The A-Z of health goals

From striving to increase our daily physical activity to including more zinc in our diets, we could all stand to be a little healthier.

The New Year’s resolution trend has been tried and true for 4000 years, all the way back to Babylonian times where promises were made to the gods to earn good favour. Here, we showcase the health and wellness trends we’re excited to try – right down to putting yourself first and enjoying the little things in life.

Is for alcohol

Forget waiting until Dry July, now is a better time than ever to ditch the bottle. Wellness guru Dr Libby Weaver is an advocate of drinking less, with even moderate amounts of alcohol consumption linked to an increased risk of cancer. Other health benefits of giving up the booze include lower cholesterol, improved blood pressure and a reduction in liver fats, and even limiting how much you drink will lower your risk of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. We know those mid-week wines aren’t good for the liver, and your head won’t thank you for it the next morning. No way, rosé.

Is for be prepared

Do you think your biological clock is ticking but you’re not sure how fast? You’re just one blood test away from finding out. The AMH test – which stands for Anti-Müllerian Hormone – will tell you what your egg supply is like and when you can expect to start menopause, giving you the most accurate insight into your fertility window. It can also be used in fertility treatments, to provide an idea of what dosage you will need and how many eggs you’re likely to produce. You can take the test through your doctor or at a fertility clinic such as Fertility Associates.

Is for calm

‘Keep calm and carry on’ is a phrase you’ll be all too familiar with, but that can be easier said than done when life gives you lemons. Meditation and mindfulness are two words that have been thrown around a lot lately when it comes to de-stressing. Both activities can help people find their centre via meditation, prayer or breathing patterns. A sense of calm is also believed to be triggered when we’re near water, so book in a trip to the beach or take a long shower for clarity. Sleep, socialising, unplugging from social media, taking holidays and expressing gratitude are other popular methods. Oprah Winfrey and Girls star Lena Dunham swear by meditation – and if they can find time in their day then we can too. It’s all about finding the calm in the chaos.

Is for dark chocolate

Calling all chocolate lovers – you don’t have to wait until Easter to get your dark chocolate fix, and you don’t need to feel guilty about it either. With a high cocoa content, dark chocolate contains soluble fibre, iron, magnesium and zinc, and is a fantastic source of antioxidants. Raw, unprocessed cocoa beans are among the highest scoring foods in a measure called Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity, which tests the antioxidant activity in foods. One study found cocoa and dark chocolate contained more antioxidants than other fruits, including blueberries and acai berries. Dark chocolate may also improve blood flow and lower blood pressure, and its bioactive compounds may help protect your skin against the sun.

Is for enjoy the little things

Money can’t buy you happiness. Researchers have investigated whether wealthy people are less likely to relish the small pleasures in life and the answer is, unsurprisingly, yes. The World Happiness Report 2017 found although economic growth in China has seen personal incomes increase almost five-fold over the past 25 years, levels of happiness fell sharply between 1990 and 2005. Statistically, Chinese people are less happy, on average, than they were a quarter of a century ago. Little things like having a hot shower, appreciating a good cup of coffee or stopping to smell the roses may be the key to enjoying life, rather than splurging on that designer handbag.

Is for freezing eggs

Facebook, Google and Apple all offer it as a benefit for female employees, and if having a family is on the cards you might have considered egg-freezing too. The survival rate of freezing and thawing eggs has jumped from 61% to more than 90% over the past few years, as clinics have switched from a slow freezing process to vitrification. After stimulating the ovaries, eggs are collected in a procedure that takes around 30 minutes. A study analysing outcomes from 1500 women who froze their eggs when they were 35 or younger found the chance of having a live birth increased from 15% for those who froze five eggs, to 61% who froze 10 and 85% for women who froze 15 or more.

Is for gum health

Nobody likes visiting the dentist and it certainly doesn’t come cheap, but good oral hygiene and healthy gums can improve your overall health – not to mention keeping those pearly whites bright. A common problem is gum recession, and as it occurs gradually, many people aren’t aware they have it. Aggressive tooth brushing is one of the leading causes of gum recession, as it can cause the tooth enamel to wear away. Fluctuations in female hormones, such as during pregnancy and menopause, can also make gums sensitive, making them more vulnerable to gum recession. Genes too can play a major role, with studies showing 30 per cent of people may be more susceptible to gum disease – regardless of how well they brush or floss.

Is for holiday

Happy hour, anyone? Turns out a tropical island has more benefits than just a post-holiday glow. If you’re after weight loss, better skin and even a higher sex drive then pencilling in a holiday this year should be top of mind. Ditching those priority lists and the nine to five routine while on holiday can also lower production of the stress hormone cortisol. Booking last minute isn’t always the way to scope out deals, either; recent data from a Skyscanner survey showed seven weeks is the optimum time to book for short haul flights, whereas four-and-a-half months in advance is best for long haul destinations.

