You’ve gotten through Christmas with the help of our guide and your thoughts may now have turned to the annual making of promises usually known as New Year Resolutions. You may decide that this year really is it - you will lose weight, stop smoking or exercise more regularly - but the chances are that by February the indoor bicycle will be gathering dust in the corner of the bedroom and your waist size hasn’t changed. So, rather than setting yourself unachievable or inappropriate goals in a post-celebration burst of confidence, aim to change what we here at Healthwords call the ‘Top 5’ health factors that are not only achievable but which will also undoubtedly improve your well-being for the years to come.
First, and most obvious, stop smoking. This is the single biggest favour you will ever do for your body, no matter how long you have been smoking. Around 100,000 people in the UK die every year from smoking-related diseases, and if you smoke you run the same risks as any other smoker. Always look to stop rather than cut down, and consider using aids to quitting such as nicotine replacement therapy to give you the best chances of going smoke-free.
Second, increase the amount of water you drink - preferably around eight glasses each day. If you drink a lot of tea and coffee, substitute a glass of water for every other cup of caffeine. Our bodies are almost all water, and keeping well hydrated not only helps to keep our cells functioning efficiently but also helps to eliminate toxins from the body.
Third, eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables each day. Studies consistently show this is one of the easiest ways to reduce your risk of heart disease, some cancers and may even slow down the ageing process. Remember that five glasses of fruit juice does not count here! But you might actually consider using that juicer you were given for Christmas!
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Next, exercise for twenty minutes at a time three to four times a week. This should be at a level where you are able to talk but are breathing hard. Swimming and brisk walking are just as effective as over-ambitious exercise programmes which lose their appeal after a week or two, and even if you are obese you can plan a programme of regular walking however unfit you may be. Each year, gyms across the land look forward to the annual boom in membership sparked by post-indulgence guilt. Yet just a month down the track, only around 2 in every 10 will have made the transition from new member on the treadmill to regular gym-goer - despite paying what are often very significant monthly fees. So, break that "get fit" resolution down into manageable steps. Rather than deciding "I will run a marathon", instead decide to walk regularly in January, start jogging in February, enter short races over the summer and aim for the 26-mile challenge (if you want to) some time in the future.
This leads to our fifth and final resolution - aim to lose as much excess body fat as you can. Each pound of fat you lose is of benefit, and an overweight person who is able to lose 5 or 10% of their body weight will significantly lower their blood pressure, reduce their risk of developing diabetes and ease the strain on their heart and joints. The latest figures show that roughly 1 in every 4 adults in the UK are now obese and this figure continues to increase each year. We suggest trying to base your meals on low glycaemic index (GI) foods as all carbohydrate foods – whether bread, rice or pasta, biscuits or cakes, honey, fruit or sweets – are broken down in the body and appear as sugar in the blood. The ones that are broken down quickly have a high glycaemic index, or GI, value and those that are broken down slowly have a low GI value. Go for the low ones here and choose foods such as pasta, rye bread, porridge and many fruits and vegetables.
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