Vegan or Paleo? HIIT or Barre? Kale or Matcha? Keeping up with the latest health and fitness trends can leave us feeling confused and overwhelmed. When advice is served up next to Instagram-worthy shots of perfectly toned bodies, we can feel a pang of guilt or envy as well. It’s enough to make you throw your hands in the air, declare it ‘all too hard’ and reach for a packet of chips.
Well, sweep those chips to the side because we’ve got some good news. Healthy living doesn’t need to be confusing. It doesn’t even need to be that difficult. You just need to get back to the basics. Eat well, sleep well and move more. Learn to stress less and keep on top of your health checks. Get these five factors in place, and you can ignore all the online noise and get on with living your best life.
If you burst into Monday with good intentions and falter as the week goes on, you need to establish new habits. The more we do something, the easier it gets. Arm yourself with a list of your favourite lunches and dinners that contain a good balance of protein, complex carbohydrates, healthy fats and fruit/vegetables. Make a list of healthy breakfasts and snacks too. Organise your grocery shopping by rotating these foods on a two-week schedule. Simply aim for a wide variety of foods that are unprocessed or as close as possible to their original state. And allow yourself the occasional treat so you don’t feel deprived.
Health Hack: Do all your food preparation on one day. Make healthy stews, soups, pasta bakes—anything that can be divided into containers and frozen. When you’re hungry and too tired to cook, you’ll have a ready alternative to potentially high calorie takeaways. Likewise with breakfasts. Make pots of oats and chia seeds soaked in your preferred milk and top with fruit. You’ll have a pot of goodness to take out the door with you every morning.
Need some recipe inspiration? The CSIRO Total Wellbeing Diet is respected by leading nutritionists in Australia.
If you need to improve your sleep, try natural methods. Meditation, lavender drops on your pillow, soft music on your phone, reading, melatonin tablets, a warm bath—all of these can help. Speak to your GP if you’re still struggling to get enough shut-eye.
If you’re a new parent, you’ll know that meeting your sleep quota is easier said than done. After a while, it seems normal to push through the fatigue day after day. As your sleep debt builds, you become more susceptible to disorientation, depression and a host of other health issues. Ask family and friends for help. Or engage the services of a night nurse. Keep your obligations to a minimum so you can nap when the baby does.
Health Hack: If you’re super tired, sleep in! Sleep deprivation interferes with ghrelin and leptin levels—two hormones that regulate hunger. If they’re out of whack, you’ll be reaching for energy-dense foods throughout the day and your efforts will be sabotaged. Hit that snooze button and if you normally workout in the morning, swap to evening workouts. And don’t forget your food preparation will help too! When you are tired the last thing you want to do is cook, so pre-prepared meals will make it easy for you to stick with a healthy option.
If you dread jogging or you detest the gym, don’t even attempt it. Force yourself to do exercise you don’t enjoy and you’ll soon find yourself back on the couch. Try tennis, swimming, yoga, brisk walking, team sports, boot camp – anything that gets you moving. Once you’ve found at least three heart-pumping activities you like, do them three times a week for at least 30 minutes. Try to include one activity that involves weight bearing exercise; as we age, we need strength training to maintain strong bones and muscle tone. Weight bearing exercise is anything that forces you to work against gravity, like walking, tennis and dancing.
Health Hack: There are a range of apps that offer quick at-home workouts with little or no equipment needed. Ideal if you are short on time or if you just don’t like leaving the house. So download and get moving! Be sure to check with your doctor before starting a new exercise regime.
We can’t eliminate stress, but we can change our approach to it. We need to stop struggling with the idea that we’re supposed to feel good all the time and learn to sit with uncomfortable emotions. This is the basic premise behind mindfulness, a technique proven to be a powerful treatment tool for depression, anxiety and PTSD. Like any skill, mindfulness takes practice to master, but you’ll soon learn to bring your attention to the present moment and experience the calm it can bring.
It’s also important to nurture positive relationships, as they are crucial to your overall wellbeing. Captain Zac Hanson-Boyd of the Australian Army says, “When one of us is stressed or just having a bad day, we know we can always reach out and talk to each other. Connecting helps us refocus and re-centre ourselves.”
If stress is affecting your work, sleep and relationships, it might be time to speak to your GP for a referral to a psychologist or counsellor. Professional help is not just for those suffering a diagnosed mental illness. Counselling can simply help you clarify your emotions and your goals so you can have a clearer perspective.
Health Hack – Ditch the radio and listen to Mindfulness podcasts when you’re driving, walking, or doing a simple task. There are plenty of great apps and podcasts such as Headspace, so you can find what works for you!
The Federal Department of Health recommends all women between the ages of 18 and 69 have a Pap Smear every two years. Women aged 50-65 should also have a Mammogram at the same time. For men, routine screening of the prostate is not necessary unless you have symptoms. Both sexes should check their own skin regularly for any new spots or changes in the shape or colour of moles. Your doctor may have different recommendations for you if you have specific risk factors for cancer. See cancerscreening.gov.au for more information.
See your dentist every 6-12 months. Even small dental issues and infections can sabotage your overall health. It’s also wise to have regular blood tests to detect any issues with cholesterol or sugars. Don’t put up with aches and pains in joints—get these assessed.
Health Hack: Put reminders in your phone. Add in an alert for one week prior so you have time to make an appointment.
Once you have these five factors in place, you’re less likely to have your head turned by the latest diet or fitness craze. After all, wellness is not a trend. It’s something that needs to be a priority at every stage of your life.