Embracing healthier lifestyle habits |26 January 2024
It’s easy to list down all the changes that you want to make, be it in terms of being more physically active or what you should be eating. The most difficult part however is actually getting started and making the first step. Starting a new exercise routine or making changes to your diet may be a lot harder to keep up with than you may have originally thought. However, being able to sustain the behaviour change long enough to reap the benefits from it remains the hardest part.
Changing a lifestyle habit requires a change in behaviour. Behaviour change in turn necessitates letting go of old habits which have taken years to form while trying to adopt new ones. It is therefore only normal that it takes time for you to get used to it. It is unrealistic to expect the new habits to form overnight. However, what makes behaviour change challenging for one person, will most likely be different for someone else. In addition, a person’s ability to sustain behaviour change depends on factors like their environment, workplace or home life.
Adopting healthier habits can go a long way in improving both your physical and mental health. Nevertheless, before you get started think about the behaviour that you want to change. If there is more than one, then make a list and prioritise what you want to tackle first. This may make it easier than trying to change too many things all at once. We will go through some common lifestyle habits that can optimise your health and wellbeing. You should consider whether or not it aligns to the changes that you want to make.
1. Eat a healthy and diversified diet
It goes without saying that what you eat habitually has a direct impact on your health outcome over time. Most of us nowadays enjoy convenience so we tend to choose meals that are quick to prepare without a lot of fuss. Unfortunately, many of the options that we choose are highly processed, full of additives, sugar, salt and saturated fats and devoid of important nutrients. This includes for example pizzas, deep-fried chicken and chips, burgers and hot dogs. If we were consuming these foods occasionally rather than daily, it wouldn’t be as much of a problem.
It is important to include a diversity of foods from the different food groups every day as each food provides their own mix of nutrients and other beneficial compounds like phytochemicals in plant foods. This includes fruits, vegetables, fish, lean meat, poultry, eggs, bans, lentils, nuts, seeds, whole grain cereals, local starches, milk products and healthy oils like olive oil. However, we should also focus on variety within specific food groups as well. For instance, it’s not enough to just eat fruits and vegetables daily but you should aim for different types and colours of fruits and vegetables throughout the week to reap even more health benefits. The same is true for other foods like fish, nuts, grains, lentils and beans. There’s a wide variety to choose from.
Despite the well-known benefits of eating healthy foods, many people perceive healthy eating as expensive and unpalatable. This then becomes the barrier to making the change to healthier foods. In reality many fast foods are more expensive than some healthy foods. For instance, instead of spending R200 on a pizza for one person, you can use the money to buy healthy ingredients to prepare a quick meal like a tuna and pasta salad for a family of four. When it comes to flavour, healthy foods prepared with natural flavours like herbs and spices taste really good.
There may also be other reasons why you’re not eating healthy foods. Find out what they are and look for a solution. If healthy eating feels like a big change then start by including healthy meals a few times a week and reduce your intake of fast food. Then continue until fast food becomes an occasional treat rather than your daily meal!
2. Be more physically active
Physical activity includes any body movement produced by skeletal muscles that requires the use of energy. It therefore encompasses all activities at any intensity such as cleaning the house, gardening, dancing, walking, exercise and sports. Being physically active has many health benefits such as managing our weight; strengthening bones, muscles and joints; improving mental health by reducing the risk of depression and anxiety; improves focus and judgment and reduces the risk of chronic disease.
The Seychelles food-based dietary guidelines (2020) recommends that adults should engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity per week which translates to 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity, five days a week. Otherwise they can also do 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity per week which translates to 25 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity, three days a week. They also recommend muscle-strengthening activities such as lifting weights, at least twice a week.
It's important however that you don’t try doing too much too quickly. Gradually increase the intensity, frequency and duration of your physical activity as you get better at it. One big mistake people make is going all out from the beginning, only to end up with an injury or burn out. This is extremely important if you have not been active for a long time. Start off by setting your big goal of where you want to be, but start small and progressively work up to your bigger goal.
3. Cut down on alcohol
Alcohol doesn’t have a function in the body so if you don’t usually drink alcohol, then it is best to continue abstaining from it. If you’re a regular drinker, try to reduce your intake to two units of alcohol or less on each occasion. Excessive alcohol intake can lead to diseases that affect body organs like the liver, pancreas, heart and brain, so the less of it you have, the better.
4. Get adequate sleep
There is more and more evidence stacking up on the importance of sleep for our physical and mental health. Although many of us underestimate the value of sleep, it is important in improving brain performance, mood and repairs of tissues and organs. You should aim for at least seven hours of uninterrupted sleep every night.
To try and get more sleep, you can start by switching off or putting away your phone at least half an hour before bed. It might also be a good idea to switch off all other electronic devices like tablets, computer or television as these can also disrupt your body’s natural ability to fall asleep. If you’re still having difficulty, then it might be time to visit a health professional for more support.
As always we advise you to start small and gradually build from there. Think about your own habits and identify one simple and realistic change you can start making today.
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Please get in touch by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know how you’re doing with these ideas, or better still, let us know how we can help you.
Yours in health
The Nutrition Team