You’ve set yourself ambitious health goals? Great… but the key is to make little changes to get there. We share 20 doable daily habits that will transform your wellbeing.
In a recent Symbio Survey about wellbeing, 57% of the New Zealand women polled reported lack of time as the biggest barrier to achieving their healthy lifestyle goals. We’re the first to agree that the effort required to reach a health goal can sometimes be overwhelming, especially with work, children and other commitments to grapple with. But here’s the good news: big lifestyle benefits can come in small packages. Because 90% of the women surveyed said they were most interested in small, achievable health goals and lifestyle changes, we have put together 20 ideas you can try today for an immediate impact on your health and happiness, many without breaking a sweat (or the bank).
Go to bed on time
Quality sleep is key
The science is in: consistently getting insufficient shut-eye will lead to weight gain, and studies show sleep deficiency in childhood is a reliable indicator of obesity later in life. But do you know what? A good night’s sleep is a pleasure and, bonus, it’s free. Set a bedtime and stick to it. If you think you’re too busy, check out how your daytime productivity shoots up when you’re well-rested. Plus, you’ll be better company (sleeplessness leads to irritability), your junk-food cravings will be easier to control, your eyes will be less puffy, and you’ll find it easier to manage
Plan your meals
It’s all about the list
If the local takeaway knows you by name, and it feels like 60% of your salary supports the dining establishments within a 3km radius of your place of work, you’re probably not doing your health or your wallet any favours. However, you’re certainly not alone. A 2013 study by the Restaurant Association of New Zealand and the Auckland University of Technology revealed that in the previous year, Kiwis ate a whopping $1.5 billion worth of takeaways. It’s easy to consume your daily recommended amounts of fat and salt in just one takeaway meal. Try this instead: dedicate 30 minutes of the weekend to planning out dinners and lunches; create a shopping list, then stick to your plan. You’re more likely to cook if you have the right ingredients in your fridge or cupboard.
Get yourself a colouring book
Stressed? Grab a pencil!
Adult colouring books are all the rage, and we’d like to let you know you don’t need to be embarrassed about buying one. Take your cues from happy, optimistic children to achieve a few moments of peaceful bliss. These books encourage mindfulness; the only decisions you need to make are which coloured pencil or pen to use. And you can’t really get that wrong, can you? In fact that’s the great thing about colouring books: anyone can enjoy their stress-relieving benefits – you don’t need to be the 21st century’s answer to Michelangelo.
Take your lunch break
Get up, go out
Sitting at a desk for eight hours, five days a week isn’t what our bodies were designed for. In fact, the invention of the chair has a lot to answer for. So instead of having lunch bent over your keyboard, leave your desk and eat with friends. Better yet, swap your heels for trainers and take a brisk walk around the park/block/beach. You’ll find it easier to focus when you start working again, too, because you’ll feel energised and better able to tackle the second half of your day.
Restrict booze to the weekends
Make tea your tipple
If you’re a little more Grey Goose than cold turkey and know your drinking habits are more ‘fetch me my medicine’ than ‘pour me a small sav’ – try cutting out the booze during the week. Saturday night dinner with friends? Pop open the champers. A lazy Sunday afternoon barbecue on a hot day? Help yourself to a beer from the chilly bin. Tuesday was a rough day of meetings, missed appointments and office politics? Why not try some green tea with lemon? Don’t, however, take this as carte blanche to wage war on your liver and imbibe seven days’ worth of liquor in a record-breaking weekend. Instead embrace the challenge as an opportunity to find fresh, healthier solutions to coping with work-week stress.
Just add kale
Embrace the leaf
It’s the health trend that won’t die. Kale is so hot Time magazine has written about it; there are T-shirts emblazoned with ‘I heart kale’, ‘Oh kale yeah!’ and ‘Got kale?’. Entire cookbooks have been dedicated to the badass brassica; 50 Shades of Kale, anyone? But if the hype leaves you cynical, do yourself a favour and join in the kale worship. It’s high in beta-carotene (great for your vision), vitamin K (for bone health) and just 50g of the stuff will meet your daily vitamin C needs. Try it sautéed, added to soup, baked until crispy and scattered over salads, and of course, blended into a smoothie. Even heroes have flaws, however, and kale’s generous quantities of vitamin K are a risk factor for people on blood thinners. Plus its high levels of fibre can irritate people with problematic digestion. For everyone else, this is one superfood that has earned its stripes.
Trade this for that
Are you a sucker for a mid-morning muffin, or 3pm bag of chips? Can’t walk past the bakery or the ice cream freezer in the supermarket? Every week swap ONE, just one, nearly irresistible guilty pleasure for something your brain knows is better, even if your heart and stomach say otherwise. Try rice crackers and peanut butter instead of potato chips for a week. Make your own kale chips, if only for the Instagram kudos. They may be pricey, but Medjool dates really are nature’s caramel, and frozen bananas blended with seasonal fruit and a little yoghurt might trump ice cream cravings.
Eat at the table
A time to connect
Are you guilty of being a distracted eater? Try eating at the table. Not only is it more convenient (no more sauce-meets-sofa disasters), it’s better for you. Health practitioners advise that eating at the table, with good posture, improves digestion. It’s also better for your relationships if you eat with your family. Studies show a shared family dining ritual (not in front of the TV!) can reduce the likelihood of children abusing illicit substances, developing eating disorders, or experiencing depression later in life.
Host a games night
Your mental agility will be the winner
Friends are great. You can share gossip over drinks, help one another move house, make fashion recommendations, and all drink from the same milkshake with comically oversized straws (if the cast of Friends is to be believed). You can also help protect each others’ brains. One study of 3675 people observed over 20 years found board gamers in the group were 15% less likely to develop dementia. And two of the main pillars of Alzheimer’s disease prevention include mental stimulation and maintaining an active social life; board games check off two of these. On a less serious note, games are fun. It’s sort of in the name. So dust off the Scrabble and set aside one evening every week or so to get together.
