3 Healthy changes for a happier year

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Create healthy habits

There is a good chance that you made New Year’s resolutions that sounded something like this: Eat healthier, exercise more, lose weight. There is also a good chance that, like the majority of the population, you’ve already broken them.

The good news is that it is never too late to make changes to your lifestyle for the better – with February being Healthy Lifestyle Awareness Month, now is as good a time as ever.

The link between health and happiness

“There is definitely a link between being healthy and happy,” says Dr Ali Hamdulay, from Metropolitan’s Health division, “According to the latest Profmed Stress Index, the biggest stressor for South African professionals is health, before family and even finances.”

“Cultivating a healthy lifestyle starts by becoming aware of the impact your lifestyle choices have in the long run. Last year Metropolitan’s CSI division undertook a study on the impact of lifestyle diseases on society. Diabetes, hypertension and obesity were identified as the three main avoidable lifestyle diseases that were included in the research.

One striking finding of this research revealed how little people knew about the longer term symptoms and potential costs associated with these diseases. They not only have an impact on your physical wellness, but also your personal and financial wellness  –  long term, they cut into your time, child care, medication, and impact on your employment, family, personal relationships and social relationships, among others,” says Dr Hamdulay.

Prevention is better than cure, so here are Dr Hamdulay’s tips on incorporating healthy habits into your lifestyle:

1. You are what you eat

“If you only make one lifestyle change this year, let it be to your diet,” urges Dr Hamdulay.

“Poor diet is the largest contributing factor to the development of obesity, hypertension and diabetes. Industrialisation, urbanisation and an increasingly pressurised lifestyle have given rise to a high-salt, high-sugar, fast food, processed diet that has become the norm. The result is that people are getting diagnosed with these preventable lifestyle diseases at a faster rate and at younger ages than ever before.”

  • Take ownership of your eating habits: Research, read ingredient labels, ask questions about the food that you are eating. It all starts with awareness.
  • Work with what is affordable and accessible so that you can make a realistic, long-term change. There is no need to succumb to expensive health food trends – simply buy fresh, whole foods wherever possible.
  • Substitute: Find healthy alternatives to unhealthy versions of your favourite foods.
  • Make healthy eating fun. Healthy eating does not need to be bland. Be creative – learn one new recipe a week or try a new vegetable once a week. You might be pleasantly surprised at what you will discover!

2. Manage your stress

In a recent Bloomberg study South Africa was ranked as the second most stressed out country worldwide.

“As a society we do live under an increasing amount of stress, which can exacerbate lifestyle diseases,” says Dr Hamdulay. In this regard, it is important to:

  • Keep the main thing the main thing: Not everything is worth being concerned about, so make a decision to not sweat the small stuff.
  • Set clear boundaries between your work and home life.
  • Start saying “no”. If you have a tendency to bite off more than you can chew, start taking stock of your time and what you can realistically achieve. Knowing your limitations will make saying “no” to every request much easier – and you’ll be able to breathe easier too.
  • Take time every week to unwind by doing something that you really enjoy – whether it is spending time with friends, going for a walk on the beach, or spending an evening watching movies with your partner.

3.  Get moving

“We live largely sedentary lives,” notes Dr Hamdulay. “Getting up off your couch – or office chair – can be instrumental in curbing the onset of some lifestyle diseases. Among others, regular exercise can improve glucose metabolism and insulin function, and help to balance and normalise weight. Of course, there is the added bonus of endorphins that helps improve your mood.”

Dr Hamdulay encourages people to make some simple changes to help get you moving:

  • Make small, incremental changes: Start where you are at and build up your stamina over time, even if it means taking a walk around the block to start off with. A small change is better than no change at all.
  • Choose exercise that fits your lifestyle or a sport that you enjoy – consider joining a sports club to make it more fun and motivating.
  • Set yourself a fitness goal – whether your goal is to complete a five-km fun run or a half marathon, having a goal will help you focus and train.
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