5 small things you can do now for a healthier future

Medical doctor and life coach Susan Biali shares her tips for making small changes that add up to a healthier life

5 small things you can do now for a healthier future

Source: Best Health magazine, September 2014; Image: Thinkstock

If your New Year’s resolutions to live healthier fizzled many months ago, September is a perfect opportunity for a fresh start. At the end of summer, life returns to more of a routine, so why not harvest some of that fresh autumn energy and make some new vows to live better and healthier? Here are five simple things you can start doing now:

Go to bed 30 minutes earlier.

If you work on only one change this fall, focus on getting more sleep. When you are sleep deprived (and most of us are), getting as little as half an hour more sleep every night will improve your mood, increase your ability to handle stress, boost your immunity and improve your metabolism. Plus, it can help you lose weight, and keep it off: Getting enough sleep boosts the hormone leptin (which is produced by fat cells and works on the hypothalamus to suppress appetite) and suppresses the hormone ghrelin (which stimulates fat storage and food intake).

Make healthier food swaps.

The best way to improve your diet is to introduce changes gradually, with small switches that will make a big difference over time. Here are some simple ideas:
‘ Swap out processed meats in your lunches (many of which contain harmful chemicals such as nitrates) for health-boosting, high-powered protein (important for your immune system and cell repair). Try canned tuna or salmon, grilled chicken or tempeh, and chickpeas or lentils.
‘ Swap out red meats (high in saturated fat) for high-protein, heart-healthy fish such as salmon.
‘ Swap out butter (high in saturated fat and cholesterol) and hydrogenated margarines (high in trans fats) for heart-healthier plant-oil-based margarines (check the label to ensure it says ‘no trans fats’), and anti-inflammatory olive or coconut oil.
‘ Swap out white rice (which raises blood sugar and doesn’t have much nutritional value) for high-protein, high-fibre grains such as quinoa.

Take a breath.

If you struggle to find time to rest and relax during the day, build in some instant stress relief. Catch yourself when you start rushing or pushing yourself too hard, and deliberately slow your pace. Notice when you tense your shoulders and neck, and stop for a moment to relax your shoulders. When you feel your stress levels rising, take a few slow, deep breaths. Over time, these small changes will make a huge difference to your stress hormone levels as well as to your general health and mood.

Reduce added sugars.

A high-sugar diet makes your skin and body age faster by damaging collagen and increasing inflammation. It also predisposes you to diabetes and weight gain, and dampens your immune function. Research published in 2014 even shows that eating lots of foods with added sugar puts you at an increased risk of dying from heart disease. Decrease added sugars by eliminating sweetened drinks; use stevia (which is derived from the stevia plant) instead of sugar in your coffee or tea; check food labels for sugars (look for words such as sucrose, glucose or fructose); and replace sugary desserts with naturally sweet fruit such as berries.

Walk more.

Walking briskly relieves stress, boosts your mood, tones your legs, burns calories and gives your heart a workout. Find creative ways to increase the number of steps you take every day. For example, park far from the entrance when you go to work or go shopping, and take the stairs whenever you can. Get a pedometer to help you reach the recommended 10,000 steps per day, or download an app on your phone that tracks steps every day (my personal favourite is Moves).

This article was originally titled "A Doctor’s Advice: Get a fresh start" in the September 2014 issue of Best Health. Subscribe today to get the full Best Health experience’and never miss an issue!