With groaning waistbands and a slightly jaded feeling after the excesses of Christmas, what do you think healthcare professionals suggest our New Year Resolutions should be as we head into 2017?
For me, it's easy. Don't have New Year Resolutions.
It is a great time to start thinking about your health, but I am sceptical about the benefits of New Year's resolutions. It is cold, it can be miserable and then we give up everything and feel bad when we fail. Too often we find ourselves reaching for the cookie jar as we have fallen off the wagon and feel bad about ourselves.
How many of us have paid out for gym memberships we don't use, or have watched loved ones and friends read yet another fad diet book in the forlorn hope they will once again be a size 10? We hear tales of unfit people who have taken to pounding the streets only to injure themselves and who have then given up exercise for another year. It is time to stop the madness and pick up the five habits of good health!
1) Walk for at least 30 minutes, five times a week. Walking has enormous health benefits: it is free and open to almost everyone, whatever your age or lifestyle. Walk the children to school, get off the bus two stops early, join a rambling group - the possibilities are endless. Walking helps to strengthen bones and to combat osteoporosis and muscle wasting. It improves the wellbeing of your heart and lungs and, often overlooked, it helps to improve your mental wellbeing: you are 30% less likely to suffer from depression if you go for regular walks. It can also lead to higher self-esteem and perception. If you also can get to a gym so much the better. Make sure you do a mix of cardio work, to build stamina and to protect your heart and lungs, and also weights and resistance work to ensure you preserve your muscle tone and density. The latter is particularly important as we age in order to minimise the risk of slips, trips and falls. If in doubt, talk to your GP first and then one of the team members at your local gym. Swimming is a cost-effective exercise that is suitable for all ages. Regular swimming can reduce the risk of chronic illnesses, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and stroke. It has also been linked to improve wellbeing and mood. Even if you can't swim yet, most pools offer lessons or swimming pool-based aerobic exercises.
2) Forget fad diets - get to know the green grocery shop or aisle instead. Ensuring half of your plate is full of non-starchy vegetables helps you to pack in health-giving antioxidants, fibre and vitamins. It cuts back naturally and without effort on the high-fat, high-calorie aspects of a meal. Try to shop for local seasonal produce at its freshest: not only will you help the environment and your local farmers, but also the produce is at its health-giving best. Also, try to eat a rainbow of fruits and vegetables. Not only does this make for an attractive and tasty plate, but also the antioxidant-rich fruit and vegetables can help to protect against a whole host of problems, including heart disease, cancer, cataracts and even premature ageing.
3) Be mindful - when you walk, when you eat and when you exercise, listen to your body - don't multi-task. Watching the television when we eat means we fail to take notice of the signals that tell us our stomachs are full. While some people prefer listening to music as they run or even swim, by not focussing on our minds, body and breathing as we exercise, we leave no space for the meditational qualities of aerobic exercise. Sometimes this can lead us to pushing our bodies further than they are ready to go and this can lead to injury. The idea of meditation may feel a bit hippy, but just 20 minutes a day - watching your breath rise and fall without trying to control or judge it - has been proven to have many health benefits, including improving both physical and emotional responses to stress.
4) I am Italian. I enjoy wine and, in moderation for most people, there is no harm (and potentially even some benefit) in a nice glass of red wine. I would suggest taking an interest in wine: don't just buy huge amounts of whatever is on offer at your supermarket. Learn about wine - the grape varieties and styles. Did you know cabernet sauvignon grapes have been shown to contain the most antioxidants of the grape varieties? Buy an interesting bottle to savour over several nights. Make sure you do not drink more than 14 units a week and that should be spread out over several days. Drinking more can have negative effects on the heart, kidneys, pancreas and brain, as well as contributing to piling on the pounds.
5) If you love it, don't be tempted to give up on chocolate completely. This may seem like odd advice from a doctor, but I am referring to the good stuff - 70% and higher cocoa content. Chocolate contains iron, magnesium, manganese and potassium, and vitamins A. B1, C, D, and E. It is high in antioxidants and some studies have shown an increase in blood flow. Consumption of cocoa has been shown to potentially reduce levels of "bad" cholesterol (LDL) and raise levels of "good" cholesterol, potentially lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease. I am not suggesting you should eat a bar a day - make it a couple of squares instead. Take your time, eat it mindfully and you will not feel deprived by foregoing lots of sweeter, junk treats.
Oh, and by the way - Happy (and healthy) New Year!