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GENERAL HEALTH AND SEASONAL

These 5 habits will help you live a healthier lifestyle

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Setting just a few healthy lifestyle habits can help you live a happier and healthier life for longer. But where do you start? Our Psychologist shares her advice

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Everyone wants to live a healthier life, but kick-starting healthy habits can feel like hard work. Take New Year’s resolutions – less than one-quarter of us actually achieve them, likely as a result of overly ambitious or restrictive goals. The good news is that we can turn to research to help us narrow down which habits are worth the effort.

‘It can be difficult to form new habits. But there are some thought processes and behaviours you can practise to help you make these long-lasting changes, like setting small and manageable goals or focusing on what makes you feel good,’ says Madeleine Gauffin, Psychologist at Livi.

5 simple habits for a healthier lifestyle

You don’t need to make drastic changes to reap the benefits of a healthy lifestyle – here are some simple habits worth adopting right now.

Habit 1: Nurture your social connections

Why it’s worth it:

Research has shown that strong social connections, through friendship, family and community, might be one of the most important things for our physical and mental health – while loneliness and social isolation are well-established risk factors for poor health. Some studies have found that feeling lonely can increase your risk of stroke, heart disease and depression.

Kick-start the habit:

  • Schedule it – The pandemic made it more difficult for us to connect and you may be feeling more anxious about socialising. Try to overcome that by making plans to see or call a friend or family member at least twice a week.

  • Widen your circle – Make a conscious effort to widen your social network by volunteering in your community or joining a social group like a choir, book club or exercise class.

Habit 2: Prioritise your sleep quality

Why it’s worth it:

Never underestimate the power of sleep – the recommended 6-9 hours of sleep per night allows our bodies and brains to repair and recover. As well as boosting immunity, a good night’s sleep helps you maintain a healthy weight, increases fertility and boosts your mental wellbeing. Regular poor sleep puts you at increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, cancer, obesity and depression.

Kick-start the habit:

  • Be realistic – Head to bed just half an hour earlier than you usually would, then gradually bring forward the time to help you get your full 6-9 hours.

  • Go outsideBright light exposure during the day can help us feel sleepier in the evening and improve sleep quality. Try to go outdoors as much as possible during the day for better sleep.

Habit 3: Squeeze more movement into your day

Why it’s worth it:

There’s strong evidence to show that getting at least 2.5 hours of moderate exercise per week can help reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. In fact, the benefits of being more physically active are numerous – from maintaining a healthy body weight and improving our mental health to lengthening our life expectancy. The challenge is fitting regular exercise into our routines.

Kick-start the habit:

  • Start with 30 – Adding just half an hour of moderate exercise into your day can make a difference to your health. A little more movement and a little less sedentary time all adds up, so try jogging to the bus, using a standing desk or dancing to music more often.

  • Try a team sport – Research shows that recreational physical activity (moving for leisure or as part of a team) has more beneficial outcomes than occupational physical activity like heavy lifting or labouring for work. Try a new sport or join a running club to reap the physical and social benefits.

Habit 4: Eat more colourful food on a regular basis

Why it’s worth it:

Generally, the more colourful your food choices, the more nutritious your diet. Colourful, plant-based foods contain natural compounds called phytonutrients, which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits. One study found that people aged over 65 who eat the colourful Mediterranean diet, which is high in fruit and vegetables, nuts, whole grains, fish and healthy fats, have a lower risk of dying from any cause.

Kick-start the habit:

  • Try for 2 – You don’t have to eat the rainbow all at once. Set yourself the challenge of adding 2 different-coloured fruits and vegetables to every meal, then gradually fill your shopping basket with a wider variety of colours over time.

  • Choose frozen – To get a wider range of fruits and vegetables all year round, look to the frozen section – they’re usually just as nutritious as fresh ones.

Habit 5: Make time to do the things you love

Why it’s worth it:

This is no easy or small habit to start. But research tells us not to overlook the power of finding meaning and purpose in our life – doing more of the things that make us feel worthy, included and part of something. Not only does it make you happier, but it may also help to lower your risk of health problems like stroke and depression.

Kick-start the habit:

  • Make a list – Sit down and put together a list of all the things that make you feel good or excited to get out of bed in the morning and circle a few you want to prioritise more in your life.

  • Try one new thing – Maybe you’ve always wanted to try yoga, writing or kickboxing, or you want to learn a new language. You don’t need to take on 100 hobbies to feel more fulfilled – just start with a new activity one afternoon or evening a week and see how it makes you feel.

4 tips to make healthy habits stick

Setting a plan to make some healthy new habits is all well and good, but achieving them can be more of a challenge. Here are some ways to stay motivated and make your healthy habits more likely to stick.

1. Stack your habits

‘This means tying your new habit to an existing one,’ says Gauffin. ‘Researchers have found that it can take an average of 66 days before habits become automatic, so start a new habit by adding it to something you already do every day.’

For example, after you’ve brushed your teeth, add a 3-minute meditation. ‘It’s crucial to create some space for your new healthy habits and allow them to become part of your daily life,’ adds Gauffin.

2. Choose behaviours that feel good

‘Discover what really motivates you. What do you want from life? Are you living the way you want?’ says Gauffin. ‘The motivation for personal and deeper change can be found in asking these kinds of questions.

‘Are you creating new habits because you want to or are you trying to please someone by changing things in your life? The motivation has to come from you – otherwise, it’s not sustainable.’

Choosing to do something because we enjoy it is called intrinsic motivation – as opposed to extrinsic motivation, where we’re motivated to perform a behaviour to earn a reward or avoid punishment. Plan an exercise date with a friend because it makes you feel good, or choose healthy meals because you enjoy the process of finding new recipes.

3. Be flexible with yourself

‘Often, other things in life can get in the way – and that’s okay,’ explains Gauffin. ‘Introducing new habits shouldn’t be a struggle. So, if your new habit isn’t realistic, set a new one. Nothing good comes from pushing or punishing. Give yourself credit with rewards instead, and encourage yourself.’

4. Stick with small habits

‘Start with small, specific and concrete habits,’ says Gauffin. Set yourself up for success with realistic goals. That way, you’re more likely to be able to sustain them.

When should I speak to a doctor?

If you’re struggling to keep new habits and think other health concerns may be getting in the way, a doctor can help identify if there may be any underlying issues. You might want to speak to a doctor:

  • If you’re lacking energy or feeling less enjoyment in daily life
  • If loneliness or stress is affecting your daily life 

  • If you’re struggling to maintain a healthy weight 

  • If you’re regularly having difficulty sleeping

This article has been medically approved by Livi Psychologist Madeleine Gauffin.

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