We’re all familiar with that sense of failure that comes after taking on a new exercise regime or an ambitious diet, only to find our resolve crumbling shortly after. We think that transforming our lives requires a “Big Commitment”.
However, research has shown that we’re more likely to succeed if we make simple, manageable changes – particularly if we do this from a place of kindness, rather than militant denial. “Change boils down to a heartfelt commitment to be kind to yourself,” says life coach Kerstin Waddell. “Making such a commitment is a small but significant first step that may actually help you to make the change effortlessly, rather than feeling overwhelmed by the prospect.”
In this spirit of sustainable change, our experts have put together a 10-day plan to boost your self-esteem and health.
Day 1: Stand up for your health
Sitting for long periods on a daily basis could be almost as bad for you as smoking. A recent study of over 60 000 Australian males aged 45-64, found that participants who sat for four hours or more daily were much more likely to have serious health conditions.
“Prolonged inactivity leads to weight gain, which increases our risk for diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure), heart disease, degenerative joint disease and certain cancers,” says GP Dr Tracey Garner. “It also leads to poor muscle tone, which can cause back pain and neck pain, while staring at a screen with no break can lead to eye strain and headaches.”
Try to be more active by walking on your lunch-break, and standing during phone calls or while you work.
Day 2: Eat dessert
Indulging a little means you’re less likely to binge. The University of British Columbia, Canada, found that the more we try to ignore something, the more our brain concentrates on it.
Cape Town dietician Debbie Morris agrees. “It is often the foods that we consider taboo that will play on our minds. No one food should be off-limits or banned. Rather, it’s all about moderation.” Be sensible though, and go for healthy options such as fruit salad with frozen yoghurt.
Day 3: Work out to music
A recently published overview of 62 studies showed that music can help us train better, distract us from pain and fatigue, elevate our mood, increase endurance, and reduce perceived effort.
Create an upbeat playlist with songs in which you identify with the singer’s emotional state and viewpoint – this is what determines music’s motivational effect.
Day 4: Drink more tea
After just two cups of rooibos, your antioxidant levels increase measurably, boosting our body’s natural defences. This is thanks to quercetin, a super-antioxidant compound that rooibos contains in abundance. There has even been speculation that rooibos might be better for you than green tea. Consume daily for long-term benefits – preferably black, without sugar.
Day 5: Be selfish
Psychologists at the University of Pennsylvania, USA, found that we’re happiest when we give ourselves permission to act in our own interest, rather than putting the needs of others first.
Waddell recommends making a weekly two-hour appointment with yourself – and sticking to it. She also suggests imagining you are pregnant. “This may be tricky for males but use your imagination: would you find time to rest, exercise, eat healthily? Can you be as caring for yourself as you would for an unborn child? How would you act differently? Start today.”
Day 6: Get some rest
Trouble sleeping? You’re not alone. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine estimates that 10% of the world’s population has a diagnosable sleep disorder.
“Chronic sleep deprivation or poor quality sleep on an ongoing basis has been linked to accelerated ageing, resulting in an increased risk for heart disease and diabetes, as well as anxiety, depression, alcohol abuse and even obesity,” says Dr Garner. To help you get some shut-eye, try our 14 steps to better sleep.
Day 7: Feed your heart
Give this important organ some TLC by incorporating more of what’s good for you in your diet. Morris recommends heart-healthy foods such as oily fish, legumes, fruits, nuts and veggies– try to include at least four of these daily.
Day 8: Get screened
“Just like a car needs regular checks and servicing to avoid expensive repairs later, similarly the body needs preventative care to keep it in good working order,” says Clicks Pharmacist Waheed Abdurahman.
“High blood pressure and cholesterol can lead to a stroke or heart attack, and high sugar levels can damage every organ in your body, including your kidneys and even your skin.” So make sure to schedule regular health checks.
Day 9: Eat the same breakfast every day
Eating the same foods every day could be the secret to weight loss, according to research in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. They found that women who ate the same meal for five consecutive days took in far fewer kilojoules by the end of the week than they normally would.
“Breakfast time often tends to be a rush,” says Morris. “This is a common reason for people to skip breakfast. But if you want to perform optimally, you need to eat breakfast, even if it’s the last thing you feel like.” Why not kill two proverbial birds by standardising your breakfast?
Day 10: Laugh more
If you ever need an excuse to watch a funny five-minute video at work, here it is: results of a study in Psychological Science found that participants whose mood was improved by watching funny videos were more creative, innovative and better problem-solvers afterwards than those who watched sad ones. Not only that, laughter boosts your immune system, reduces blood pressure and stress hormones and even burns kilojoules!
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