Sick of New Year’s resolutions and want to make a change for good? GP and author of the pioneering The 4 Pillar Plan Dr Rangan Chatterjee shares four small lifestyle changes that will help transform your health and life once and for all
From sitting at a desk for 70% of the day to our obsession with social media, our way of living can wreak havoc on our sleep patterns, diet and mental health. The good news? “Making small, achievable changes to our lifestyle can have a big effect on our health in the long-term,” says Dr Rangan Chatterjee.
The 4 Pillar Plan, which focuses on easy ways to improve your health as a whole – including relaxation, diet, moving and sleep. As a GP, he has seen the powerful effects of prescribing scheduled ‘relax time’ to help with issues such as anxiety and insomnia. To improve digestion and maintain a healthy weight, he suggests a diet rich in colourful foods.
“By making conscious changes to our lifestyle, we also make unconscious changes to our biology,” says Dr Chatterjee. Our body systems are interconnected, so by changing one thing you’ll likely to have a positive effect on other parts of your health.
Here, he shares four easy ways to start living healthier and happier every day…
1. Relax: schedule 15 minutes of daily me-time
“It’s time to give yourself permission to relax without feeling guilty,” advises Dr Chatterjee. “Stop treating ‘relaxation’ as something you do when everything else has been dealt with. Make it a triple-underlined part of your schedule.”
Why? “What I’m seeing in my practice is that people are spending their days with their cortisol levels constantly ramped up,” says Dr Chatterjee. This is the hormone that our bodies release when we’re stressed – whether it’s hitting a deadline or running late for the school run. Constantly high levels can have a detrimental effect on our sleep, digestion, weight and immune system. Actively making time to relax can help because it activates part of the nervous system that lowers our heart rate and relaxes our muscles, helping us to slow down.
Do it: “Schedule this time into your calendar or set a 15-minute alarm to ensure you do something purely for you,” says Dr Chatterjee. You could visit a café with a magazine, sit in the park and watch the world go by or have a bath listening to music. “You’ll feel the effects almost instantly.”
2. Eat: choose a rainbow of vegetables
Try to eat as many vegetables every day as possible. “Ideally, you should go for different colours,” recommends Dr Chatterjee. This doesn’t mean ditching fruit all together – vegetables just have as many health benefits but contain less sugar (which has links to weight gain and type 2 diabetes).
Why: “Our guts love plant-based fibre (found in vegetables),” says Dr Chatterjee. “And the health of our gut doesn’t just affect our tummy – it also affects our mood, skin and brain health.” Eating lots of differently coloured vegetables encourages the growth of beneficial bacteria and increases gut-bug diversity. Different coloured vegetables all have different health benefits, from heart-loving red peppers to green veg helping our brain function.
Do it: “Print out my rainbow veg chart to help increase the number of colours you consume, and challenge yourself to add two vegetables to every meal,” says Dr Chatterjee. Put it on your fridge and see how many you can tick off at the end of each day.
3. Move: squeeze in fun ‘movement snacks’
We can make a big difference to our health by fitting short bursts of movement into every day. ‘Movement snacking’ means ‘little bite-sized snacks of movement’. Make a habit of doing three or four ‘movement snacks’ to get your heart pumping per day and you’ll not only see an increase in your fitness but also your mood.
Why: “Adults spend an average of 70% of their day in a seat and with physical inactivity one of the biggest causes of premature death, it’s time for us to design our lives around movement,” says Dr Chatterjee.
Do it: Try some quick step-ups on the stairs or put your all into playing with your children. Get colleagues or family involved too. “I do 20 squats with my kids in the time it take for spinach to steam or my wife and I put on some music and dance before dinner,” says Dr Chatterjee. “By the time we start eating, we’re often a little out of breath. Movement snacks are about having fun. We’ve got into this way of thinking where exercise is a drag, yet the whole world is a gym!” Prefer a short workout? Try our four-minute workouts.
4. Sleep: embrace morning light
“People don’t often know that exposing yourself to light in the morning can help you to sleep better at night,” says Dr Chatterjee. Get outdoors in natural daylight for at least 20 minutes every morning and you’ll quickly notice the effect.
Why? “Even on the greyest days, a little exposure to natural sunlight at this time can vastly improve feelings of wellbeing,” says Dr Chatterjee. Similar to sleeping in a darkened room, waking up to natural light can also help regulate our body’s circadian rhythms (the daily timings that our body works to). This can help us fall asleep faster in the evenings and wake up feeling more refreshed. Win-win!
Do it: “Have your morning tea or coffee in the garden (wear extra layers for the colder months!),” says Dr Chatterjee. “Try getting off the bus or train half a mile from your destination and walking the rest of the way or collect your daily newspaper from the local newsagent rather than having it delivered.”
Remember, when it comes to living healthier every day, you don’t need to be perfect. “Start off doing one suggestion a week. Or if 15 minutes of relax time seems too much, start with 5 minutes first,” suggests Dr Chatterjee. “Don’t expect to transform everything at once!” For more tips and inspiration, follow Dr Rangan Chatterjee on Dr Rangan Chatterjee on Instagram.
Struggling to schedule in more me-time? Read our guide to spending more time relaxing (even when you’re busy).