Many people enter the New Year with renewed motivation to improve their well-being, and with the quieter social calendar that January offers this can be a great time to focus on some self-care, setting you up for the year ahead.
6 pillars are commonly viewed as being vitally important to human health and happiness. Whilst strengthening even just one or two of these pillars is a step in the right direction, taking action to reinforce all 6 of them, to create balance and harmony, is likely to provide the greatest benefits.
Good Nutrition –
Providing your body with nutrients it needs to function optimally is a cornerstone of good health and well-being. This January, take steps to remove processed foods, which tend to be high in sugar, salt, unhealthy fats and additives from your diet. Instead cook from scratch as much as possible and increase your fruit and vegetable intake. This can be as simple as making sure that at least half your plate at every meal is made up of fruit and vegetables of a variety of different colours. The phase “you are what you eat” could more accurately be expressed as “you are what you absorb.” You also need to make sure your gut is in good health to properly absorb the nutrients from your food. Introducing traditionally fermented foods such as live plain yoghurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi and kombucha and taking a live bacteria supplement, such as Bio-Kult Advanced Multi-Strain Formulation, is thought to help support the health of the gut lining where nutrients are absorbed (available to buy from www.bio-kult.com).
Move More –
The benefits both mentally and physically of moving our bodies more are undeniable. If you’ve had some time away from exercising, finding the time and getting back into a routine can be a little daunting. Ease yourself in gently and build up the intensity gradually as your fitness improves. For example, how about taking your trainers to work with you and going for a brisk 30 minute walk or jog on your lunch break? Apps such as ‘Couch to 5K’ provide useful exercise plans to follow for those starting from scratch. External motivation and accountability can also be useful, so try exercising with a friend, booking in a few sessions with a Personal Trainer or paying for a course of classes up front. Finding a type of exercise that you enjoy is one of the most important thing to keep you motivated. How about joining MoveGB which allows you to try lots of different classes in your area?
Introduce a Sleep Routine –
Getting enough shut-eye is critical for both physical and mental health. Sleep is when our bodies carry out the processes of restoration and repair. Regularly not getting enough sleep is so detrimental it has been shown to significantly increase the risk of developing cancer, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and a number of psychiatric conditions. This January, set yourself a bedtime routine and stick to it rigidly. Get up and go to bed at the same time every day, giving sufficient time in bed to allow 8 hours of sleep. Tidy your bedroom, change your sheets and make your bed an inviting place to be. Cool, dark bedrooms, free from electronic gadgets help to encourage sleep. Avoid caffeine and alcohol, and don’t exercise or eat large meals late at night. Instigate a no technology curfew to reduce your exposure to blue light and instead take a warm bath and add some relaxing magnesium salts to the water or read a good book in bed.
Stress Reduction –
Stress is a modern day epidemic which is having chronic consequences for our health. Whilst stress can seem overwhelming and stress reduction yet another thing to pack into an already over-crowded day, this is one of the situations where prioritising even just 10 minutes a day could save you much more time and pay dividends in the long-run. Whether it is a short self-led breathing and yoga practice each morning, a 10 minute mindfulness meditation exercise using an app such as Headspace, taking a bath before bed, getting away from your desk at lunchtime, or simply saying no to some social engagements or projects, taking steps to manage stress is one of the most important things you can do to enhance your well-being. If you are really struggling, consider signing up for a course of counselling such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which can help you to increase stress resilience.
Loneliness and social isolation are thought to be one of the biggest risk factors to our well-being. In fact, research published in 2015 found that lacking social connections could be as damaging to our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day! We don’t need a huge circle of friends or packed social life to feel connected. Fostering just a few special relationships is just as effective. This January, why not reach out to any friends, family or acquaintances you haven’t seen as much as you would have liked recently. Invite them for dinner, go for coffee or even just make an effort to send them a birthday card or a message on Facebook. How about re-instating family meal times at home with the kids or housemates? After all, there’s no better way to re-connect with people than over good food. Connection with nature is also important for well-being, so make an effort to get outside for some crisp winter walks.
This final pillar is one that is often overlooked. Finding a ‘purpose in life’ has been the focus of a number of intervention studies in recent years and has been linked with better health (mental and physical) as well as improved health behaviours. If you are lucky enough to have found your passion or purpose through your job or area of study, then you are very fortunate. For others, one’s purpose might not be quite so obvious. Don’t panic, this isn’t unusual and you don’t have to figure it all out straight away. Simply setting yourself mini-goals, such as learning a new language or musical instrument, volunteering at a local charity or completing an online course or sporting event can have a positive effect on well-being. January is a great time to set yourself some goals for the year. Write them down or discuss with a friend to help provide some accountability and remember to celebrate as you achieve each one.
By Hannah Braye, Nutritional Therapist at Bio-Kult (www.bio-kult.com)