We already know we should be drinking more water, eating 5-a-day and clocking up 12,500 steps every day – but now, there’s a new crop of simple ways to upgrade your health and wellbeing. And the good news is, they’re easy to fit into our busy lives so you can embrace them right away. Trust us, your body and mind will thank you for it…
Health Hack 1: Make fitness functional
People are cottoning on to the benefits of functional exercise – which is all about balance, coordination, strength and endurance. Vitality clinician Jonny Kibble says: “Functional exercising is useful for everyday life. For example, a deadlift teaches you how to pick up a heavy object – much like picking up heavy shopping – without injury.”
What’s more, emerging research suggests that resistance training – a key component of functional fitness – could be as effective as medication and therapy for easing symptoms of depression. Look for resistance sessions, such as kettlebell classes, at your gym.
Health Hack 2: Take a nap
Good news: napping once or twice a week could be good for heart health, brain function and general physical health, according to a recent Swiss study. Some gyms have sleep pods, while companies such as London start-up Pop & Rest rent out spaces for sleeping or meditating.
Go easy, though. The Sleep Council suggests limiting naps to around 20 minutes; any longer and they could leave you feeling groggy or disrupt your night-time sleep. If you have trouble dropping off in daylight hours, tune into a Headspace sleepcast.
Health Hack 3: Discover your ‘why?’
Focusing on why you want to get healthy could help you to stick to your fitness regimen, according to health psychologist Dr Meg Arroll.
To find out your reasons for wanting to be fit, she recommends uncovering your motivation with the ‘why funnel’ exercise. Whatever healthy habit you’re trying to keep, write down why you want to do it. Say, for example, your goal is to lose weight. Meg says: “Ask yourself, ‘Why does this matter?’ and keep questioning until you get to the core reason. It’s often something meaningful like, ‘I want to be able to run around after my children.’”
Health Hack 4: Harness plant power
Eating at least 30 different types of plant food each week is best for health. It increases gut microbiome diversity, which can help to improve immunity and mental health. It also increases levels of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which helps to reduce inflammation and cardiovascular disease.
“All plant foods count, including herbs, seeds, nuts, wholegrains and pulses,” says Vitality expert nutritionist James Vickers. “Swap to lentils in lasagne, bulk out chilli with different types of pulses and sprinkle seeds over salads. And try eating plant-based products, such as falafel, at lunchtime,” he says.
Health Hack 5: Compete from home
‘Competition can make exercise more interesting,’ says Vitality clinician Jonny Kibble. Indoor cycling apps such as Zwift or Rouvy let you train and compete from your own living room. The Zwift Academy even awards a pro-cycling contract. Step up the next Chris Froome?
Health Hack 6: Tap into telehealth
Technology is integrated into almost everything, from banking and shopping to travel, but until recently has been less common in health. This is starting to change, though.
As we now lead increasingly busy lives, it’s no surprise that having access to telemedicine – which includes time-saving digital health platforms, medical apps and video consultations – is fast gaining popularity. By the end of 2021, the market is expected to be worth more than £51.6bn.
The Vitality GP app gives eligible VitalityHealth members access to private GP video or telephone consultations and trusted health information.
Health Hack 7: Embrace the cold
Feel like skipping your regular jog because it’s chilly out? Don’t! According to recent research, a drop in temperature can be good for us, so that’s all the more reason to get out there.
Exercising in the cold can activate a beneficial type of fat, called brown adipose tissue, which fires up your metabolic rate and insulin sensitivity, reducing the risk of obesity and metabolic conditions. So give your body a boost by heading outdoors for a workout.
“Layering up is key for outdoor exercising,” says Jonny Kibble. “It can also be a good idea to exercise with a friend, to help motivate each other.”
Health Hack 8: Share your meals
The spotlight is on your kitchen table as being one of the healthiest places in your home. Simply because, while eating the occasional TV dinner is fine, sharing a meal with family or friends is an easy win for wellbeing.
Eating with company is linked with better mental health and improved self-esteem, according to a survey conducted by the University of Oxford. This is probably because eating with other people boosts a sense of connection. The survey polled 2,000 adults who said that, on average, a third of their weekday meals are eaten solo. One in four, meanwhile, said eating an evening meal with others would be unusual.
Health Hack 9: Find your feet
Did you know that simply switching 10 minutes of sitting for a brisk 10-minute walk each day could prevent some of the health problems caused by being too sedentary?
And, it could reduce the risk of an early death by 15%. On weekdays, 30% of us sit for at least six hours, which rises to 37% at weekends. This lack of movement is linked with serious health conditions, including type 2 diabetes, bowel cancer and cardiovascular disease.
Health Hack 10: Develop resilience
This year, resilience is the key word in mental health. So what is it? “It isn’t about toughing it out,” says Vitality mental health expert Melissa Britton. “Resilience is about being able to sit with painful emotions when there’s a challenging life event. It’s about being able to adapt, learn lessons and move forward, while remaining emotionally stable.”
Resilience isn’t a trait; it can be learned and nurtured. “Celebrate achievements, however small,” says Melissa. Being at your best mentally and physically will help, too: “Eat healthily to support your wellbeing, get enough rest, and exercise, particularly in a social setting because doing so could lift your mood.”
Feeling inspired? We’ve got loads more health tips and advice – have a look!