If you've decided to be healthier this year but aren't sure where to start, there are a few things you can do straight away to kick start you on your way. These are the basic things you should be doing to live a healthy life - so before you jump into a gruelling fitness regime or anything just as drastic, here are eight simple things you can do first which will improve your health immediately.
1. Stop smoking
This is at the top of the list because it's the most important thing you can do to improve your health. Stubbing out that ciggie will significantly reduce your risk of developing cancer, heart disease and stroke, amongst other things. See your GP if you need help giving up.
2. Cut out refined sugar
Swap sugary snacks like biscuits and chocolate for fresh fruit, nuts and seeds, and make as many of your meals from scratch as possible, rather than reaching for microwave meals which can be extremely high in sugar (and salt, coincidentally). Also cut out fizzy drinks - the NHS recommends we consume no more than 30g of sugar daily; however one can of Coke alone contains 35g!
3. Load up on vegetables
We've all heard that we should be eating our way through 5-a-day, but five portions of fruit and vegetables is actually the minimum we should be having - in fact, experts are now recommending we get ten. Cutting down on meat and processed foods and making most of your meals plant-based is the easiest way to do this.
You should do at least 30 minutes of exercise per day, three times a week. If you're new to exercise, start off with some gentle cardio such as walking and build up from there.
5. Drink water
Guzzle it down like it's going out of fashion! Carry a water bottle around with you all day and sip it at regular intervals. Aim to drink two litres by the end of the day. Being well hydrated increases your energy levels and makes you feel more alert.
6. Get enough sleepEveryone knows they should get around eight hours' sleep every night, but how many of us actually do it? You need to make sleep a priority if you want to keep your body and brain at their healthiest - a lack of sleep can cause all kinds of health problems in the long run. Read my post about Seven Ways to Have a Perfect Night's Sleep for some tips.
7. Ditch the diet
Don't try to improve your health or lose weight by restricting your food intake or cutting out certain food groups such as carbs, wheat or dairy (unless you have an intolerance). Follow my advice above about loading up on vegetables, drinking more water and getting some exercise and the weight will start coming off naturally. It may be slower than if you embark on a crash diet, but it's a lot safer and you're more likely to keep it off in the long term.
8. Spend time outside
Nature gives us a sense of wellbeing so it's great for our mental health. Studies show that even a ten-minute walk outside can significantly improve your mood. As well as topping up your vitamin D levels, it clears your head and gives you a double hit of the happy hormone serotonin - one from the exercise and one from the sunshine.
Do you have anything to add to this list? Let me know in the comments!