature’s multivitamin, wholegrains, nuts, seeds, and pulses and if you eat meat, moderate how much red and processed meat you have a week. Aim to have half a plate of either fresh or vegetables at mealtimes and squeeze in a few home-made smoothies a week to boost your fruit and vegetable intake. Top it off with some healthy swaps such as olive oil and butter to replace margarine and vegetable oil.
Vitamin D is a hormone produced when skin is exposed to sunlight, but factors such as weight and skin colour can affect our production and at least 1 in 5 of us have low levels, which can impact on our immunity, mood and energy levels. Food sources include oily fish and eggs, but generally it’s difficult to maintain adequate levels, especially during the winter. Government advice is to supplement 10 mcg daily, but this may not be adequate for everybody, so consider testing and consulting with a nutritional therapist to optimise your dose.
Not drinking enough water can leave you feeling tired and on edge with difficulty concentrating. Ensure you drink 1.5 – 2 litres of water across the day to stay hydrated and to support your general health. If you forget to drink then fill up a 2 litre water bottle so you can keep track of your intake and set up an alarm on your phone as a reminder to take a few glugs every few hours . Infuse your water with fruit and herbs e.g. lemon and mint or herbal teas such as calming camomile or invigorating ginger to change the taste and get the health benefits of these ingredients too.
Get outdoors every day, even if it’s raining and the earlier you step out the better as morning light helps to maintain your body’s natural rhythm and promotes better sleep and health. Spending time in nature can also aid relaxation and take you away from your troubles. Walking in the park or countryside is an easy option, but if you are feeling more adventurous check out open air swimming e.g. at Essex’s West Mersea Boating Lake For a more meditative experience, Forestry England and The National Trust offer tips and locations for forest bathing recognised to support blood pressure, cortisol levels, concentration, memory and immunity.
Less is definitely not more when it comes to sleep. Aim for a consistent, good, 7-8 hours a night of uninterrupted sleep, by eating early in the evening, turning off devices at least an hour before bed, sleeping in a darkened room and removing pets in advance. Read neuroscientist Matthew Walker’s best-selling book Why We Sleep to find out why you also shouldn’t drink caffeine after 12.00 and to discover the links between sleep deprivation, depression, cancer and heart disease.