It is usually about this time of the year that we start thinking about improving our health and can easily feel overwhelmed by all the changes that we want to make. There are many different parts of our life that contribute to us being healthy, so I thought it would be helpful to break them down in to categories and share some simple steps you can make to improving that area.
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Last year, Beneden Health conducted a survey of 4000 adults across the UK that delved into their lifestyle habits to assess their mental and physical well-being. From this data, which included categories like sleep, vegetable consumption, weight training sessions, stress, alcohol and cigarettes, they came up with a Mr & Mrs Average to see how healthy the average person in the UK is. Not only is the research in itself really interesting, but you can also take a test to see how you compare. I was actually pleasantly surprised to see that I am healthier than the average person in most categories, apart from alcohol consumption – which is why one of my goals this year is to cut back on wine.
The average woman in the UK gets 6.5 hours sleep a day, which I thought was pretty good. I was expecting the results to be a lot lower than that, so I am happy to see that people are working on getting enough sleep. However, the average woman only eats 3.5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day. I personally think this is one of the easier things to improve on, as I highlighted in my tips below. In terms of exercise, the average woman in the UK only does 69 minutes of cardio a week, which is less than half of the recommended 150 minutes a week.
Now, these results are all good and well and can be used to give the average Brit a kick up the butt to get healthier, but how do they start? What small steps can they start to make to improve in all of these areas?
~ Keep a sleep diary. If you are having trouble sleeping, it might help help to keep a sleep diary to find out what the problem is. Note down the times you went to bed and woke up and how long it took you to go to sleep, but also what you were doing before you went to bed. Did you eat something? Were you checking Facebook for 30 minutes on your phone? Looking back at this can show you the things you need to change. Also note down how you feel when you wake up – although you might have slept for 6 hours, if might not have been restful sleep.
~ Schedule your sleep. Although this might not work for everyone, especially if you have young children, if you are able to schedule your sleep then you should really make the effort to, and stick to it. Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day will help your biological clock to regulate.
~ Change the temperature. We all have a preference of the temperature we like to sleep in (I don’t like it to be too hot), but sleep experts suggest that cooler is better. Getting in to cool bed sheets can help your body temperature to drop, which tells your body that it is ready for sleep.
~ Cut back of caffeine. Okay, so this one is obvious, but sometimes we need a little reminder. Caffeine stays in your system for around 8 hours, so try not to have any after lunch time. Try an alternative afternoon pick me up with some water or fruit.
~ Don’t workout too late at night. If last thing at night is the only time to workout, then obviously that is better than not working out at all, but if you can workout earlier in the day, then it may be better for your sleep. Working out generally can help you to sleep better, but exercising within 4 hours before you go to sleep can keep your body temperature elevated, which can stop you from falling to sleep.
~ Keep a general diary. So, I mentioned keeping a sleep diary, but how about keeping a general thought diary? The majority of us would say that we have trouble falling asleep because of thoughts racing through our mind. Try writing them down instead. Make a list of the things you want to do tomorrow rather than staying awake all night worrying about them.
~ Spray your pillow. Scents like lavender can help you to relax and fall sleep. Plus, it makes your bed covers smell nice.
~ Start with increasing your fruit and vegetables. I think that this is one of the easier ones, as it doesn’t have to take any extra time. If you don’t want to make anything different, or you want to start sneaking vegetables in to your regular meals, then that is easy to do too. Add some spinach or kale to your morning smooth (I promise that you can’t taste it, despite the bright green colour). Make your own pasta sauce by blending a tin of tomatoes with some onion, garlic and herbs and throw in some peppers and mushrooms too – blend it up until it is so fine, no-one will know they are there.
~ Budget issues. If budget is an issue for you, there are ways you can make healthier eating cheaper. When it comes to fruit and vegetables, buying seasonally is the best way to save money. Also buy things when they are reduced, cook them and freeze them straight away. Shopping at local markets rather than supermarkets can save a lot too.
~ Swap your carbs. Carbs should most definitely be a part of a healthy diet, but not all carbs are equal. If you want to make some healthier changes to your diet, then try swapping simple carbs for complex carbs. Cut back on white bread and white pasta and start eating more brown rice, wholewheat pasta and sweet potato.
~ Cut back on liquid calories. Fruit juice, Starbucks and glasses of wine are easy ways to end up way over your daily calories just from drink. Try swapping some of those drinks with water. If you drink a lot of Coke, you might want to start cutting back rather than going cold turkey, as you can get a lot of withdrawal headaches.
