The festivities are over and January is upon us. While it may seem that the world around us is dormant, this is not actually the case. There are many new beginnings happening in the buds of the trees and beneath the soil as new life gets ready to erupt into the beauty and bounty of spring. And so too for us humans; this is a perfect time for us to start to grow new habits and behaviours. New Year’s Resolutions are best framed as new things you want to bring into your life rather than what you are trying to give up. And the changes don’t have to be extreme or complicated. Often the ultimate aim is to be healthier in both the short and long term. To help focus on what makes a difference it’s useful to know that research released by the British Medical Journal a couple of years ago highlighted 5 factors that are associated with a longer life, free of major chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer (1).
- Not smoking
- Having a body mass index (BMI) between 18.5 and 24.9
- Engaging in moderate to vigorous activity for at least 30 minutes a day
- Having moderate alcohol intake
- Eating a healthy diet with plenty of vegetables, plant protein and essential fats
Forming New Habits
A habit is a behaviour that you have repeated enough times for it to become automatic. Habit formation is the process by which a behaviour becomes progressively more automatic through repetition. Here are 9 steps to change your habits:
- Become aware of your habits - Identify your good habits such as brushing your teeth twice a day or always eating breakfast. Then write down your bad habits like checking your phone as soon as you wake up or staying up too late.
- Think process rather than goals - rather than focussing on goals such as losing weight, instead focus on the processes that lead to the results you’d like to see. These might include walking to work or cycling to the shops, cooking from scratch or ordering a veg box.
- Think about who you want to be - decide what kind of person you want to be rather than the specific things that you want to achieve.
- Small actions build up - small changes may appear to make little difference until you cross a critical threshold. Breakthrough moments are often the result of many small actions sustained over a period of time. Outcomes lag behind current behaviour, but you will get there if you persist. Be patient and commit to the process.
- Stack it up - One way to build a new habit is to identify a habit that you already have and to stack your new behaviour on top. So if you regularly have hot drinks throughout the day commit to doing a few minutes of physical activity while the kettle is boiling.
- Avoid situations that trigger habits you want to give up.
- Create an environment that makes your new habits easy - for example, eating a healthy diet is easier if you have a well stocked fridge while slippages are likely if you have a stash of biscuits in the cupboard.
- Choose who to be with - we are influenced by the habits of three groups: Close family and friends; the wider community in which we live; and the powerful or those with status. Hang out with people who do the things you are aiming to do.
- Track your progress - tracking your habits by making a note in your diary or checking in with a friend can be good motivators for change.
It’s worth choosing new habits that have a big pay off in terms of health and well being. Here are 10 suggestions for habits that are reasonably easy to implement and have noticeable benefits.
- Get a good night’s sleep. Aim for 7-8 hours a night. Decide what time you need to get to bed in order to achieve this and stick to it.
- Exercise most days. Doing some physical activity most days of the week benefits physical and mental health. About 30 minutes of exercise 5 days a week is a good aim.
- Get off your butt. Sitting down for hours is damaging to the body. Get up from your seat regularly, walk around or stretch.
- Keep the brain active. Reading or learning something new are excellent for the brain – consider learning a language, an instrument or a new skill.
- Aim to drink 2 litres a day of water, vegetable juice or herbal teas. Ideally drink them between meals.
- Have time away from your phone and other devices, especially in the evenings. Leave phones and devices out of the bedroom.
- Meditate or engage in some form of relaxation every day. Even just 10 minutes a day can help keep things in perspective. Daily gratitude is also proven to have many benefits.
- Eat vegetables every day. Aim for 5-10 different veg, preferably of different colours to maximise your anti-oxidant intake.
- Avoid sugar and heavily processed foods. Cook from scratch when possible.
Top 5 Supplements to Help You Stay on Track
Tom Oliver’s Protein Powder – protein increases satiety meaning you stay full for longer and are less likely to snack between meals. Available in whey and vegan varieties.
Multi Vits – this is a good insurance policy against nutrient deficiencies and accompanying symptoms. Tom Oliver’s Nutrition have specialist multi vitamins and minerals for men and women.
Omega 3 – needed for energy, brain function, the immune system, the endocrine system and for skin, hair and nails. Most people could benefit from an omega 3 supplement.
Vitamin D3 + K2 – it’s highly recommended to supplement with vitamin D through the winter when the rays from the sun are insufficient. Needed for bones, teeth, the immune system and cardiovascular health. Everyone needs to ensure they are getting enough vitamin D.
Curcumin complete – shown to be beneficial for many health systems. Curcumin reduces inflammation, aids recovery from exercise, supports the immune system and helps with blood sugar control.