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Body

10 healthy changes to make today

Want to make a real difference to your wellbeing this year? These simple adjustments will help keep you on track every day

1. Do pelvic floor exercises
These are one of the easiest forms of exercise and one of the most important, especially if you’re a mum. Incontinence affects an estimated 1.1 million New Zealanders, but 80 per cent of women with urinary stress incontinence (the most common type affecting women) will be cured with pelvic floor muscle training. “All women who have had a baby should be doing pelvic floor exercises every day for the rest of their lives,” says pelvic floor physiotherapist Liz Childs from Continence NZ. “You should be able to build up to 10 x 10-second holds. Initially, if the muscles are weak, aim for short sets several times a day.”
2. Colour in
Colouring books are child’s play, right? Not at the moment. In a surprising new global trend, adult colouring books have been flying off the presses as grown-ups get their pencils out to combat stress and aid relaxation. Psychologists say colouring in is a mindful activity that helps us to focus our attention in much the same way as meditation. “Mindfulness colouring books are gaining in popularity as this creative activity allows us to focus on the present moment in a systematic way, which can be quite meditative and relaxing,” says health psychologist Iris Fontanilla from the New Zealand Psychological Society.
3. Volunteer
Helping others will help you, too. “Volunteering can help you feel socially connected to others by forming new friendships and networks,” says Fontanilla. “It can improve your social and relationships skills, and the act of being of service and helping others can improve your self-esteem, self-confidence and life satisfaction. Volunteering can also give you a sense of purpose and can take your mind off your worries.” If you’re short on time, then microvolunteering allows you to give back in small chunks of time, often from the convenience of home with phone and internet-based tasks.
4. Measure what you drink
Many of us tally the amount of beer and wine we drink based on how many glasses we empty, but glass sizes vary dramatically so it’s almost impossible to monitor how much you’ve drunk. ‘Standard drink’ glasses featuring a subtle standard drink line can help you keep track . “Over time our portions have crept up without us realising it, and when you look at one standard serve of alcohol it really isn’t that much,” says dietitian Sarah Hanrahan from the New Zealand Nutrition Foundation. “Having that line there is a reminder it’s very easy to slosh in half a glass full that’s equal to two standard serves of alcohol.”
5. Eat more plants
The evidence is stacking up in favour of a plant-based diet, one which emphasises fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, legumes and nuts. Why? Because a plant-based diet is lower in calories and fat and is associated with a reduced risk of heart disease. However, that doesn’t mean you need to give up meat altogether, says dietitian Hanrahan. “It doesn’t mean a totally vegan or vegetarian diet at all; rather, it means there’s an emphasis on the plants. Look at the amount of meat you’re having and remember you don’t need it every single night.”
6. Exercise in short bursts
Experts recommend a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a week for better overall health. Brisk walking, cycling, gardening and even household chores count towards your total. Even small increments of 10 minutes are beneficial. “There’s some evidence frequent short periods are better than a few long periods, as long as the total time meets the guideline,” says Dr James Stinear from the University of Auckland’s Department of Sport and Exercise Science.
7. Stand more sit less
We all need to just sit quietly and relax from time to time, but it seems you can overdo it. According to a growing body of experts, sitting is the new smoking. Spending too much time sitting – at work, in your car or at home on the sofa – increases your risk of diabetes, certain cancers and heart disease, and is also linked to an early death. “Anything you can do to intersperse your sedentary daily life with short bouts of physical activity will have a huge impact on your health and wellbeing,” says Stinear.
8. Turn off your phone before bed
Do you keep your phone by your bed? The blue light emitted from your smartphone can affect your sleep quality. “Light is something that affects our sleep hormones,” says Angela Campbell from the Australasian Sleep Association. “It can supress one of the key hormones that helps us go to sleep: melatonin. If you’re using your device in the evening close to bedtime, the light from your screen may mean it’s harder to get off to sleep.” So ditch your phone and any other screens at least one hour before bed.
9. Add a salad
Life is busy and it’s not always easy to eat enough fruit and veg. In fact, only one in three Kiwi women eat the recommended three serves of vegetables and two serves of fruit every day. Adding a side salad to whatever you’re eating for lunch and dinner is an easy way to up your intake. “You’re reducing your calories, you’re getting all the good things that come with the vegetables and it helps with satiety,” says Hanrahan.
10. Wear a moisturiser with sunscreen
Skin cancer is the most common cancer in New Zealand and the number of people affected is among the highest in the world. Research shows sunscreen dramatically reduces the risk of skin cancer and using sunscreen daily can reduce skin ageing by 24 per cent. Wearing a moisturiser with sunscreen is an easy way to make sure you remember to protect your most sensitive area – your face – every day. “For sun protection we recommend you choose UVA/UVB broad spectrum products with SPF30+ or higher,” says Shayne Nahu from the Cancer Society of New Zealand.

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