Usually at this time of year many of us want to adopt new healthy habits, or stop unhealthy habits, and begin the new year with a general focus on upgrading ourselves. This year we start with an unprecedented challenge - to maintain our physical and mental health in the face of spiralling Covid cases.
We may be facing a challenging time, but there are lots of ways to improve your general health and emotional wellbeing during lockdown. These are just a few ways to start the year on the right foot.
Get your five a day
Experts recommend five portions of fruit and vegetables a day for all sorts of good reasons. A diet rich in plant-based foods helps to maintain a healthy weight, energy level, and mood, and will ensure you are getting all the vitamins and minerals your body needs, along with lots of fibre for gut health. What's more, getting your five a day will help to ward off serious illnesses such as heart disease and cancer. So make it a priority for this year.
There are lots of ways to up your fruit and veg intake. Try keeping a well stocked fruit bowl in your kitchen, and have a piece of fruit whenever you feel like a snack. You should try to ensure you have veg with every meal, such as adding salad, avocado, or whatever takes your fancy to sandwiches for lunch, or having a banana or apple with breakfast.
Drink more water
The human body is made up of up to 60 per cent water, so the importance of staying hydrated cannot be overstated. While we may rarely feel dehydrated, changes in our water composition affect health in many subtle ways. Even relatively small dips in hydration can affect energy, mood, and focus, and, as anyone who has ever had a hangover will attest, dehydration is also a well known cause of headaches.
Unlike the five-a-day rule for fruit and veg, there is no scientific basis for the suggestion that you drink eight glasses of water a day. Your individual hydration needs will depend on factors such as age, weight, and activity levels. Try starting your day with a glass of water when you wake up - this will help to rehydrate you after a night without any water input - and drink water, or any liquid apart from alcohol, regularly throughout the day.
Outdoor exercise is the activity of choice for many at the moment, for obvious reasons. There is no evidence to suggest that the oft-recommended 10,000 steps is optimal for cardiovascular health, but you should try to be as active as possible. A long walk, in nature if possible, will work wonders for your mood as well as your waistline.
For best results, try to get in some moderate exercise a few times a day, particularly if you are working from home and desk-bound for much of the day. While the gym and other forms of group exercise are out of bounds for now, there is a huge variety of online exercise classes available to get you moving at home. Remember to get outdoors for a walk, cycle, or run - whichever activity you enjoy most - as well.
Meditation offers many benefits that make it a perfect habit to develop at the moment. Regular meditation helps to reduce stress and anxiety, and improves focus. Reducing stress can also boost your immune system and help with a whole range of illnesses that are negatively impacted by stress.
Let's face it, stress is a factor in all our lives these days, and meditation is a simple and free way to combat this.
If you have never meditated before, it might sound like a mystical exercise that is difficult to learn. In fact, it could not be easier. There are many different types of meditation but at its core each simply involves focusing on your breath.
To meditate, focus on your breath, and ignore any thoughts that pop into your mind while you are doing this. It will take some practice, but becomes much easier over time, and even a few minutes of meditation a day will yield huge benefits. There are lots of apps available to help you get started, along with guided meditations on YouTube.
Keep a journal
Similar to meditation, regular journaling will help you to view your own thoughts objectively. Recording your thoughts daily will result in greater self-awareness, and if you are going through a stressful period, writing about your experiences and feelings will help you come to terms with events, and reduce the intensity of negative emotions.
You don't have to be stressed to enjoy the benefits of journaling. Most of the world's most successful people have kept a journal and enjoyed the emotional and cognitive freedom that this habit provides. Regularly recording your thoughts helps with problem solving, and setting and achieving goals. It also boosts creativity and concentration - by regularly dumping your thoughts onto a screen or, better still, a page, you free yourself of mental clutter and can focus on more important things.