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January is well behind us, and thank goodness. I’m so tired of hearing about all the detoxes and fad diets claiming to improve your health by shrinking your body, when in fact, they do anything but. Is it just me, or is the New Year officially sponsored by diet culture?
Adopt Healthy Behaviours for Improved Health
Instead of all that nonsense, let’s focus on behaviours that can actually promote good health. These are the habits and practices we consistently engage in (or sometimes abstain from), that we know will improve health. For example, eating more fruits and vegetables or taking a brisk walk after a meal. Studies show that people who chose to focus on their health behaviours, rather than weight, can enjoy improved body image and improved blood glucose and cholesterol levels.
How this List Works
This list includes 29 ideas for improving health that don’t include fad diets, punishing exercise, or weird rituals, like perineum sunning (yes, that’s a thing). It’s not an exhaustive list, but it should help you get started. No matter where you are in your health journey, or what sized body you live in, there’s something here for you.
I’ve divided the list into categories based on common health goals, to make it a bit easier to navigate. Bookmark the page so you can come back to it later if now’s not a good time for change, or for when you want some inspiration in the future.
I Want to Improve My Sleep
Good quality sleep is super important to our overall health and well-being. During sleep, our body gets a chance to rest and repair itself. Our heartbeat slows, blood pressure is lowered, metabolic byproducts are cleared from our brain, and muscle and joint tissues are rebuilt. Without adequate sleep, our quality of life can suffer and we may experience, emotional distress, or problems with cognition and memory. Most adults require about 7-9 hours of sleep each night, but individual needs vary.
Here’s a few tips to help improve your sleep health:
- Practice going to bed and waking up at the same time every day. This can be challenging if you don’t have a regular work schedule – read here for tips on good sleep for shift workers.
- Ditch the screens an hour before bed. Put away your laptop or tablet, and turn off the TV. It’s 2020 – your favourite show will be available to stream tomorrow. And yes, your phone counts too! (PS – I suck at this).
- Create a bedtime ritual. We teach our kids that bedtime is approaching by having a routine to get them settled, so why not do the same for yourself? I do a mini “turn down” service just before bed: I set the morning alarm, mist lavender spray on the pillow, and pull back the duvet cover. It’s simple, but it helps my mind shift gears and get settled for bed.
- Create a good sleep environment. Set the temperature in your room to 15-20 degrees Celsius (60-67 Fahrenheit for my American friends). This helps your body temperature lower to initiate sleep. Also, make the room as dark as possible, and if you can, invest in a good quality mattress and some nice sheets.
- Avoid caffeine late in the day. Stimulants, such as caffeine, can interfere with your body’s ability to fall asleep at night. If you find you regularly have low energy later in the day, consider fueling with a snack before you hit the local coffee shop.
I Want to Reduce My Stress
Stress is a major player when it comes to overall health and well-being. Chronic stress can impair our immune system, disrupt digestion, impact our reproductive system, and speed up aging. Many chronic health conditions we already have are worsened by stress, as well. Learning to manage stress can help prevent everyday stressors from building up and impacting our health and well being.
Here are some stress-management practices that might work for you:
- Try adding a daily meditation to your routine. There are lots of meditation Apps that can help you get started and guide you through this practice. Or try a free audio meditation, available here.
- Learn breathing exercises. This is a skill you can practice and use, anytime you feel stress building up. Especially good for when your toddler is having their fifth meltdown of the day because you decided to take of your own socks (true story).
- Go for a brisk walk or try some stretches. Regular movement is a great way to boost your mood and reduce stress (see more about exercise below).
- Talk to a friend or write in a journal. Sometimes we just need to vent, without having our problems solved or be bombarded with advice.
- Do something creative. Painting, drawing, and colouring can be a fun way to relax. Some studies suggest Art Therapy can help people with depression or anxiety.
I Want to Exercise More
Regular movement helps reduce the risk of chronic health conditions, improve stress, and strengthens our muscles and bones. You don’t have to run a marathon, or join Soul Cycle to see benefit either. (But if that’s your jam – go for it!). How much exercise do we actually need? Not as much as you might think. 150 minutes each week, is the recommended amount for adults, which is just over 20 minutes a day.
The best way to add regular movement into your life is to find something you actually enjoy doing. Here’s a few ideas on how you can add some regular movement to your week:
- Take the stairs, park a few blocks away, or get off the bus before your stop. It might not sound like much, but it all adds up.
- Go for a walk after dinner or on your lunch break. Adding a walk to your day within 30 minutes of eating can help lower your blood sugar.
- Try a daily dance party. My current postpartum fitness regime includes a Friday morning dance party with my toddler. It’s fun, and a great way for us to connect. You don’t need a toddler to do this either.
