Written by Charlotte Haigh MacNeil
Meet our expert: Dr Sandi Mann is a clinical psychologist who specialises in managing emotions.
The New Year is the perfect time to give yourself some goals to make 2016 your healthiest year yet. How you plan to lose weight, eat better, smoke less or drink more water could really affect how likely you are to succeed. Follow these three simple steps to achieve the healthy goals we’ve set out for you below.
Step 1: Avoid all or nothing
“The mistake many of us make is aiming for an unrealistic change,” says Sandi Mann. “For example, you might decide to go on a strict diet or say that you’re not going to touch a drop of alcohol anymore. But this ‘all or nothing’ approach means you’ll feel deprived and are more likely to give up entirely.” Instead, opt for smaller, more realistic changes, such as reducing your portion sizes or cutting out one drink a day.
Step 2: Plan
“Whatever changes you decide to make, think carefully about how you’ll put them into action,” advises Sandi. If you want to get fitter, plan exactly when and how you’ll be more active. Perhaps you could start walking instead of driving to the shops, commit to doing an exercise class, or cycle into town twice a week.
Step 3: Prepare for slip-ups
“Whether you miss yoga or eat two helpings of dessert, having the odd slip is normal,” says Sandi. “The key is to avoid thinking you’ve blown it.” This is a long-term plan so the odd slip up doesn’t matter if you get straight back to being healthy.
Now you know how to set goals, try these tips for monthly inspiration. It's worth it- by the end of 2015 you'll be a fitter and happier you.
Jan- I will start now!
“People who are successful at making healthy changes tend to just get on with it,” says Sandi. “It’s best not to talk too much about it – just pick your main goal be it losing weight, stopping smoking or exercising more and make a start.”
Tip: “If you do want to get friends and family on side for support, choose carefully, as some people may have the urge to trip you up,” says Sandi.
Feb- I will stick to two glasses of red wine
Drinking two small glasses of red wine each day (but no more!) could halve your risk of a heart attack and cut your chances of stroke by 20 per cent. If you drink more than this at the moment, try cutting down by one glass at a time, until you feel able to just drink two glasses.
Tip: Invest in 125ml wine glasses so you know exactly how much you’re drinking – most of us end up having too much because we drink from larger glasses.
Mar- I will sharpen my mind
New experiences generally help to keep your brain younger by forming new pathways and connections. Get into the habit of trying something new each week, even if it’s something as simple as walking a different way to the shops or brushing your teeth with the other hand.
Tip: Learning a language could help to put brain ageing into reverse, according to a recent University of Edinburgh study. And it doesn’t matter how old you are when you start learning.
April- I will boost my flexibility
The stiffer you are, the stiffer your arteries are likely to be, say Japanese researchers. And all this stiffness isn’t great for your heart and mind. So start focusing on flexibility with exercises such as yoga, tai chi or Pilates.
Tip: Can’t get to classes? Stretch at home: join your hands together behind your back and stretch your calf muscles by flexing your feet.
May-I will reduce my sugar intake
To shift those pounds, cutting down on sugar is one of the best ways to avoid unnecessary calories. Some people find it easier to avoid sweet foods altogether which helps to reduce cravings faster.
Tip: “If you always have sugar in your coffee but you don’t take it in tea, try skipping the coffee,” suggests Sandi. And if you tend to want to eat something sweet after dinner, think about what you’ll do instead – perhaps have a piece of fruit or run an indulgent bath to distract yourself.
Jun- I will aim for seven a day
Eating this amount of fruit and veg could reduce your risk of age-related health problems by 42 per cent, according to UK researchers. One portion is equal to a large fruit or a handful of smaller fruit or veg. Start small by adding one more piece of fruit or veg a day every week.
Tip: Whizz up a smoothie made up of half veg, half fruit. Try two handfuls of kale or spinach with a banana and a pear, plus a tablespoon of seeds for protein. Delicious – and four instant helpings of fruit and veg.
Jul- I will become calmer
Long-term stress could lower your immunity, making you more prone to infections. Mindfulness meditation could help bolster your immune system along with easing stress, according to research from the University of Calgary, Canada. Finding the time can be the biggest barrier to this good habit, but try scheduling just ten minutes a say to start with.
Tip: Got a smartphone? Try the free Calm app which takes you through guided meditations.
Aug- I will be more grateful
Writing down five things you’re grateful for every week can improve your outlook on life within just two months – plus you’ll sleep better, according to research from the University of Miami, US.
Tip: Set aside time every week for making your gratitude list – if the time’s in your diary, you’re more likely to keep to it. When you’re feeling down, flick through your lists to give your mood a boost.
Sept- I will eat more fibre
Nearly 90 per cent of British women eat less than the recommended 18g of fibre daily, but new research has shown a high intake could help cut your risk of heart attacks and strokes.
Tip: Swap white for brown – choose wholemeal which has 2.2g of fibre per slice rather than white bread at 0.8g of fibre per slice. This simple switch would lower your risk of heart disease by 20 per cent.
Oct- I will definitely walk more!
Taking 6,000 steps a day could help keep knee osteoarthritis at bay and help you stay mobile for longer, a recent study found. Every step counts – even if it’s just pacing up and down while you’re waiting for the bus.
Tip: Invest in a device that checks your activity levels, and counts your steps and calories burned, such as the Fitbit Flex wristband (£79.99, fitbit.com/uk), Argos and Currys.
Nov- I will laugh more
Having a regular laugh and a giggle could cut your risk of heart disease, found a US study. So try to get into the habit of having a daily belly laugh, whether it’s over your grandchildren’s latest antics or funny cat videos online.
Tip: Invest in a DVD box set of a comedy that always makes you laugh, so you have something on hand for instant cheer. Or make a date to ring a happy friend each week.
Dec- I will help others
Volunteering is good for you! 76 per cent of surveyed volunteers revealed they’re physically healthier, while 78 per cent say it keeps their stress levels down.
Tip: If you don’t have time to volunteer, there are other ways of helping people, even if it’s just popping round to an elderly neighbour for a chat and a cuppa.
- There's more health advice in every issue of Yours magazine, out every fortnight on a Tuesday.