Take charge of your health this year by following these 13 tips for a healthier, happier you:
20 minutes of exercise
We all know the benefits of regular exercise. However, you don’t have to join a gym to get fit. Simply incorporate more physical activity into your daily routine: ignore the lift, take the stairs; park your car a block further and take a brisk walk to the shops; cycle to work; go for a 20-minute walk over lunchtime or after work; play ball with your kids in the park; or take your dog for a daily walk.
5 portions of fruit and veg
Fruit and vegetables are rich in protective nutrients, especially cancer-fighting antioxidants. They are also low in fat, high in fibre (which aids digestion and prevents constipation) and mostly low-GI (which helps to stabilise blood sugar levels and aids weight loss). Though the minimum recommendation is to include at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables in your daily diet, most dieticians recommend up to 9 per day, of which three or four should be fruit and the rest vegetables. This can be done by snacking on three portions of fruit during the day, eating a salad or veggie soup with your lunch and adding three portions of vegetables to your dinner.
Visit your GP this month
Go to your doctor for a general check-up. This will include measuring your blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol levels. Even if you are feeling fit as a fiddle, it's better to get a clean bill of health from your doctor than potentially walking around with an underlying health condition. If you are a woman, take a few minutes every month to do a breast self-examination. Also remember to go for a pap smear and, if you are older than 40, a mammogram. If you are a man over 40, go for that prostate exam – better safe than sorry.
Keep an eye on your BMI
If you want to enjoy good health, it is important that you maintain a healthy, balanced body weight. Overweight and obese people risk many health problems including high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, some types of cancer and depression, whereas underweight people risk osteoporosis, amenorrhoea (absent periods in women) and anaemia (iron deficiency).
To find your healthy weight, calculate your Body Mass Index (BMI). For most adults, a healthy BMI is in the range of 18.5 to 24.9. A number higher than 25 means you need to lose weight, while anything lower than 18.5 means you need to gain weight. The recipe for weight loss is simple: eat less, exercise more. Consult a dietician for a balanced eating plan and check with your GP before you start a new exercise programme.
It's impossible to live a life completely devoid of stress. A moderate amount of stress helps us to get everyday things done and motivates us to achieve our goals. Too much stress, however, can take its toll on our health - both physically and mentally.
If you are feeling overwhelmed, make a list of your responsibilities and prioritise your workload. Focus your energies on what's most important; delegate where possible; and reward yourself for accomplishing things. Exercise regularly; eat healthily; and sleep enough. If you struggle to switch off and relax, take a meditation course, try yoga or start a new hobby.
Stop smoking today
No surprises here! By quitting smoking you will not only save money and your looks, you will also add years to your life: in one year your risk of having a heart attack will have dropped by half; in five years your risk of having a stroke returns to that of a non-smoker; in 10 years your risk of lung cancer will have returned to that of a non-smoker; and in 15 years your risk of heart attack will have returned to that of a non-smoker. Quit today - you can do it!
Sleep 7 to 9 hours
Make sure you get more pillow time this year. Sleep reduces stress, improves your memory, helps to repair your body, helps to keep your heart healthy, reduces anxiety and depression, helps to control your appetite and weight issues, and reduces your risk of type 2 diabetes.
How much sleep you need differs from person to person, with babies and children needing the most. However, on average, adults need 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night.
30 minutes of me-time
Set aside 30 minutes every day to do something special for yourself. Whether it's reading your favourite book or magazine, listening to music, enjoying your hobby, relaxing in a bubble-bath or simply allowing yourself to daydream, take those 30 minutes to switch off from the world and focus on yourself.
Wear your seat belt
Always wear a seat belt and insist that every passenger in your car also wears one - including those sitting on the backseat. If you have a baby or young child, strap them down safely in a child seat - never allow them to stand in the car. Keep to the speed limits at all times and never drink and drive - if you know that you are going to have alcohol, find yourself a designated driver.
Share the love
A healthy family environment is a wonderful gift to children, but it’s important not to make those lifestyle choices an unpleasant duty. Make your time together fun and active. Dance to their ghastly choice of music; be willing to taste their healthy concoctions; switch off the TV and tickle those brains with board games or cards. Let your love shine through in your desire to keep them safe and healthy, but be playful and positive rather than smothering them with it.
Give your time to charity
Take the plunge and give back some of your time to your community. It does not have to be done in one go. Be realistic about the time you can offer, choose a charity or project that appeals to you and get involved. Helping others will not only make you feel better about yourself, you will also make new friends and feel more connected to your community.
Be a clever medical scheme member
Make a few copies of your medical scheme membership card, and give a copy to a family member or friend. Also keep an extra copy in the flap of your handbag and in the cubbyhole of the car. Don’t carry the original around in your wallet, as this could easily be stolen or get lost. You never know when you might need these details in an emergency. If you have your membership number, the hospital can quickly double check with the scheme to verify your identity.
Get some ecotherapy
Communing with nature - even just the sight of green foliage - is a basic mental health requirement, so visit at least one of South Africa's world-renowned nature reserves this year and support conservation at the same time. Green your life even more by trying out one of our EnviroHealth Tips each week.
- (Birgit Ottermann, Health24, updated January 2013)