It’s fairly typical for most of us to start thinking about making some New Year resolutions or changes to help us become healthier and fitter.
But to see an improvement in our health, we don’t always need to make impossible resolutions. Making one or two small changes that fit in to our everyday lives can really make a difference.
Did you know that people who are physically active have up to half the risk of developing heart disease, stroke, diabetes and some cancers? Physical activity has a positive effect on how you feel, because exercise gets the blood and oxygen flowing to our bodies and brains so helps us think more clearly and stay alert. It makes you feel better.
There is a clear link between physical activity and health, but on average only 30% of adults say they do enough exercise to meet recommended guidelines.
Adults should do at least 30 minutes of physical activity, which makes you slightly out of breath, at least five times a week. Children and young people should aim for 60 minutes.
Being more active doesn’t have to mean joining a gym. It can be built in to everyday life and activities like walking or cycling to work or the shops, taking the stairs instead of the lift or playing in the park with your children. So get your coats and hats on – and go for a brisk walk.
Often the hardest part can be getting started so it’s important to get over the barriers which might be holding you back. If you’re worried about cost, there’s no need to join the gym - walking and dancing are free and count as exercise. If you're struggling to get motivated, try getting active with friends or your family. And if you're worried a medical condition might stop you exercising, talk to your GP for advice on what you can do.
Eating a balanced diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables will help protect against cancer, heart disease and type II diabetes. If your daily diet contains the recommended 5-a-day, it will make you feel better and provide your body with essential vitamins and nutrients.
Having a balanced diet, maintaining a healthy body weight and drinking alcohol to safe limits are crucial to your well-being and overall health, and small changes now can be achieved easily.
Changing how you prepare what you eat could also have unseen benefits. Ready-made meals and processed foods often contain hidden salt, fats and sugars. Check the labels: 15g or more of sugars per 100g and 20g or more of total fat per 100g are both high.
Cooking food at home from scratch will help you improve your diet. Planning meals in advance will also help you to get the balance right.
Drinking more alcohol than recommended increases the likelihood of fatigue, depression, poor sleep and memory loss as well as more serious diseases.
Giving up smoking
I cannot stress how important it is to kick the habit. An estimated 5,000 people die prematurely from smoke related causes in Wales every year and it is estimated that smoking cost the NHS £386 million in 2007/08. People who smoke are more likely to take time off work with illness.
There are encouraging signs that attitudes towards smoking are changing and thanks to the smoking ban less people are subjected to second hand smoke, but 1 in 4 people in Wales continue to be smokers.
Quitting smoking can almost immediately improve your health. For example, within 20 minutes of your last cigarette, your blood pressure and pulse return to normal. After 24 hours, carbon monoxide is out of your body and your lungs start to clear themselves. After three days, you will have more energy and you will find breathing will become easier. And after one year of giving up, your risk of suffering a heart attack is reduced by half.
Giving up can be tricky, especially if you have been smoking for a long time, but one in four adults in Wales is an ex-smoker – so it can be done!
Here are some tips to help you:
- Firstly, be sure that you want to stop and know the reasons why. This will help you prepare and stick to it.
- Get professional help - you don’t have to rely on willpower alone. You are more likely to successfully quit if you use smoking cessation services. Stop Smoking Wales (0800 085 2219) can provide one-to-one or group support.
- Prepare yourself - nicotine withdrawal may make you restless or irritable. The first few days may be difficult but people usually start to feel better after the third or fourth day.
- Many people turn to snacking in place of cigarettes so make sure you fill the fridge with healthy treats so that you avoid gaining weight.
You can find more information and tips on making healthy lifestyle changes on the Health Challenge Wales website or you can call the information line on 0845 606 4050.
Change4Life will also help you make small changes to become fitter and eat better. Visit www.change4life.com or call 0800 100 900.