What’s the first thing you do when you wake up in a morning? What’s the last thing you do before you go to sleep at night? Whilst working from home due to lockdown, how do you take breaks throughout the afternoon? These are all questions that you can ask yourself in order to gain a fresh new perspective for 2021.
From psychological to physiological benefits, a habitual, stay-active routine is healthy for both the mind and body.
To get you started this month, here are some ways that you can promote a healthy and happy routine and start this year as you mean to go on!
1. Cut the caffeine
Gotten used to rolling out of bed in the morning and heading for the kettle? Although gulping down coffee can give you a buzz, that caffeine kick only lasts so long and you’re only going to be brewing up again when it wears off! Too much coffee can cause anxiety, insomnia, digestive issues and fatigue, leaving you more tired than what you were in the first place.
If you’re a bit of a coffee nut, why not switch the coffee for a smooth decaf blend, green tea or an invigorating peppermint tea? Decaf still tastes like coffee, green tea contains minimal amounts of caffeine, and peppermint tea is refreshing for the mind! Not to mention, your breath will smell and feel minty fresh, even if you are behind schedule on brushing your teeth!
2. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day!
- it’s a mantra that has been drilled into us by our mums and dads since we were tiny tots. When you wake up, the blood sugar that your body needs to make your muscles and brain work at their best is usually low and breakfast helps replenish it. Start the day with a portion of juicy fruit for a burst of energy, or crunch down on some granola topped with yogurt.
3. Make a plan for the day ahead
The ‘To-do list’ - where would we be without it? Making a plan for the day ahead can increase our productivity levels by up to 25%. We’re not just talking about the run-of-the-mill work to dos either; how often do you reach out to colleagues? When you get some free time, why not spontaneously suggest having a phone call with one of your teammates?
In an ideal world, we’d all wake up with a positive mindset but not every single day is smiles and rainbows - especially in lockdown! Part of building relationships at work means letting people know how you are feeling if you’re having a bad day or something is on your mind.
4. Avoid frustration from dehydration
When you wake up, flip open the laptop, and you’re on a roll with checking off those ‘To-dos’, no-one (not even a glass of water!) is going to get in your way. But jokes aside, you do need to hydrate to perform at the top of your game throughout the day. Always aim to drink 6-8 glasses (two litres) of water per day. There are water bottles that you can buy which mark out timings to give you an indication of how much water you should be drinking by what time.
5. Improve your posture
This one is for the fidgets who can’t seem to stop kneeling up or sitting scrunched up on your sofa with the laptop on your knee. You may think that you’ve adopted the lotus pose, but sitting cross-legged is far from meditative for your body and blood circulation. Sitting at a desk with your feet rested on the floor with even weight at both hips can help to reduce that crick in your back and alleviate muscle aches and pains. Don’t forget to keep your back straight and relax your shoulders.
Instead of wriggling around in your seat, stand up and move every thirty minutes, even if you’re just nipping downstairs for a cup of your new healthy herbal tea.
6. Get some fresh air on your lunch break
Past research published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine showed that walking in a city park or any green space for as little as 25 minutes is enough to give your brain a breather and boost creative thought bubbles, lightbulb moments and strokes of pure genius.
Find it hard to tear yourself away from your desk? Just sit in your garden whilst eating your lunch so that you’re still getting 30 minutes of Vitamin D from sunlight each day. When you feel up to it during the week, try to go for a half an hour wander in your local park or around the block during your lunch break.
7. Rumbly tum? Do a snack switch!
Chocolate bars, pick ‘n’ mix and shortbread biscuits may be trying to sweet talk you into indulging, but sugary snacks don’t fill you up and a sugar rush only causes you to eat more.
Here are some suggestions for alternative snacks that are both nutritious and delicious:
Potato chip crisps > Veg crisps or veg sticks with hummus
Chocolate bar > Piece of fruit or cereal bar
Biscuits > Sugar-free biscuits or cracker breads with low-fat soft cheese
Ice-cream > Yoghurt
Energy drinks > Herbal teas
8. Nominate a jogging partner
Runner beans, pedal heads, water babies, disco divas, and flexy fanatics - whether it’s running, cycling, swimming, dancing or yoga, we’re a particular bunch when it comes to our preferred type of exercise.
If you are lucky enough to have a jogging partner with a need for speed already, why not make socially-distanced runs fun by setting yourself goalposts (or lampposts!) with lamppost circuit running? In this exercise, you run from one lamppost to the next, then take a break. As time goes on, you see if you can make it between two lampposts without stopping, then three, or more. When you you're not feeling up to exercising every single day, even something as simple as aiming to get at least 30 minutes of movement in a day can start to gently increase activity levels.
9. Keep calm and stay zen!
Now… this is where the lotus pose is acceptable!
