Many people think getting healthier requires an all-or-nothing approach, and that only drastic changes to their lifestyle are going to make a difference. In reality, it’s often the little things that add up to big results – those tiny tweaks that you barely notice, but that in the long-term can really help improve the quality of your health.
What’s more, small lifestyle changes are less likely to seem overwhelming, making it more likely you’ll stick with them long enough to see those results. They’re also the type of gradual measure you can introduce at any time – there’s no need to wait for a big “launch date”, such as New Year’s Day, to start making all the positive changes at once (and no need to put yourself under the accompanying pressure). By only focusing on doing a few small things differently at any one time, these practices are more likely to become ingrained as habits – setting you up for a lifetime of healthy living.
If you’re looking to improve your health and overall wellbeing in 2015, here are a few small lifestyle tweaks that are easy to adopt and that you may hardly even notice are happening – but will almost certainly deliver big results with time:
Walk just 10 more minutes a day
Studies have shown that increasing your daily activity levels by just a small amount can still provide a host of health benefits, from calorie burning and weight loss to improved circulation, mobility and mood. This is particularly true if you tend to spend long chunks of each day sitting down – taking regular breaks (at least once every hour) to stand up and move around a little (even just going to make a cup of tea) can have a dramatic effect on health.
Ideally you should be aiming for 30 minutes of moderate activity each day, but starting with an extra ten minutes will still yield results. So stroll to the shops instead of driving, get off the bus a stop earlier and travel the rest of the way on foot, or take the dog for an extra walk in the afternoon. 10 minutes of brisk walking equals about 1,000 steps, so why not try using an activity tracker to measure your progress throughout the day? You’ll likely find the tracking a bit addictive, encouraging you to clock up more steps and if you are a Vitality member – even more points!
Swap fruit juice for fresh fruit
Many people down multiple cups of fruit juice each day thinking that it’s a really healthy option. While fresh juice does deliver a certain amount of nutrients, and one cup can count toward one of your five-a-day, it should nevertheless be approached with care, particularly by those who are watching their weight. Even unsweetened fruit juice is quite high in naturally occurring sugars, which can still affect your blood sugar levels and contribute excess calories to your diet. Unlike fresh fruit, fruit juice doesn’t provide much fibre, which means it won’t keep you feeling full.
Studies have also shown that calories consumed in the form of liquids don’t create the feeling of satiety in your body the way solid calories do, which means you may consume lots of extra calories because you simply don’t feel you’ve had enough.
Turn off your gadgets an hour before bed
As a society, we’re addicted to our gadgets, with many of us spending much of the day glued to our smartphones, tablets or computers. As useful and entertaining as these devices are, studies have shown that using them too close to bedtime can disrupt your sleep patterns and even contribute to insomnia. The reason is that devices with screens emit a type of blue-spectrum light that interferes with the body’s circadian rhythm – or natural sleep-wake cycle – by promoting alertness just when you should be gearing down for sleep. As a result, you may take longer to fall asleep and experience a lesser quality of sleep when you do so – leading to increased daytime sleepiness and a higher risk of many health problems associated with too little sleep, which range from obesity and diabetes to cancer and heart disease.
Since many of us are already getting too little sleep, it’s important to maximise the shut-eye we do have. Try shutting off your gadgets (including televisions) at least an hour before you go to bed so your brain can start getting in sleep mode. This also minimises the chances of you getting distracted by last-minute emails or news stories that could keep you up later than you’d planned, or keep your mind buzzing long after you’re meant to be snoozing. If you really can’t part with your devices a second sooner, you may wish to minimise their effect by investing in glasses that block blue light or software such as f.lux that automatically filter the light spectrum on your devices according to time of day.
Try one new vegetable a week
Variety is the spice of life, and it’s also an important factor in keeping our bodies healthy. By eating a wide assortment of fruit and vegetables, you’re helping ensure that your body gets all the diversity of nutrients it needs, including digestion-promoting fibre and disease-fighting antioxidants. Aim for at least five servings a day, preferably more, and choose a rainbow of colours to make sure you’re getting lots of different nutrients.
To help ensure you’re getting enough variety in your diet (and to help stave off the boredom that can sometimes disrupt even the most dedicated of healthy eating plans), introduce at least one new vegetable to your diet each week. This is a great opportunity to explore new tastes and menu choices, and gives you the chance to discover tasty new favourites that you may never previously have considered. So the next time you’re grocery shopping, don’t be afraid to get adventurous when stocking up on healthy ingredients!
Drink green tea
Green tea has achieved considerable fame for the many health benefits it’s said to deliver. Many of its effects are due to its high content of catechins, a type of antioxidant that fends off free-radical damage to cells and reduces inflammation – both of which may help protect against conditions ranging from Alzheimer’s and diabetes, to heart disease, strokes and cancer. A particular type of catechin found in green tea called epigallocatechin-3-gallate, or EGCG, may also help promote weight loss. Aim to drink three to five cups a day for maximum benefits. If you’re not keen on the taste, try adding a small amount of honey or switch to a green tea flavoured with lemon, jasmine or other fruit.