’Tis the season of overly zealous “free-from” diets, new gym memberships, and *shudder* detox plans (which, by the way, generally have no grounding in science).
We begin with the best of intentions, but the reality is that most New Year health kicks are unsustainable, expensive, and, a lot of the time – not even healthy.
This list may not have the same curb appeal as an extreme fad diet or a bikini-bod bootcamp, but it does offer tips that are achievable, science-based, actually healthy, and more sustainable.
So before you decide to eliminate gluten*, spend a week’s wages on superfood supplements, or buy a cross-trainer – maybe try incorporating some of these simple tactics into your daily routine.
1. Get enough sleep. Not when it’s convenient. Not all at once at the weekend. Every. single. night. There’s no set number of hours as every person’s needs are different. But it’s probably more than you’re getting at the moment. Try setting a bedtime and sticking with it. Regulating your body clock as best you can will likely help you settle faster, and wake more rested. There are some cool articles to check out on https://sleep.org/.
2. Eat breakfast. Or don’t. Contrary to popular belief – it generally doesn’t matter when we eat (children and teenagers are the exception here) or how we distribute our meals. Forget everything you’ve heard about how it’s best to eat after a run, or how it’s better to graze throughout the day instead of having 3 set meals. We take in and expend energy (calories) pretty much the same way, regardless – so take some time to figure out what works for you. Consider your work/social schedule, convenience, diet goals, your appetite, etc. Sometimes, if you have particular weight loss goals it can be helpful to get into certain habits (ie. no snacking after dinner, etc.) and that’s completely fine, if it helps your body regulate your hunger and routine. And if you’re not a breakfast person – that’s also completely fine! You get to set your own rules . . . with one exception . . .
3. Only when you’re hungry. Not because it’s lunchtime. Or because you’re watching a movie. Or because you’re bored. You can eat as often as you like, whenever you like, as long as you are actually hungry.
4. Vegetables. It’s probably not what you want to hear, but it’s the truth. As a society, we don’t eat nearly enough of them, and we’re missing out. No fancy supplement or superfood can compete with regular doses of colourful veggies, so suck it up and fill at least HALF YOUR PLATE because these humble foodstuffs have actual super powers. Fresh, frozen, canned, pre-prepared, raw, steamed, baked, organic – whatever. Try and mix it up and get as many different kinds/colours as possible, but otherwise – eat what’s convenient and tasty. Bonus points for leaving peels on!
5. Life as gym. When I first moved to Europe I was astonished to see how easily people incorporated walking into their daily routine. I grew up in rural Canada where it’s the norm to drive for 45 minutes in order to attend a gym class (and to fight over the parking spot closest to the door). All of a sudden I was surrounded by city slickers, zipping through crowded streets, on and off of the underground (carrying groceries), sporting business suits and sneakers. In the city, it’s easier to walk than to drive – so you just do. I’ve never encountered a Parisian in high heels, or a Londoner without an umbrella. The trick is to find ways to incorporate more activity into daily life: shovelling the driveway instead of using the snowblower, mowing the lawn (and the neighbour’s lawn), walking to get milk, cycling to the post office, carrying groceries, chopping wood, cleaning the bathroom extra vigorously. While these chores won’t replace your H.I.I.T. sessions or spin classes, finding creative ways to live more actively will improve your fitness levels without cluttering your schedule or draining your bank account. Bonus points if you can spend more time being active outside in the fresh air and sunlight.
6. Drink water. And Tea. And coffee. Yes – they count, too! Tea and coffee are often (wrongly) blacklisted, but the truth is, you will still absorb enough fluid to compensate for any potential diuretic effects and contribute to hydration levels. Water (still/sparkling/fruit-infused) is best, but most fluids count – low-fat milk or nut milks, soups, and smoothies. Just be wary of sugar-laden, fibreless fruit juices, high-fat caramel frappés, super size sodas, and alcohol. When it comes to hydration, these are generally baddies (but in strict moderation are still safe).
7. Get some D. Vitamin D, that is. If you live in the Northern Hemisphere, chances are you aren’t getting enough of this important vitamin between the months of October and April (unless you go on a lot of sunny holidays – in which case I hate you). And even though it’s present in some foods, you won’t absorb enough to meet the recommended daily dose. Grab some at your local pharmacy. Or if you’re a baby like me and gag every time you try to swallow a tiny pill, try some Vitamin D gummies. For more info, check out Sadia Badiei’s informative PickUpLimes article on Vitamin D.
8. Get some actual D. or V. Or like, even a massage counts 😉. You and me baby, we ain’t nothin’ but mammals so let’s . . . . you get the point. Physical contact between humans is extremely important. It releases all kinds of good, happy hormones, helps us to relax, and just feels really nice. And if you don’t have a regular booty call, or if too-frequent left swiping has given rise to a Tinder-cramped index finger, just book in for a massage. Or ask a friend for a shoulder rub. Same end result without the walk of shame.
9. Sexual MOT. Speaking of embarrassing sexual situations – go get checked. Yes, it’s humiliating and awkward and all those things, but it’s also really, seriously important. A routine check-up at your sexual health clinic will keep some of your most precious bits functioning smoothly, and can also be essential in preventing, detecting, and treating various forms of cancer, endometriosis, HPV, and some of our all-time popular favourites like chlamydia and herpes. It just takes a few minutes, so pee in a tube, get swabbed, pricked, scraped, groped for your own good. Just bite the bullet and go. Right now.
10. Build in breathing time. Take a little stress out of your schedule by building in breathing time. If preparing/eating breakfast takes 10 minutes, schedule in 20 minutes so you can make something tasty and actually sit down to enjoy it. If you’re booking in an evening exercise class, add a buffer between the class and dinner to so you can sit, digest, and chill. Leave more gaps in your schedule instead of rushing from one meeting straight in to the next. Your mental health is so important, so sit, go for a 10 minute walk, read, meditate, nap, do nothing.
11. Floss. Floss your teeth once a day, ideally before brushing your teeth. It’s widely accepted that flossing can reduce gum disease and bad breath by removing plaque that forms along the gum line. Another teethy tip: When you finish brushing your teeth, spit but don’t rinse right away. Rinsing actually washes away excess fluoride and prevents it from doing its job effectively.
12. Nap. The trick here is to aim for a nap between 1:00pm and 3:00pm when energy levels start to dip, and not to sleep for more than about 20-30 minutes. A short siesta will leave you feeling energised and rested, but any longer than 30 minutes and you run the risk of entering slow-wave sleep and waking up feeling more groggy and exhausted than before. A lot of large corporations and companies are starting recognise the benefits of napping and are actually building “nap studios” in their offices – but unless your employer is ahead of the game, you may have to settle for a quiet corner of the lunchroom or the park for now.
Are you planning a new year health kick? Do you agree/disagree with any of the ideas above? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!<<