Meditation is the habitual process of training your mind to focus and redirect your thoughts. The popularity of meditation is increasing as more people discover its many health benefits. Although there is no clear estimate of how many people are practising meditation, last year one single app had close to 40 million downloads.
Be careful though, meditation doesn’t work for everyone and some studies suggest these practices can be detrimental and anxiety-inducing for about 8 per cent of individuals. Pay attention to what makes you zen - maybe your own personal version of the getting into the lotus pose is writing, doodling or making some handmade birthday cards?
10. Get your plate looking dishy with fishy!
Fish for Omega 3 fats and vegetables that are going to complement one another and tickle your taste buds twice a week!
Oily fish such as sardines and pilchards are good sources of Omega 3 fats, which protect against heart disease. Veggies and vegans can find Omega 3 in walnuts, flaxseeds or chia seeds that can be sprinkled as toppings on salads or cereal. When it comes to meal times, it’s not a race - that’s unless you’re getting in training to appear in an episode of Man Vs. Food!
Take your time when eating to aid digestion and hydration, easier weight maintenance and increased satisfaction with your meals. If one of your New Year’s resolutions is to cut down on wine’o’clock at dinner time, swap the red wine in the evening for a flavourful glass of pomegranate juice that is rich in Vitamin C. Is a G ‘n’ T more your poison? There are plenty of non-alcoholic botanical drinks and fruity, fun sodas out there to try from brands like Three Spirit Drinks and Dalston’s Drinks.
If going completely cold turkey isn't your style, have a go at moderating your drinking instead. The Dietary Guidlines state up to 1 drink per day for women and up to 2 drinks per day for men for adults of legal drinking age.
11. Keep being curious!
Bookworms, sketch fanatics, collage lovers, cake bakers, and all those who just love learning new things and recipes, new experiences can trigger neuron creation and keep your brain strong.
Whether it be an article about new discoveries or insightful research, a recipe to cook up a storm in the kitchen or your new fantasy novel filled with mythical creatures coming to life on the page, 30 minutes of reading a day can reduce the chance of Alzheimer’s disease and keep your brain strong.
12. Get 7 hours of quality ZZZZs
Good night sleep tight, don’t be disturbed by the blue light! Electronic screens emit blue light, which suppresses the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin. If you’re the guilty party of falling asleep with the TV or laptop on, then it could be causing you to wake up in the middle of the night.
Sleep deprivation is associated with a higher risk of obesity, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, heart problems, a decreased attention span, and a diminished memory capacity. Make sure you’re catching forty winks by winding down early enough for 7 - 9 hours of sleep and if you struggle to settle down, read or meditate instead of watching TV? Put yourself on a ban from looking at your phone or mulling over your emails at least ten minutes before bed, then try fifteen minutes before bed the week after, and twenty minutes before bed the week after that.
At the weekend…
Now your weekly schedule has been planned out, you can get scribbling plans in your diary for the weekend.
1. Speak to friends
During these unpredictable times, the temptation can be to hide away and spend way too much time alone. However, getting together with even just a small group of mates online now and again can lift your spirits. Tired of video calls and getting ‘Zoom fatigue?’ Dropping someone a text, email or call could brighten your day - and theirs for that matter!
2. Make quality ‘me time’
Having said that, it's still important to strike a balance between the time you spend with others and 'you time.'
Urge to create? Itching to finish that poem? Or can’t wait to see what happens in the next episode of the new series you have started? Whatever you are passionate about, be it board games, films, writing, gardening, or art, make time for doing the things that you love.
Mental health professionals recommend we spend the bare minimum of least twenty minutes a day doing something for ourselves so if you haven’t managed to do this during the week, that adds up to just less than two hours per weekend.
3. Be a nature baby!
Past research has shown that exposure to nature helps with attention - an effect known as the Attention Restoration Theory, so making outdoor time is important for developing the ability to concentrate.
Don't stay cooped up and surrounded by the same four walls and maybe head to that woodland trail with the bikes for the day?
4. Help others
That warm fuzzy feeling you get from helping others can give you a buzz and that type of positive energy can be sensed by others too. A simple gesture like offering to pick up a more vulnerable neighbour’s groceries whilst you’re out and about or even asking if an elderly neighbour’s dog needs walking may seem like something relatively minor, but it could make a major difference to their day.
Need a dog walking buddy? Your four-pawed friend isn’t much of a conversationalist, so why not see if your neighbour fancies a walk and talk?
5. Switch social media for journaling
How much time do you spend scrolling, posting and hitting the like button? Set a limit on how much time you spend on digital devices and social media. If it’s the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning, or the last thing you do before you go to sleep, why not set some time aside for a quick journal entry about your day or about things that have made you happy so far that week?