January is almost here, and for many people this is a time to ditch old, unhealthy habits and try to develop new ones.
Of course, this is easier said than done. To help you succeed this year, we’ve asked experienced doctors for their best New Year's resolutions. From dietary advice to tips on how to keep fit, we’ve got plenty of achievable, sustainable goals for 2018.
1. Start your day right
Dr Stefan Gospodinov - thefunctionalhealthcoach
Develop a morning routine and the rest of your day will be transformed. Every successful person in the world has some sort of morning routine, and there is a reason behind it.
We are creatures of habit, so our brain tends to run on autopilot for a large proportion of the day. We teach our patients to start the day with a healthy morning routine - the rest follows.
My routine? Wake up, make the bed, drink 500ml of filtered water with a slice of fresh lemon, shower and then make a healthy smoothie of frozen berries, avocado, chia seeds, fresh ginger, banana and water or coconut milk.
2. Rethink your breakfast choices
Dr Anjali Amin - thekitchendoctorandmum
Savoury or sweet breakfast? That is the question. I’d happily take the savoury option any day!
Refined sugars are essentially empty calories, which if consumed in excess can contribute to weight gain. So I’ve tried hard to go with a savoury breakfast wherever possible, choosing nutrient rich foods and plenty of vegetables.
Changing your mindset on what is the “norm” for breakfast has been one of the most important lessons for me. Don’t be restricted by traditional breakfast foods.
If you want to have courgette in your porridge, go for it. If you want to put broccoli in your omelette, brilliant. Challenge yourself into thinking outside the box - that way you can ensure you’re getting a whole array of different nutrients from the moment you wake up.
3. Be SMART
Dr Peter Foley - drpeterjfoley
The New Year is often a time when people identify behaviours which they want to improve. This can include stopping smoking, eating more healthily, or increasing levels of physical activity.
Most of us who have tried a New Year's resolution in the past will diligently have kept up our new behaviour for a period of time, until we inevitably resort to old behaviours. For some it may have lasted only days, for some weeks and for others months.
When trying to create healthy habits, I like to use SMART objectives to increase my chances of success. Here is an example of how this can be used. Rather than saying “I want to eat more healthy lunches next year”, try to use the SMART tool to increase your chances of making lasting change.
- Specific - I want to bring my own lunch to work so that I avoid buying processed food when on-the-go.
- Measurable - I will know by the end of the week/month how many times I have done this.
- Achievable - All I need to do is cook more at dinner the night before, and I already have plenty of tupperware that I can use for storage and transport.
- Realistic - I like cooking and I am already spending time making dinner anyway. I do like to have lunch with the team in the office canteen every friday however, and I don’t cook a meal for myself every night, so if I aim for 3 days a week that will be realistic. If I aim for 5 days then I may be setting myself up for a fail.
- Time bound - I want to bring in my own lunch 3 days a week, and by the end of the month I should have brought in 12 packed lunches.
4. Eat the rainbow
Dr Faiza Khalid - thelifestylemedic
Cultivate a healthier gut flora by eating a rainbow of colours on a daily basis. Your source of colours can come from:
Aim for at least nine portions of fruit and vegetables a day. It sounds like a lot, but you can achieve three really easily when you blitz a few in a smoothie.
Eating a variety of colours means that you will consume an array of phytonutrients, which are chemicals that play a crucial role in optimising our immune function. The increased fibre consumption that results is a great way to help feed our beneficial bacteria, leading to a greater diversity of gut friendly microbes that keep you healthy and trim.
5. Be realistic
Dr Michael Banna - drmikethe2nd
I had resolved to lose weight and get fitter many times, yet I would simply try and eat as little as possible for a bit, maybe lose a few kilos, get bored and give up.
This time I knew I had to do something different. I gave myself five years to reach my goal, the exact nature of which I hadn’t quite decided.
I would make tiny changes one by one, rather than trying to become an entirely different person overnight (which would undoubtedly fail, as it had so many times in the past).
Against all odds, I would ultimately become one of those people who goes to the gym and runs and cycles and whatnot.
