20 Ways to improve your health, happiness, and fitness

health

guide

Finding time to take care of your own physical and psychological wellness can feel impossible. Try some of these tips to get you started on the right path…

Toby Richards

1. 30 minutes of daily mindfulness

Research has found that 30 minutes of mindfulness a day results in measurable changes in the grey matter, increasing density in areas responsible for feelings of compassion and decreasing it in areas related to stress and anxiety. You don’t have to do a whole 30-minute chunk, break it up into 5 – 10 minute sessions throughout the day.

One of the more traditional ways to be mindful is to meditate. Whether sitting down, on a chair or cushion, or even lying down, mindful meditation is about stopping for a moment and just concentrating on your breathing while observing (but not reacting to) any thoughts or feelings that come into the mind.

But you can practice mindfulness in nearly everything you do: next time you eat a piece of fruit, take your time and focus on the feel, smell, taste and sensation of chewing – there you go: mindful eating. When you next go for a walk, focus on the stretch and movement of your muscles, the sensation of your feet touching and leaving the ground and the way your arms swing – that’s mindful walking. How about mindful tooth brushing or even mindful washing up?

2. Do a crossword

Challenging your mind can stave off the accumulation of a compound known as beta-amyloid in the brain, responsible for diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Puzzles are a great way to do just this. Researchers at Exeter University have discovered that word-puzzle fans have brain function equivalent to 10 years younger than their age on tests of grammatical reasoning, speed, and short-term memory accuracy.

3. Take a walk and engage with nature

Walking is a great way to improve or maintain your overall health. Just 30 minutes every day can increase cardiovascular fitness, strengthen bones, reduce excess body fat, and boost muscle power and endurance. It can also reduce your risk of developing conditions such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, and some cancers. Unlike some other forms of exercise, walking is free and doesn’t require any special equipment or training.

Scientists have found that natural environments activate our parasympathetic nervous system (feelings of relaxation) while suppressing the sympathetic system (fight-or-flight feelings). If you are unable to get out and about, try bringing nature into your home by adding plants.

4. Add some turmeric to your diet

It’s recently been discovered that turmeric is a powerful anti-inflammatory (good for sore muscles), antioxidant (can help you feel and look younger), and a protector against heart disease. Try adding it to your cooking or if you don’t like the taste, you can buy it from health food shops in capsules.

5. Limit blue light before bed

If you’re checking texts and email right up until lights out, you’re setting yourself up for a lousy night of sleep — and not necessarily because you’re stressing about work. The blue light emitted by your tech devices sends signals to your brain that inhibit the production of melatonin, a chemical that makes you feel drowsy. Put away your phone and laptop an hour before bed to help your night be a restful one.

6. Take a break from the digital world

Facebook status, Twitter feed, Instagram, Snapchat, emails, selfies…welcome to life in the digital age. Social media updates on friends and acquaintances are constant, detailing enviable holidays, incredible food, pedicured feet in exotic locations and enthusiastic use of adjectives. This constant barrage of information has nurtured a phenomenon known as FOMO (fear of missing out), an acronym emblematic of our times.

In the not-too-distant past, train commuters stared out of windows with wandering eyes, read books, or chatted with friends. The modern commute now reveals a singular phenomenon – people head down, scrolling, swiping and zooming luminescent screens. Smartphones have made the internet accessible to anyone, anywhere, introducing a thoroughly contemporary problem – when do we ‘switch off’? Digital technology brings an endless flow of information into our lives, which can be challenging and stressful. Meanwhile, social media pressures us to disclose personal information and experiences.

Recent scientific research has found a link between digital technology and psychological stress. The addictive nature of life online can make cutting back difficult, but it’s worth taking some steps to reduce the amount of time you spend staring at that screen. However, if a total digital detox seems too hard to achieve, consider introducing small changes to help yourself relax and re-energise.

7. Do the plank

Planks are an essential, effective workout move, if you do it right: Start lying face-down on the floor, torso propped up on your elbows. Engaging your core, raise your body up onto your forearms and toes, making sure your body forms one long line from shoulders to feet. Hold this position as long as you can, working your way up to 90 seconds.

8. Manage your money

Money worries are one of the biggest sources of stress. If you’ve lost your job or been furloughed due to Covid the unexpected loss of income is going to be challenging and can cause significant financial and emotional hardship. While there is little you can do to change the state of the economy, there are steps you can take to restructure your finances, for example seek advice about your entitlements, options for managing your income and support services available to you. Draw up a budget to help you work out how much money you’ll need to cover costs while you’re going through financial difficulty or unemployment. Take control over your financial situation – contact your bank or any organisation you owe money to as soon as you can if you need to make changes to your loan repayments. Most financial organisations have policies covering assistance for customers who are experiencing financial hardship

9. Exercise for 30 minutes a day

Physical activity or exercise can improve your health and reduce the risk of developing several diseases like type 2 diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease. Physical activity and exercise can have immediate and long-term health benefits. Most importantly, regular activity can improve your quality of life. A minimum of 30 minutes a day can allow you to enjoy these benefits.
Increases in daily activity can come from small changes made throughout your day, such as walking or cycling instead of using the car, getting off a tram, train or bus a stop earlier and walking the rest of the way, or walking the children to school.

