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Increase Your Chances of Success by Adopting a Realistic Approach to Your Health Regime

Article from The Irish Times, 4 Jan 2011, by Carol Ryan

New Year, New You

Increase Your Chances of Success by Adopting a Realistic Approach to Your Health Regime

Are you busy making resolutions to be happier, healthier and thinner this time next year? The new year brings fresh hope and motivation, making it the perfect time for taking stock of the last 12 months and perhaps setting some new aspirations for the months ahead.

After the Christmas onslaught many will be embarking on crash diets, but why not take a more holistic approach to your health this year and aim to improve your fitness levels and all-round physical and mental health?

Here, various health experts offer their top tips on how to be healthy and happy in 2011.

1. Take Up a New Activity

“Make 2011 a year of trying new sports,” says personal trainer Karl Henry. “We tend to get cocooned in a little comfort zone and stop trying new things, but this year try a new sport every month and you might find something you like. We have an incredible sports scene in this country. Ireland has become known for having one of the best surfing scenes in the world or you could try hillwalking, kite surfing, climbing walls, and mountain biking”.

2. Ditch the Crash Diet

Making small changes to what you eat is the key to long-term weight loss. “This year, make a resolution that will last instead of the usual post-Christmas rapid weight loss where you are looking for the easiest, fastest way to lose weight,” says Henry.

Make small changes all the way through the year as opposed to a drastic quick fix. A great small change is to cut out white carbohydrates. Replace white bread, rice, pasta and potatoes with brown bread, brown rice, brown pasta and sweet potatoes.

“It will help you lose weight, you will lose inches off your stomach because there will be less bloating and you will have more energy during the day,” he says.

3. Educate Yourself About Alcohol

People should educate themselves about the alcohol strengths in different beverages. “The price of alcohol has gone down dramatically and it is often the very strong alcoholic drinks that are cheaper,” says Trinity College public health specialist Prof Tom O’Dowd. “It is important that people start looking at the alcohol content in what they are drinking. Some of the modern beers are very strong and New World wines can have 14 per cent alcohol content. A 12 per cent bottle of wine has around 8 units of alcohol in it and a 14 per cent Australian wine may have 10 units. That is a lot of extra alcohol. It is a bit like hidden calories in food, the hidden alcohol in drink.”

4. Get Involved in Communities, Societies and Clubs

“People should look after their mental health this year,” says Prof O’Dowd.

“There is a lot of anxiety about the economy, emigration is back and that has always taken a severe toll on families. I think one way that is probably as good as any for looking after your mental health is to join a club or society. People who are members of churches, clubs, political parties have better overall physical and mental health.”

5. Learn How to Meditate

“My number one tip would be to learn to meditate. Everyone in the Western world should know how to,” says Galway-based GP Pat Harrold.

“Most people don’t spend any time in their own heads at all. They are stressed and everyone is telling them what to do, what to think. But just tune into the silence that is inside you. It is great for stress reduction, lowering blood pressure. It’s good for the cardiovascular system, good for your mental health.

“Also, stop listening to the news and listen to music instead. The constant stream of problems is not good for you. Most people have enough to worry about themselves.”

6. Exercise With a Friend

“One of the challenges for a lot of people with exercise is getting out the front door,” says DCU exercise expert Giles Warrington.

“You might finish work and it looks a bit cold so you say ‘I’m not going to do that’, but if you are exercising with someone you have to turn up. There are lots of meet-and-train groups springing up around the country, or if you have a friend or neighbour with the same goals you can make an exercise contract with them.”

7. Think About What You’re Eating

“We hear a lot about mindfulness, being in the present, and that can also be applied to food,” says dietitian Paula Mee. “We passively over-consume calories by not being mindful. So when we are out socialising, we can pick at things all evening, taking in calories we don’t need. In 2011, maybe focus on how you can be mindful around food. Try to make your food really attractive to the eye. Be really present when you are eating it. That means not eating in front of the TV and just pushing the food through the system.”

8. Adopt a Balanced Diet

“Keep your weight within the desirable range to reduce your likelihood of developing diabetes,” says Mee. “There is a lot written about sugar and diabetes now, but it is not about sugars alone, it is about overall balance in your diet. Yes, people do need to be aware that too much sugar will cause weight gain and it is the actual weight gain that puts you at increased risk of developing diabetes.”

9. Become More Resilient

After a challenging 2010, psychologist Allison Keating would like to see people developing greater resilience. “How you respond to challenges and disappointments will have a major impact on your overall health. Not just your mental health but also your physical health. Resilience will be helpful with things like job loss or money problems. To develop resilience, you need to learn how to manage your emotions in a very strategic way and become more open to new experiences. People who are resilient display these kinds of characteristics and it gives them leverage in very difficult circumstances.”

10. Think Positively, Reject Negativity

The amount of negativity creeping into daily conversations and people’s thought processes is bad for physical and mental health. To counter this, Keating advises that we cultivate positive thinking and contain the negatives. “Research shows that optimists live seven years longer than someone in a negative state. We have a negativity bias in our brains so it takes effort to actively think in a more positive way. The first thing you could do is what psychologists call ‘savouring’. Buy a journal and at the end of every day write down three positive things that happened. It could be that it was a sunny day or a nice phone call, that kind of thing. What you are doing is training your mind to become more aware of the positives.” ARE YOU BUSY making resolutions to be happier, healthier and thinner this time next year? The new year brings fresh hope and motivation, making it the perfect time for taking stock of the last 12 months and perhaps setting some new aspirations for the months ahead.

After the Christmas onslaught many will be embarking on crash diets, but why not take a more holistic approach to your health this year and aim to improve your fitness levels and all-round physical and mental health?