Life

Monday 15 July 2019

Seven small tweaks for a healthier you: these micro-changes can deliver big results

Do your radical New Year lifestyle goals already seem a bridge too far? Joel Snape has the perfect micro-changes that will deliver big results

Mobile phone use at bedtime leads to decreased sleep quality
Mobile phone use at bedtime leads to decreased sleep quality

Joel Snape

January! Month of four-week fixes and eight-minute abs, six-hour social media windows and 30-day booze-fasts. The season where it's impossible to look at a bookshelf, shop window or website without being reminded that you, apparently, are doomed to hang onto your love-handles, while all about you are losing theirs.

Until February, anyway. Because the problem with big wrenches of the old lifestyle steering-wheel is that, well, they're too big. Sure, some people will manage to stay on the well-being expressway, but most will end up in a ditch, yanking all the emergency Twixes out of the glove box and mumbling about trying again in summer.

Radical lifestyle changes are tricky because they're so radical: the more you take on, the higher the risk.

The answer? Micro-changes. By focusing on the smallest possible changes that'll make a difference - rather than plotting to take on the biggest - you can commit to a handful of tiny tweaks that are possible even when you're busy, stressed or not in the mood. Below you'll find seven: commit to doing one or all of them for just a week, then add or tweak as necessary. By summer, you'll be the smug one.

For mobility: Move your feet

No, this doesn't mean signing up for that Zumba-Fortnite fusion class. "Just taking a minute a day to move your feet and ankles can go a long way toward helping prevent a lot of aches and pains, especially around the knees," says Ryan Hurst, a former professional gymnast and the Head Coach at Gold Medal Bodies.

Toe circles and ankle-flexes are easy enough to do while you're sitting on the couch smashing through the second season of The Marvellous Mrs. Maisel, while calf-raises are unobtrusive enough to do on an escalator or at a bus stop without raising any eyebrows.

For better nutrition: Cook one new vegetable a week

Oh, your deskmate's struggling with the feta-stuffed gnocchi from their new meal-in-a-box service again? Offer your sympathies, and do something simpler. "Buy and try one new vegetable each week," suggests Brian St-Pierre of Precision Nutrition.

"Branch out and explore a little bit - try purple cauliflower or mixed colour carrots. Instead of salads, perhaps try roasting a veggie, or vice versa.

"Just try one new veggie - or one you already like prepared a new way - at one meal each week. You may not like each alternative you try, but you'll likely discover a whole bunch of new veggies, or new prep methods, to expand and increase your intake."

For better sleep: Leave your phone out of the room

More than one study has linked mobile phone use near bedtime to decreased sleep quality, and at least one paper links the blue light they typically emit to snooze-disrupting effects.

Many experts will recommend having a phone-curfew an hour before bed, but if that seems ridiculous, then at least leave your phone in another room when it's actually time for shut-eye: you won't need it, and even the blinking charge light can disrupt production of sleep hormone melatonin. Bonus: leave a book by the bedside, and you'll be more likely to read a couple of pages when you wake up than head straight to Instagram - a double-whammy, since fiction's linked to lowered stress and heightened empathy.

For strength and stability:vSquat when you can

Talking to toddlers, picking up boxes, using traditional Japanese toilets without mishap - the list of times when it helps to have a stable squat is, if not endless, then at least surprising, and building time in the position doesn't mean spending hours in the gym.

"Just squatting down when you have a chance a few times a day and trying to get more comfortable with that is one of the highest-leverage things you can do," says GMB's Hurst.

For a calmer brain: Use the 'senses' exercise

It's counter-intuitive, but the modern mania for mindfulness can seem a bit… stressful at times? If you aren't concentrating on every munch of biscuit, whiff of exhaust or breath of air, are you somehow failing? That's certainly how it can seem.

Instead of worrying about it constantly, use the simplest form of mindfulness exercise when you find yourself particularly stressed: pick a sense, say 'touch', and concentrate on five things you can use with that sense, from the pressure of your feet on the floor to the gentle scrape of your jumper around your neck. Voila: instant refocus.

For stronger willpower: turn your shower to cold (occasionally)

There are numerous (mostly unproven) health claims for the benefits of a cold shower: it might help fat-loss (by encouraging the production of burnable 'brown' fat), improve your immune system, slow ageing or even fight depression. All of this is up in the air, but there's one uncontestable takeaway: once you've cranked the nozzle to 'frosty' and toughed it out under the chilly spray a couple of times, everything else seems easier.

Don't worry about making your entire shower cold: scrub yourself down as normal, then turn the temperature down for the last 30 seconds. You'll be able to tackle anything.

…and for everything else, drink more water

Yes, it's so obvious, so useful, so theoretically easy - and yet, across the country, people are planning to do it and certain to fail miserably. Over-commitment is the problem: plan on glugging a gallon a day, hefting a special bottle around to every social engagement or drinking a pint with every meal, and you'll fail. It's too much, and if the constant toilet-trips don't get you, then the sloshing in your stomach will.

Instead of going all or nothing, then, just drink a bit more: a sip with your first morning coffee, another while you're waiting for the kettle to boil, at least a bit with your wine while you're out at dinner. From here, drink a little bit more water and a little bit less everything else - you'll be hydrated and (probably) happier in under a week.

Irish Independent

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