Is for immunity

Boosting your immune system shouldn’t be a habit kept during cold and flu season in winter, then promptly ignored during the warmer months. Your immune system works hard throughout the year and when working properly, it can protect against minor issues like the common cold to helping prevent cancer. Bad eating habits, chronic stress and not getting enough sleep can all contribute to weakened immunity. Avoid alcohol and sugar if your immune system is down, and eat the rainbow – a diet rich in antioxidant vitamins can boost resistance to infection. Fresh garlic is also a winner for its antiviral and antibacterial properties.

Is for ‘just do it’

Nike’s slogan was coined in 1988 at an agency meeting and today it sticks more than ever. We’re creatures of habit, so the more you schedule exercise into your daily routine and make it a regular occurrence, the less daunting it will be. We all know frequent exercise releases endorphins, and it’s been proven to help alleviate long-term depression. It doesn’t have to be training for a marathon – yoga, walking the dog or cycling are all great ways to get moving. And if you’re not a morning person or can’t stand the thought of a post-work exercise session, try to fit it into your lunch break instead.

Is for keep it clean

A new year means a new you. Swapping your favourite foods for healthy alternatives rather than removing them altogether will help keep your diet goals more realistic. If you’d need a lab technician to help pronounce an ingredient, it most likely needs to be ditched. Use sea salt, which contains slightly less sodium than table salt, if you’re keeping an eye on your sodium levels. Opt for plain popcorn instead of chips and swap sugary granolas for oats, which are full of fibre and a rich source of magnesium and potassium to boot.

Is for love

All you need is love. Humans crave connection, whether that’s through romantic relationships, friendships, family or in the workplace. A report on marriage and health found married people have fewer doctor’s visits and shorter hospital stays. One theory is those in healthy relationships are more likely to encourage healthy habits between them – when a spouse is honest about your oral hygiene you’re more likely to regularly floss, for example. Lower blood pressure, better stress management and fewer colds are the other reported benefits of relationships. So spreading a little love could be the key to a healthier 2018.

Is for mantra

The word mantra comes from Sanskrit, the primary language of Hinduism, and means a sacred message or text, charm, spell or counsel. During meditation a mantra is a phrase repeated over and over to keep the brain focused. Chakra mantras in meditation help to clear your energy pathways with the aim to thrive, not just survive, in life. In turn it helps to create positive physical, mental, emotional and spiritual change. Cleansing mantras correspond to one of the seven chakras in your body, and choosing one sets the tone for your meditation. The popular mantra ‘Om’ is believed to help reduce stress, improve concentration, balance emotions, and relieve symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.

Is for nurture your brain

Your gastrointestinal system is known as the second brain. Poor gut health may contribute to neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. Research has suggested depression and anxiety also correlate with poor gut health. Stay as close to natural, organic food as possible and avoid saturated fats, which can increase cholesterol and consequently impair brain function. An afternoon nap isn’t a bad idea, either; studies have proven a short nap, lasting between 20 and 30 minutes, can improve cognitive function, while taking just a few minutes to rest your eyes can improve short-term memory and mood.

Is for ovarian check

Keeping on top of your gynaecological health should be first on your list of resolutions. Around 8% of pre-menopausal women develop significant ovarian cysts that need treatment, and your risk of ovarian cancer rises as you age – the cancer occurs mostly in women over 40 and more than half of cases occur before a woman is 65. Ovarian cancer may not cause noticeable symptoms in the early stages, but some things to look out for are pelvic pain, bloating, weight loss without explanation, and pain during sex.

Is for playlist

A compilation of your favourite feel-good tunes will do more than just stimulate brain activity. Listening to a music playlist may help running performance, boost workout motivation and enhance endurance. A 2017 study showed music has real and measureable positive effects for dementia. Research concluded that among sensory simulation interventions, including acupressure and aromatherapy, the only convincingly effective intervention for reducing behavioural symptoms was music therapy. If you’ve got a ‘no singing at the dinner table’ rule, it might need to go – one study found playing soft music and dimming the lights during a meal can help people slow down while eating and ultimately consume less.

Is for quit smoking

Even if it’s social smoking. The risk of heart disease, lung cancer and stroke should be enough reason to kick the habit to the curb. Withdrawal symptoms – including irritability, anxiety and increased appetite – tend to put people off quitting and can lead to smokers relapsing. But health benefits kick in as little as an hour after putting out a cigarette, with blood pressure dropping and circulation improving. After 12 hours, levels of carbon monoxide in the bloodstream drop dramatically. Not to mention quitting puts the brake on wrinkles and helps reverse teeth stains.

