Healthy habits to focus on in these ever changing times
It’s fair to say COVID-19 has turned our lives upside down and dealing with these lifestyle changes can be really challenging. Scrolling through social media it may seem as though everyone is using the time in lockdown to work out for hours each day, cook gourmet feasts and learn another language, and if that’s you – amazing! But rest assured it’s totally okay (and normal!) if you are spending a little extra time watching Netflix and enjoying a sleep in, remember we all cope with things differently.
What might be helpful is reframing your thinking – instead of focusing on all the things you didn’t do, think about the things you’d like to focus on now, and make them habits that you can keep. For a lot of us these things are health-related, so here are three habits that may make a big difference to your health:
1. Optimise your eating
As the old saying goes, you are what you eat. Research shows that this may be truer than originally thought, with a change in diet leading to changes in our gut microbiota in just a few days.1
Aim for 30 different plant foods per week (fruits, veggies, wholegrains, nuts and seeds all count). Plant foods contain different types of fibres and other components such as prebiotics and polyphenols that feed different gut bacteria – and we want diversity for better overall health.2 It doesn’t have to be fresh fruit and veg all the time either, canned and frozen are great too.
Pair these plant foods with other nutritious foods such as healthy fats (e.g. avocado and extra virgin olive oil), dairy or alternatives (fermented dairy like The Culture Co. kefir provides the added benefit of probiotics and live cultures) and proteins such as lean meats, tofu and eggs.
By thinking about how you’re going to incorporate all these delicious and nutritious foods into your diet, you’ll have less room for less-healthy foods, and won’t get that feeling of deprivation as you’re thinking about what your including, rather than what you’re excluding.
2. Exercise regularly!
Exercising doesn’t have to mean intense bootcamp-style sessions, think of it more as moving your body in a way you enjoy – that looks different for everyone, and that’s okay. Yoga, walking the dog, cycling, swimming, running or even gym-type classes done at home are all great – listen to your body and mix it up as needed.
Being active is one of the cornerstones of good health – did you know we should be aiming to be active for at least 30 minutes on most days (ideally every day)?3 If a 30-minute session sounds too much, try breaking it up in to 10-minute sessions through the day.
Research suggests exercise has a positive impact on our immune system by promoting good circulation, which allows the various components of our immune system to move through the body freely and do their job efficiently.4,5 It’s also great for our mental health, helping to reduce stress and also think more clearly!6
Getting active outside when you can is best, that way you’re also getting some vitamin D from the sun which helps to support our immune system.
3. Catch some more (or better quality) zzz’s
This one should be simple as we all love sleep, but sometimes it’s not as easy as it sounds! Getting enough good quality sleep is essential for overall health. Adults should be getting between 7-9 hours of sleep every night.7
If you’re falling short, good sleep hygiene practices could be useful – try to avoid screen use (TV, tablets, phones) for at least 30 minutes before bed; the blue light emitted by these devices delays your body’s internal sleep clock and suppresses the release of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin, making it more difficult to fall asleep.8
Also try to avoid stimulants like caffeine, nicotine and alcohol for 4-6 hours before bed, and make sure you’re getting outside each day, as exposure to natural light, especially in the morning, can help to regulate your sleep cycle.8