From a nutritional point of view, I began with simple calorie counting under the guidance of a fitness blogger who I followed on Twitter, tracking my food on an app and in the process learning many shocking truths about foods I thought were healthy.
Within the year I’d lost about 15kg, small changes had become bigger ones, and I was on my way. I went to the gym regularly and also attended outdoor bootcamps religiously, even in the depths of winter.
I certainly had my wobbles (in every sense of the word), but four years later my lifestyle is completely different. I still don’t fully understand why it worked this time. Perhaps it was the slow and steady approach, or open-mindedness to continue what worked and change what didn’t, without subscribing rigidly to one method. But it worked.
6. Exercise at home
Dr Hud Shaker - fitbodydoc
Learning to exercise at home is a sure-fire way to include regular, quality exercise in your weekly routine.
If you’re not able to go to the gym or go for a run, try doing a workout of full body exercises in your living room like squats, lunges, press ups and burpees.
These are easy to do without any equipment and will get your heart racing and help you burn fat and stay lean too.
7. Be mindful
Dr Lauren Evans - drlaurenevans
I think it’s important to take time each day to be mindful. Mindfulness is the practice of purposely focusing your attention on the present moment, and accepting it without judgment.
Mindfulness has been found to have key benefits, including helping to relieve stress, lower blood pressure, reduce chronic pain, improve sleep, alleviate gastrointestinal difficulties, and help with depression and anxiety disorders.
The way I like to be mindful is take a few deep breaths and focus my attention on what’s around me: the sounds, the smells, the textures, and the way the light hits things. If my mind wanders into planning, daydream, or worry, I notice where it has gone and gently redirect it to sensations in the present.
I guess it’s a form of meditation I can do anywhere. After I do this, I’m always left with a sense of peace and I feel lighter and calmer.
8. Put the phone down
Dr Lauren Cara - dr_laurencara
As a society, we are now more connected than ever due to our devices, yet we are seeing a huge rise in mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety and sleep disorders.
The problem is that the more time we spend on our devices, the less time we spend connecting with actual people.
I recommend trying an app, such as Moment, to track your daily smartphone usage - including how much time you’ve spent looking at your phone (it doesn’t count time on phone calls), how often you’ve picked up the device, and how much time you’ve spent within each app.
If you’re using your phone for more than a few hours a day, it’s a good idea to address this unhealthy habit. I try to stop looking at my phone a few hours before bed to enable me to switch off fully.
Ideally you want to leave your phone and laptop outside the bedroom so you can’t be tempted to take a peek. Being away from them stops the brain being flooded by the “blue light” emitted from the screens, which helps promotes a good night's sleep via a boost in melatonin.
9. Give yoga a try
Dr Claire Ashley - thewellbeingdoctor
Regardless of how young, old, flexible or inflexible you are, yoga has a wide variety of benefits, including increased strength, balance and mental wellbeing.
There is evidence to suggest that it is beneficial for people with high blood pressure, heart disease, lower back pain, and depression.
Even if you don’t have a medical condition that might benefit from yoga, doing it will help prevent injuries and improve your performance with other types of exercise.
Why not give it a go this January?
10. The four Fs of gut health
Dr Venita Patel - healthvianutrition
Fibre is the basis of good gut health, as it remains undigested but ‘feeds’ our healthy bacteria. Remember, fibre is present in whole foods, vegetables and fruit, so the more you include in your diet the better.
If you get a variety of five to seven fruit and vegetables a day, the more diverse and healthy your gut bacteria will become. This can happen even in a few days. So have plenty of seasonal vegetables, but try making your plate a ‘rainbow’ of colour.
Fermented foods naturally contain beneficial bacteria, and are a fantastic way to improve your gut microbiome. They include kefir yoghurt, miso, sauerkraut, pickled vegetables like kimchi, plus drinks like kombucha.
To ensure regular bowel habits, we need adequate fluid (around 2 litres per day). Of course, it is best to drink water.
Want more health advice?
If you’re looking for ways to improve your health, our experts are here all year round with a wide range of useful advice. Take a look at our blog to find out more, and make sure you follow us on Twitter and Facebook for more great New Year’s Resolutions.