Busy festive diaries, eating richer food than normal and lack of sleep among other things can take their toll on health and wellbeing. The result? Many of us wake up on January 1st feeling slightly worse for wear.
So what better time than the New Year to take stock and put in place a plan to set you on the right path. Here are some top tips for the healthiest possible 12 months ahead, says Editor Jane Garton.
TWEAK YOUR DIET
A study published last year in The Lancet[i] predicts the Spanish will have the longest life expectancy by 2040 with an average lifespan of 85 years and outliving most of us in the UK by around two and a half years. So why not take a leaf out of their book for 2019 and start to eat the Mediterranean way.
That means following a diet that’s rich in vegetables and fruit, healthy fats from fish, nuts and seeds, plus a little protein and dairy and a small amount of alcohol with a meal. One recent study[ii] even suggests that switching to this way of eating can cut the risk of heart problems by as much as 27%!
TAKE A MULTI-VITAMIN
A good quality daily multi-vitamin and mineral will ensure your vitamin and mineral levels are topped up – especially important if your diet has been less than healthy over the festive period. Plus, if you’re vegetarian or planning on doing Veganuary you may not be getting sufficient vitamin B12 – an essential vitamin for energy, immunity and metabolism.
BOOST YOUR VITAMIN D
Vitamin D, produced naturally on our skin by the action of sunlight, has been shown to be as vital for immunity as it is for bone health[iii]. But, while vitamin D is plentiful in summer, the UK sun is too low in the sky between October and April to have much effect. As a result, many of us fall short of vitamin D, and need to top up levels through diet and supplements.
Oily fish, such as wild salmon, herring, sardines and mackerel, as well as dairy products and egg yolks are the best food sources, but it can be hard to get all the vitamin D we need from food alone. This is why Public Health England suggests we take a daily supplement containing at least 10 micrograms of vitamin D as a precaution between September and April[iv].
POP A PROBIOTIC
As much as 70% of our immune cells are found in the gut, which means a healthy gut is essential to a healthy immune system[v] – especially important In January when colds and flu are rife. Fermented foods, such as yoghurt, kimchi, miso, sauerkraut and mould-ripened cheeses will help encourage a better balance of good and bad bacteria.
Alternatively, a probiotic supplement also helps encourage the activity or growth of good gut bacteria, but make sure it contains Lactobacilli and/or Bifidobacteria: the benefits of these types of good bacteria have been studied the most.
GET HERBAL HELP
Traditional herbal medicines may also help boost New Year health. If you suffer from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) St John’s wort has long been used for low mood and mild anxiety. Feeling stressed and low in energy, Rhodiola rosea is the one to go for, while passion flower may help quieten anxious moments.
January days may be dark and gloomy but that’s no excuse to hibernate under the duvet. Now’s the time to lace up your walking boots and make the most of the winter sunshine. It’s well known that keeping active throughout life is essential for maintaining muscle mass and helping us to live longer. And here’s some good news for non-gym bunnies: regular walking is a great alternative. Aim for at least 30 minutes most days of the week. If that sounds too much like hard work break it up into chunks of 10 to 15 minutes.
The weeks leading up to the New Year and beyond can disrupt normal sleep patterns which in turn can have a knock-on effect on many aspects of health, including immunity[vi]. This can make us more susceptible to the many winter bugs doing the rounds.
Get into a good bedtime routine: try to go to bed and get up at the same time each day and make sure your bedroom is a tech-free zone. Meanwhile, if sleep still eludes you, a cup of camomile tea may help you to drift off into the land of Nod.
[v] [v] Kim M, Galan C, Hill AA, Wu W-J, Fehlner-Peach H, Song HY, Schady D, Bettini ML, Simpson KW, Longman RS, Littman DR, Diehl GE (2018) Immunity July 2018 doi.org/10.1016/j.immuni.2018.05.009