- Not sure what you like? Try ClassPass. If group exercise is your thing, but you’re not really sure what you want to do, or you’re looking to shake things up, this might be your answer. The membership allows you to sign up for different group classes in your area, so you can do yoga one day, and kickboxing the next. I haven’t tried this myself, but I have quite a few friends that enjoy their membership.
- Join a recreational sports team. Here in Vancouver, Urban Rec has various year-round team activities that are a great way to add some activity to your week as well as meet new people.
I Want to Improve my Social Relationships
Social connection is important for both our mental and physical health. People with strong social connections tend to live longer, enjoy reduced stress, and improved immunity.
If you’re looking to increase your offline social network, here’s a few ideas for you:
- Go on a weekly date with your partner. Remember dating? This can be tough with little ones at home, so you might need to get creative. For now, my partner and I do “date night in” on Fridays: dinner and a movie after the girls go to bed.
- Host a games night. A regular games night with friends is a great way to connect and bring out your competitive spirit. Don’t feel like hosting? Meet at the pub for trivia night instead.
- Start or join a book club. Or a stitch-n-bitch. Or maybe just brunch. Either way, a regular meet up with your gal pals is good for the heart and soul.
- Volunteer. There’s no shortage of causes that could use your help. If you do have some time to spare, volunteering to help your community can be a great way to feel connected while giving back.
- Call a friend. Old school, right? I’m sure there’s someone you’ve had on your mind lately that you’ve been meaning to reach out to. Okay, maybe you don’t have their number. Message them on Facebook and arrange for a chat to catch up. Then call them on the phone.
I Want to Nourish My Body Better
Helping people nourish themselves in a way that works best for them is what I do. Everyone’s needs are different, as are our tastes and preferences. That being said, there are a few eating patterns we know are of benefit to almost everyone. There are also aspects beyond the foods we eat that can have an impact on our health too.
Here’s a few nutrition habits to practice for improved health:
- Eat more plants. You’ve probably been hearing this a lot lately – well, that’s because it’s true. You don’t have to become vegetarian or vegan, but eating more vegetables and plant proteins has many benefits. Increased intake of plant-based foods is associated with decreased cardiovascular disease risk.
- Replace saturated fats with unsaturated fats, when you can. This means cooking and baking with olive or avocado oil in favour of butter. Other sources of unsaturated fat include nuts and seeds and fish such as salmon, mackerel, or sardines. Try adding these foods in to your eating pattern as often as you can.
- Share a meal with someone. Family dinner every night of the week just isn’t practical for most people anymore. Still, we know there are benefits to eating together, so strive to share a meal when you can. Sit and have your coffee with your toddler before you leave for work, or try pancakes with the family on Saturday mornings.
- Improve your relationship with food. A healthy relationship with food can help you achieve overall improved health. A recent longitudinal study concluded Intuitive Eating can improve psychological health, and reduce disordered eating behaviours (binge eating, in particular). Consider working with a dietitian trained in Intuitive Eating to help you improve your relationship with food.
- Make a plan. Sometimes we know what we need to do to eat well and nourish our bodies, but we have trouble sticking to it. Making the time (if you have it) to meal plan is a self-care act that can help you have your favourite, nourishing foods available, and in some cases prepared in advance for quick meals. If you’re new to meal planning, read Part 1 and Part 2 of my meal planning guide to learn how it can work for you.
I’ve Tried All That. What Else Can I Do?
Here are a few different ways to improve your health, that you might not have considered before:
- Get frisky regularly. Having sex has been shown to reduce stress, improve heart health, and can help you feel good. Remember to practice safer sex and engage in clear and ongoing consent. Don’t have a partner? No problem – you can always ring your own bell, if you know what I mean.
- Laugh often. Watch a comedy special on Netflix or exchange a few jokes with your kid. (Dad jokes and food puns get extra points). Laughter has been shown to reduce stress hormones, strengthen relationships, and even boost immunity. Funny cat videos exist for a reason.
- Learn something new. Learning a new skill stimulates your brain and keeps life from getting stale – it can also help keep your mind sharp as you age. It could be as simple as learning how to take care of a house plant properly (something I have yet to master), or more challenging like learning a new language.
- Stop the negative self-talk. This one takes time and practice. Try this: when you have a negative thought about yourself, stop and list three things you like about yourself. Overtime, you’ll rewire your brain to replace negative thoughts with positive ones.
Improving your Health Takes Time
When it comes to improving your health, making meaningful change takes time and practice. Aim for progress and not progression. Know that setbacks are normal.
Remember to be kind to yourself and have compassion throughout your health journey.
What health changes are you working toward this year?