~ Start cooking your own meals. One of the best ways to get healthy is to start cooking more meals yourself. Not only will you be in total control of what goes in it and can make sure that there is nothing processed, you can be in control of your portion sizes as well.
~ Watch your portions. Everyone has different needs when it comes to calories, so it is important to find what works for you. But most of us would be surprised to know what a healthy portion of food is. Try using an app like My Fitness Pal to track your current portion sizes to see how much you are eating.
~ Plan. The main thing that helped me to eat better was to plan my meals. Knowing what I was having for my meals that week helped me to stay focused and not just grab something convenient because I hadn’t planned anything else and also helped me stick to a budget as I made meals out of what was on offer.
~ Eat slower. It takes your brain a while to realise that you are full, so if you eat everything on your plate within 5 minutes, it can be easy to overeat. Try pausing between each mouthful and having a sip of water. It will be a good way to increase your water intake as well.
~ Find a workout you like. Or at least find something that you hate the least. Hate running? Don’t do it! Not everyone is a runner and forcing yourself to do something that you truly hate is setting yourself up for failure. Instead, find something that doesn’t feel so much like exercise. I always find dance workouts really fun. Try joining a group activity with a friend, or just go along and meet new friends.
~ Start slowly. You might want to be able to swim for an hour straight away or go straight in to running a marathon, but that just isn’t realistic for a beginner. If you want to run, then start with a program like couch25K that slowly builds up your running time. Slowly building your way up means you are more likely to stick to it and you are also less likely to get injured.
~Schedule your workouts. Schedule your workouts like you would a meeting. You will see it in your diary every morning as a reminder to get it done. You won’t cancel an appointment or meeting with a friend would you?
~ Get a workout buddy. I know some people prefer to workout alone, but for others having a workout buddy can really help to keep them motivated. A little bit of healthy competition can go a long way. You are also less likely to skip your workout if it means cancelling on a friend.
~ Get the whole family involved. One of the great things about technology improving, is that there are so many workout games out there. Just Dance is probably the best family friendly game that will get your heart rate up and burning those calories. Kids love it and you can fit in a workout too.
~ Get an awesome playlist. A workout without music is almost impossible for me. Having a really great motivational playlist on my iPod is what has got me through some really tough runs in the past. Feel like quitting? Skip to your favourite song that you know all the words to and turn it up! Commit to carrying on until the end of the song.
~ Buy some new workout clothes. As well as good workout clothes being important for performance, they can also make you want to workout more. If I buy some new bright running shoes, I can’t wait to go on a run to try them out. Sometimes it is the little things.
~ Reward yourself. I am not talking about a cheeseburger after every run here. Set yourself long-term goals and reward yourself when you reach them. Buy yourself some new clothes, go on a spa day or buy a new book. It’s nice to have something to work towards.
~ Exercise. Follow the tips above and get moving! Exercise is an amazing stress buster. If I am feeling angry, then going for a run is amazing. I always feel 10 times better after. Got to love those endorphins! I always say that the mental benefits of exercise have always been just as important as the physical benefits.
~ Meditate. This isn’t as hippy-like as it sounds. You don’t have to sit in silence humming for an hour every morning, but just setting aside a few minutes in the morning to focus on your breathing can really keep you relaxed for the rest of the day. Meditation is all about awareness and listening to your breath. You can even repeat a phrase that you want to be the focus of your day.
~ Listen to more music. Music has the power to total change your mood. If I find myself starting to feel really stressed, I put on a song that has happy memories, like a song from my wedding or a song that reminds me of summer. Also, if I want to get some anger out, I will be on a really loud and heavy rock song and scream the lyrics. Seriously, it works!
~ Get some fresh air. Sometimes all it takes is to get out of the house in to the fresh air and have a little walk. Yes, the problem will probably still be there when you get back, but you will be able to address it with a clean head.
~ Ask for help. It is important to remember that you are never alone. If the stress just gets too much for you, there is always someone you can talk to. Ask a friend or family member for help or call one of the many amazing and confidential helplines out there. Also, you can ALWAYS send me an email. Whether you want health/weight loss advice or just want to chat – click the contact page at the top.
Here are some more resources that will help you to be healthier and happier this year.
What are your top tips for improving your health? Leave a comment below.
*This is a sponsored post, but all thoughts and content are my own*