10. Exercise with a friend

We know that exercise is great for our minds and bodies, but sometimes it’s challenging to maintain interest. That’s why exercising with a friend can be a huge benefit. You’re less likely to get bored when you have a workout buddy, especially a friend. While you’re catching up, having a laugh, encouraging each other, you’re also getting healthier. It’s a win-win. Chatting to a friend during exercise and breaks can help time pass quickly too. You’ll have more options as well, such as a game of tennis or squash.

If you’ve arranged to meet a friend for a walk or booked an exercise class, you’re more likely to keep that commitment. Not wanting to let your friend or exercise partner down can be a great motivator to show up.

11. Eat earlier

If you’re trying to lose weight, consider eating your evening meal a bit earlier: People who ate dinner earlier in the afternoon felt less hungry while raising their body’s fat-burning potential, according to a new study. Stretch. Start with this great lower back stretch: Lie on your back, knees bent, feet flat on the floor. Spread arms out to either side for support. Gently let your knees drop to the right side while you rotate your head and torso to the left. Return to center, repeat the stretch on the opposite side

12. Keep up with your friends

Friendship is not just about fun and camaraderie; strong friendships lower our levels of chronic stress and may even extend our lives. Adults with strong social support have a lower risk of significant health problems, including infection and depression. Recent studies have found a link between poorer health and social isolation. Biomarkers, such as blood pressure and body mass index, were found to be worse in those with weaker social ties.

As we age, friendships also play a role in keeping our minds sharp. A 2012 study found that feelings of loneliness increased the dementia risk in older people. So, get out there, keep your connections real and where possible aim for face to face catch ups in place of the digital variety. Chances are you feel better and might even live longer for it!

13. Eat dark chocolate

Scientists in London have discovered that certain psychoactive ingredients in dark chocolate act as a buffer against depression, lowering feeling of sadness by 70 percent in people who snacked on the sweet compared to those who did not.

14. Do 40 push-ups in 60 seconds

That’s the benchmark for superior heart health in a study of 1,104 active men: Scientists found that those who could drop and do 40 in under a minute were 96 percent less likely to develop heart disease than those who squeaked out 10 or fewer. The push-up test was even better than the traditional treadmill test in determining cardiovascular health in the study.

15. Learn these four yoga animals

Downward Dog:

Create an inverted V-shape with your body by hiking your hips in the air while keeping hands and feet planted on the floor.

Cat-Cow:

On all fours, toggle between arching your back and raising your face toward the ceiling and rounding your spine and dropping your head toward the floor.

Pigeon Pose:

From a low lunge, place your hands on the floor and lean sideways, allowing the hip of your front bent leg to contact the floor. Create an L-shape on the floor with your front leg, keeping the back leg straight behind you. Lean forward to feel a stretch in your hip.

Cobra Pose:

Lie face-down on the floor. Place your hands on either side of your shoulders, elbows bent. Push up through your palms, lifting chest off the floor and straightening your arms.

16. Power nap

Keep your snooze to 20 minutes: More than that and your brain heads off into deeper sleep stages known as REM, which will leave you feeling groggy and out of sorts when you wake up.

17. Wear yellow

It’s the colour we associate with energy and optimism (possibly because it reminds us of the sun) and wearing it could give your mood a boost.

18. Listen to music

For an instant pick-me-up, crank up the techno tunes or dance beats in your car on the way to work. Just 12 minutes a day of upbeat music can bring about a lasting positive effect in your mood over a two-week period.

19. Go heavy at the gym

To see real change in your muscle growth, you need to add at least one heavy lift day to your weights workout. That means instead of your usual four sets of 10 reps, you’ll be looking to do three sets of 3 to 5 reps. Guys don’t like to do it because the low volume makes it feel like it’s not a “real” workout. But give yourself three weeks, and your biceps will be telling you otherwise.

20. Get a pet

It is hard to be stressed when a purring cat crawls into your lap, or the wet nose of a dog nudges your hand. Studies have demonstrated a lower level of cortisol (the stress hormone associated with anxiety and depression) in pet owners and an increase in dopamine (a chemical associated with positive feelings) after just five minutes with a pet.

Pet ownership has powerful mental health benefits through their unconditional love and companionship. But it’s not just our furry friends who are good for our health – even fish help with stress. Studies have shown that watching fish in an aquarium can be a powerful relaxant. The physical perks of pet ownership are well established. Dog owners are more active than their pet-free counterparts, taking time out to walk and exercise with their pets; and patting a dog has been shown to reduce blood pressure.

So in moments of stress, or after a long day, spend some time with your cat or take a walk with your dog. You could even walk your neighbour’s dog if they don’t get out so often. Or maybe set up an aquarium for your viewing pleasure.

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