Make a donation
It’s a gift to yourself too
It doesn’t have to be money; even a donation of your time to help someone can give you an endorphin pay-off. Altruistic behaviour is the ultimate win-win scenario. You’ll engage your brain’s reward system, helping you de-stress, which in turn can protect you against chronic diseases later in life. Basically doing good makes you feel good, and the person on the receiving end will get a spring in their step, too. Next time you see a bucket collector with a hopeful look in their eye, or a friend who desperately needs a break from the kids, step in and do what you can.
Have a meat-free day
Learn to love veges
Last year the World Health Organisation broke a lot of hearts when it announced red meat is a Group 2A carcinogen (probably causes cancer) and processed meats are in Group 1 – cancer causing. We’re not saying you have to become vegetarian overnight or that you have to renounce bacon, but the health benefits of at least one vegetarian day a week are compelling. Sir Paul McCartney’s Meat Free Monday website cites the UK’s former chief scientific officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, who says a 30% reduction of animal products would prevent 18,000 deaths by 2030.
Ditch the car
Get fit for free
If you start the day stuck in traffic, you probably feel a little strung-out by the time you reach the office. If you’re within biking or walking distance of work, try one or two people-powered commutes a week. You’ll save money, help the planet, feel happier and get fitter. A 2014 BMJ study revealed people who commute via public or active transport tend to have lower BMIs.
Find a running buddy
You know the old adage: If a person runs in the woods and no one sees (and they didn’t use MapMyRun), did they really go for a run? Running with a friend not only means you have a witness to your fitness, it also makes you more accountable and committed. You get the social benefits of conversation, if you have the breath for it, and the shared endorphins will make you more enthusiastic about the habit.
Pet a puppy
There’s a reason why animal-assisted therapy exists, and why some airlines let people take support animals on flights: animals make us feel good. Pet a puppy, cuddle a kitten, bond with a bunny. If you don’t have one of your own, head to your local animal shelter. Most are desperate for volunteers and while they’ll probably expect you to do a little labour, they won’t begrudge you a selfie with a shih tzu. St John’s and the SPCA’s joint venture Outreach Therapy Pets gives people in schools, hospitals and rest homes some quality cuteness time, and puts a lot of smiles on faces.
Get it over with
Salted caramel and white chocolate muffin? Deep dish chocolate chip cookie? (It’s a thing. See Pinterest.) Stuffed crust pizza? Sorry to do this, but seriously, if you’ve been thinking about a guilty treat all day, and the devil on one shoulder has been trash-talking the angel on the other without stopping, listen to the devil. It won’t be healthy. It won’t be good for you. But it may stop you eating several less satisfying (and possibly sugar-loaded) ‘health’ snacks instead. We repeat. This isn’t good for you… per se. But sometimes saying yes to a sinful moment makes it easier to embrace that week of salads and no carbs after 2pm that you planned for yourself.
Laugh A Lot
A funny old cure
A hearty session of laughter may be as good for you as a workout. Dr Lee Berk, author of the pithily named paper The Anticipation of a Laughter Eustress Event Modulates Mood States Prior to the Actual Humor Experience, says laughter gives your body the opposite experience that stress does. Laughing out loud also releases endorphins, which can improve blood flow, says a study into mirthful laughter by Dr Michael Miller. Finding opportunities to laugh is easy: catch up with friends, book tickets to comedy theatre, watch a romcom… not to mention there’s nearly a lifetime’s worth of solid gold cat videos on YouTube.
Use smaller plates and bowls
It’s time to dish the truth on serving size!
Giant dinner plates: they look damn good. And so does the food on them. But they belong in restaurants, not your home. If you can, donate jumbo crockery to charity and restock your shelves with realistic-sized plates – that way, you’ll eat realistic-sized portions. Anyone who’s read the recommended serving suggestion on a food item and just about choked on it knows how small they’re actually meant to be. A normal serving of ice cream looks pathetic in a big bowl, so you just keep scooping. With a cute set of mini bowls, you’ll find it easier to eat less.
Your hormones love it
Studies of hugs between romantic partners reveal cuddling can increase levels of oxytocin for premenopausal women, lowering their blood pressure and improving heart health. Oxytocin is a bonding hormone, released during childbirth and breast-feeding. It is fondly labelled the love hormone, sometimes even the cuddle hormone. Not only does enjoying a warm embrace make you feel more loved-up; it also appears that oxytocin counters the negative effects of the stress hormone cortisol. What’s more, frequent cuddling makes us even better at feeling good next time we snuggle up. It’s time to embrace it.
Time to Unplug
Take back control
You wake up and check your phone; read an article on your tablet while you drink your morning brew, then answer a few emails before work. At your desk, you’re poised to receive emails and phone calls at any moment. You field a few more emails before dinner, and later, tucked up in bed, you read a few chapters of a good book – on your tablet. This much screen time can take its toll on your relationships. Create spaces or blocks of time where you retreat from technology and the pressures of work. And be disciplined about it. “It’s time to take control of our technology and our lives so we can rediscover the wonderful treasures that are buried in those separate realities we once had,” says business adviser and author Daniel Burrus.
Feed your brain
We often talk about how malleable kids’ minds are, especially with language learning. But that doesn’t mean we should let our brains atrophy in later life; you should never stop challenging your mind. It could be anything from learning a new word or doing a crossword daily, to using a language app or joining a creative writing class. And it’s never too late for tertiary study. Learning boosts cognitive function, relieves stress, depression and anxiety, and is one of the NZ Mental Health Foundation’s ‘Five Ways to Wellbeing’.
From the editors of NEXT