We all want to be healthier in the way we live our lives, but knowing what habits can really make a difference can be tricky.
Advice writing from celebrity commentators, detailing their oft-elaborate daily health rituals are and how the implementation of these has helped them to achieve their lofty personal goals, can certainly make for intriguing reading; but for the busier among us in everyday life, such changes might be impractical.
To make healthy lifestyle changes stick, they need to be realistic and compatible with our own individual routines. What a regular day consists of will invariably differ from one person to another. For instance, 20 minutes of yoga followed by 10 minutes of meditation every morning might not be feasible for someone embarking on a 90-minute cross-county commute.
However, there are a few simple techniques that perhaps most of us could stand to incorporate into our routine, particularly in the morning, in order to improve our general health and mental alertness; and you won’t necessarily need to wake up at 5am to implement them.
Incorporate Physical Activity Into Your Commute
For those who don’t have time to put in a session at the gym or on the yoga mat in the morning, finding a way to incorporate walking or jogging into your commute can help to better your cardiovascular health, and provide some valuable mental relaxation space too.
The idea that you can swap some sections of your tube or bus journey for walking or jogging is one we’ve discussed at length in our alternative London tube and New York subway maps. Walking for the last one or two stops of your journey might not amount to a staggering calorie burn total on a daily basis, but accumulated over the course of a week, the activity adds up. Whatever changes you can make, no matter how small, can help to make a difference.
Instead, you might also try cutting out a shuttle link between transport modes if you take one, in order to get some extra physical activity in. Taking the stairs at the station as opposed to the lift is a time-efficient way of increasing your step count too. If you drive to work, you might try parking at a location a little further away than usual so that you can walk or jog the rest of the journey.
Stay Well Stocked for Breakfast
Recently we looked at some of the most calorific offerings to be found on breakfast menus in popular UK chains. Of course eating breakfast out doesn’t automatically make it unhealthy; there are a range of nutritious sensible items available at the chains we covered and many others.
But the notion that you have more control over what goes into your food if you prepare it yourself at home, from scratch, is undisputable. Food outlets and manufacturers who prepare food on your behalf may add extra oil, salt and sugar to improve how food tastes, while from a nutritional standpoint it isn’t necessarily needed.
Getting to the shops and back prior to embarking on your day in the morning is far from convenient for most. So the key to reducing the need to rely on food outlets and quick snacks for breakfast, and to reducing the temptation to skip the meal altogether (not, as we’ve previously discussed, an ideally healthy option) is to make sure your kitchen is stocked with the healthy items you need.
Obviously it’s important to avoid waste too; so don’t just pack your fridge full with food you won’t be able to get through.
During the weekend, try to plan your breakfast meals for the week and buy in the specific ingredients required. Eggs, whole wheat cereals (choose those low in sugar), fruits, porridge oats and natural yoghurt are some examples of breakfast staples that are really useful to have ready access to.
Invest in a Natural Light Alarm Clock
Despite it being the mode of choice for the majority, waking up to a blaring alarm buzzer isn’t the method of starting the day most conducive to peak physical and cognitive function, according to recent research.
A study which appeared in the European Journal of Applied Physiology explored the concept of ‘dawn simulation’, whereby those sleeping are exposed to gradually increasing light for the last 30 minutes of sleep. It found that those who were eased into the day via this method were more mentally and physically alert than those who weren’t.
Perhaps the simplest way to recreate this process is to not set an alarm, sleep with the curtains open and let the morning light naturally fill the room. But because the seasons are changeable and regular working hours are not, and, more pressingly, it might not be the most reliable waking aid, it’s perhaps more practical to use the two approaches in tandem.
Most natural light alarm clocks have a feature whereby they expel light in gradually increasing amounts to encourage the release of hormones in the body (which naturally wake you up) in addition to an audio alarm feature, so that you have a backup and don’t risk sleeping in. If you’re looking to improve your energy levels and productivity, then one of these devices is a sound investment.
If you’re looking for something a little more immediate and less costly, sleep apps, such as the Motion X 24/7 platform we used to undertake our sleep study earlier this year, come with a tool which wakes you at the optimum point in your sleep cycle with a gentle tone.
Observe a Social Media Embargo Before Midday
Logging into your emails when you arrive at the office is an unavoidable necessity for most. But checking Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and company on the way to work is, most typically, not essential; and by foregoing this ritual, you may be improving your mental outlook for the day.
Social media use is becoming ever more increasingly linked with stress. Self-comparison with our peers via these platforms can make us feel pressure to achieve more, and other users may share materials or articles which cause disagreement and negative interactions.
Obviously friend platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram provide a simple and accessible way to stay in touch and are seen as socially vital by many, and ditching them altogether might not be so easy or feasible.
But exercising moderation certainly is. And perhaps the best time to exercise this moderation is in the morning. The more you crowd your morning trying to take in information and detail, the tougher the rest of the day is going to be; and monitoring social media first thing for the latest goings on might serve to trap you in something of an attitudinal quagmire.
To make your mornings more productive, relieve stress and keep yourself mentally on track, try not checking social media until at least half-way through the day, and you’ve had some time to process other goings on. Waiting until your lunch break can before checking can be a useful approach, but if you can wait until you get home in the early evening, even better.
Make a To Do List the Night Before
Going to bed while trying to remember everything you need to do in the morning can prevent you from getting a decent night’s sleep; and making a to-do list in the morning can make your already tight routine even tighter.
The best option is to unload your thoughts onto paper, before you go to bed the night before. This means that you aren’t scrambling around and trying to remember everything while you’re supposed to be drifting off to sleep, and aren’t running the risk of forgetting tasks as you get ready in the morning.
A good technique is to keep the list and a pen closeby to your bed, so that if you do remember something halfway through the night, you can get it down straight away and carry on with the important task of getting a good night’s sleep.