Is for read

One of the seven habits of highly successful people, according to a socio-economist who studied them for 25 years, is that they read. The study surveyed more than 5000 people globally, including multimillionaires. Those who read seven or more books annually were 122 per cent more likely to be millionaires as opposed to those who read three or less. If it’s a resolution of yours to read more this year, stick to the classic paperback – one study found reading from a screen can slow you down by 20 to 30 per cent. Literary fiction has also been linked to increased empathy in people. And as Dr Seuss wisely wrote, “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”

Is for superfoods

We hear the term ‘superfood’ all the time… but what actually qualifies an item for such a grand title? The term refers to foods with an ability to affect more target functions of the body than those that just aid survival – so you don’t have to shell out for fancy ingredients like goji berries to get the benefits. Also considered superfoods are: pumpkin, which is high in fibre and vitamin A; a cup of black beans, which is full of antioxidants and contains approximately 15g of protein; oats, because they’re a rich source of polyphenols; and tomatoes, which contain lycopene, an antioxidant that could protect the skin from harmful UV rays. Papaya and watermelon are considered superfoods too.

Is for tiredness

Early bird or a night owl? Don’t settle for feeling fatigued this year; if you’re exhausted more often than not, simple changes might make a difference. One of the main culprits of fatigue is an imbalance of macronutrients, so add coconut oil, avocados, eggs and salmon to your diet for increased energy. Deficiencies of iron, vitamin D and vitamin B can be checked with a simple blood test, while low thyroid function is also a common curse for low energy levels. Breathing better is important for quality sleep so if you’re prone to allergies or colds use nasal sprays, invest in allergen-free bedding, or use a humidifier in your bedroom.

Is for unplug

Living in the moment rather than through our never-ending devices, aka the digital diet, is the way to go if your resolution is to be more present. A study has shown even the mere presence of a mobile phone is distracting enough to impede concentration and mental tasks, and browsing light-emitting devices at bedtime disrupts sleep. Turn off email notifications once you’ve left the office, swap out your phone for a book, or plan a getaway to a place with little to no Wi-Fi – a summer hike may be the perfect way to detox while seeing more of our beautiful country.

Is for volunteer

Only by giving are you able to receive more than you already have. Volunteering is a great way to engage with your community, spread some cheer and help those in need. It helps us to feel more connected to others and increases our social network. Research has shown one in 10 adults admit to having no close friends, so volunteering can be one method to help combat loneliness. People who volunteer may also be at a lower risk of dementia as they age. Whether your charity of choice is the Salvation Army, the Cancer Society or the SPCA, there’s plenty to choose from, with almost 28,000 charities in New Zealand in need of support.

Is for water

It makes up 60 per cent of us, yet not nearly enough of us are having those all-important eight glasses a day. The kidneys use water to get rid of waste products, and if you’re dehydrated, the kidneys won’t have the amount of fluid they need to properly do their job. Interestingly, the increased consumption of bottled water, which doesn’t contain fluoride, has been linked to an increase in dental cavities – so tap water is the way to go. Drinking water contributes to speeding up weight loss, too. A German study found partcipants increased their metabolic rates by 30% after consuming 500ml of water.

Is for xtend barre

If you ever dreamed as a child of being a ballerina one day, Xtend Barre might be your new best friend – and a chance to let that inner dancer loose. Combining ballet moves with the intense core conditioning of Pilates, it’s great for strength, toning, flexibility, energy and endurance to target trouble spots and improve posture – and you don’t need any dance experience to get a great workout. It involves arm exercises with small weights and floor mats for ab workouts and, of course, arabesques, leg lifts and ball squeezes. Why not set the barre high this year?

Is for you

It’s all too easy to put others’ needs before your own, but it’s so important to take a moment out of daily life for some me-time – and not feel guilty about it. Becoming consumed in your relationship by focusing on pleasing your other half’s needs and neglecting your own means two people are working on sustaining only one. Learn to say no, whether it be in the workplace, family commitments or socialising with friends so you haven’t overextended yourself. Run a bath, light a candle, read a book. You are not required to set yourself on fire to keep others warm.

Is for zinc

You might slather it across your nose in the summertime, but zinc is necessary for the proper growth and maintenance of the human body and can be found everywhere – right down to the zinc citrate in your toothpaste or mouthwash. Zinc can boost the immune system and helps treat asthma, diabetes and high blood pressure. It can also ease skin concerns such as acne and eczema. Get your fix by upping your intake of meats, seafood, nuts, legumes, wholegrains and dairy products, which tend to have high levels of zinc, and in turn benefit your overall wellbeing.

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