Ten simple things you can do to live better
Made a New Year’s resolution to eat healthier, exercise more, stress less, sleep better, or slash your screen time? We’ve all been there.
But what’s the best way to go about changing your habits? We’ve picked 10 of the best health hacks just for you. They’ve all been road-tested and given the seal of approval by Steph McGovern and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall on BBC One’s Easy Ways to Live Well.
1. Stop snacking by… sniffing peppermint
Put that crisp packet down and let go of those chocolates. Most people in the UK add up to 300 excess calories, on average, every day with their unhealthy snacking.
Over 75% of people snack at least once a day, but the key to breaking the snacking habit is to recognise the difference between hunger and cravings.
A scientific theory called ‘mutual competition’ shows that a strong smell can distract our brain from the food we’re thinking about.
Give it a go – drink peppermint tea or brush your teeth whenever you feel hungry.
2. Reduce screen time by… turning your phone screen grey
Half of us now admit to being constantly connected to our phones, with a 24/7 stream of social media, email and rolling news at our fingertips.
The average Brit checks their phone every 12 minutes (according to a recent Ofcom study). If that sounds like you, you should know that every time you look, your stress hormone levels spike. Recent studies suggest our phones can make us 26% less productive, increase our stress and also lead to children struggling to understand emotions.
So, what would stop you looking at your phone? The simple answer may surprise you: turning the screen black and white has a dramatic impact and it instantly becomes less attractive.
And if too many screens are a problem for your whole family, then get each person to ‘earn’ screen time by trading minutes of outdoor activity or family time.
3. Stop feeling stressed by… using cold water therapy
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is the first to admit he gets stressed, a lot.
So Dr Zoe Williams prescribed him an unusual treatment: a swim, shower or soak in icy water.
Every. Single. Day.
But why? Cold water therapy works to chill you out (sorry) through a process called cross-adaptation. The idea is that by regularly exposing yourself to the stress of icy water you become used to that stress — and therefore better able to deal with other stresses life throws at you.
Ready to give it a go?
4. … Or try forest bathing
Fancy getting back to one with nature? Pull on your hiking boots, head to a forest and take some deep breaths in.
Dr Zoe Williams sent a phone-addicted Steph McGovern to experience something entirely different – and no, she wasn’t allowed to take her phone.
Trees emit chemicals from phytoncides and a group of scientists think that these chemicals may actually boost our immune systems.
But a key reason to spend time with those green giants is that research shows that our stress hormone cortisol dips by a huge 15% when we hang out together. Now that’s a fine (and free) way to combat all that stress from looking at our phones.
5. Keep your gut healthy by… sipping an unusual drink
Love a bit of that weirdly sour-but-also-a-bit-nice drink, Kombucha?
You’re in luck, fermented food (or drink) along with at least five fresh fruit and veg are just the tonic for your millions of gut bacteria. They can sometimes get a bit unhappy when we eat too many burgers and have a role to play in our weight, mood and overall health.
Professor Tim Spector from King’s College London looked at Steph McGovern’s microbiome (or gut ecosystem) and found her community of gut bacteria was seriously lacking.
He recommended eating harder-to-digest veg, fermented yogurts and cheese along with kimchi and kombucha, for happier microbes.
6. Move more by.... fidgeting
Over 15 million people in the UK spend half the day being sedentary. That’s sitting in a car, at a desk, or on the sofa.
Why is that bad? Because scarily, more than six hours of prolonged sitting increases the risk of obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer.
You can move a lot more by simply increasing the number of small movements you make throughout the day, including fidgeting and walking about for two minutes every hour.
You could even go as far as standing up in meetings or getting staff to meet face-to-face rather than sending an email or chatting on the phone.
7. Like the way you look by… drawing
Want to be more body positive? Then get your pencil case out.
If people have a low sense of body image, studies show that they benefit from being exposed to a naked body – in all its imperfect glory.
Going to a life drawing class could be just the exposure someone suffering with negative body image might benefit from.
The idea is that by sketching normal bodies with all our wonderful lumps and bumps, we become more accepting of our own.
8. Get fitter for free by… working out at home
As we get older we lose muscle mass and strength, and this can have an impact on being able to move around and stay flexible.
But you don’t need to go to the gym to get guns. A set of simple strength exercises, based around a cardio HIIT-style workout, will get you stronger in a matter of weeks.
Think press-ups, squats, crunches and tricep dips. And for more inspiration – check Hugh out on iPlayer giving it some. Who says #fitspo is just for millennials?
9. Reduce pain by… singing
With 50% of the UK spending the working day on their feet, aches and pains at work are extremely common. Upper body pain alone costs employers 31 million days off sick a year.
When taking painkillers isn’t an option, what’s the next best thing? It turns out that ‘fake pills’ (placebos) are pretty effective.
Harvard Medical School research showed how patients who knew they were taking placebo pills had their pain cut by 30%.
Why? The placebos triggered the release of natural painkillers dopamine and endorphins.
But there’s another painkiller giving us a run for our money – studies have found that those who sing in a choir can experience significant pain reduction, in some cases by 50%.
Group singing has been found to boost mental health, help the immune system and reduce stress. Singing releases endorphins, reducing our perception of pain and acting in a similar way to morphine — but without the danger of addiction.
10. Banish fussy eating by... letting kids play with their food
Kids aren’t picky just to wind their parents up. Fussiness is actually an evolutionary response to protect toddlers from putting anything that might be poisonous in their mouths.
However, some kids become fearful of everything but the most familiar foods.
Playing with food might not be good table manners but a study involving 100 children found that those who were encouraged to play with their food - with no pressure to eat it - tried twice as much fruit and veg afterwards.
Playing without pressure allows the child to get used to the look, smell and texture, so they can begin to realise the food is not dangerous.