A stress-free journey to your best year yet
New Year, new you. Is that how the saying goes? Well, I don’t agree. We don’t need a new version of ourselves, we all went through years of many different experiences to get where we are and who we are. But what we can do, is to always improve and grow and learn new enjoyable ways to be a happier, healthier and sharper version of ourselves.
The key word there was enjoyable. And I am going to add one more: kind. These changes need to be kind to our body, and kind to our mind. No extreme diets where you dream each night of walking in a field of freshly baked bread, no extreme detox where just the thought of another juice and green powder makes you want to cry and pull your hair out… The beginning of the year is hard enough with the cold weather, the hundreds of ads pressuring you into joining the gym because you had too much Panettone at Christmas, Veganuary, lean body challenge, blah blah blah.
How about we start this year by taking it nice and easy, focusing on incorporating small changes that we think we might enjoy and that will give us that “me time” we all deserve, with the added bonus that it will also support our overall health?
It’s important to understand that setting goals that are both realistic and sustainable is key here. Start by considering resolutions inspired by your own needs and goals. You are unique after all!
It could be something as simple as incorporating more colourful, nutrient-rich foods into your daily meals or finding enjoyable ways to move your body daily. Remember, small changes can lead to big results. A free, simple 30-minute walk outdoors can support your brain function, as standing can help produce BDNF (a protein that supports neuronal growth and differentiation), the walk also exposes you to daylight which supports serotonin (your happy hormone) production, and it gets you moving which helps cardiovascular health.
Nourishing resolutions for your body and mind
Let’s start with nutrition - if that’s the area you think you may need to improve. When you are busy with work, the kids or anything else that life may be throwing at you, it’s easy to overlook the power of what you put on your plate.
Balancing act: Prioritise nutrient-rich foods
Instead of restrictive diets, focus on incorporating a variety of nutrient-rich foods. Think colourful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. In Italy, we say “l’occhio vuole la sua parte”, which means that the eye wants to enjoy things too, and I most certainly enjoy meals that also look pretty because of all the colours and textures in them. For example, I used to make this salad to take to work that had quinoa, rocket, olives, tuna and sweet potatoes, then I used to bring half avocado and add it and lastly, I used to sprinkle it with pomegranate seeds. It looked gorgeous, took minutes to throw together and I couldn’t get enough. The fact that all those ingredients also provided me with antioxidants, healthy fats, proteins and complex carbohydrates was an added bonus!
Start by adding more variety in the vegetables you eat and choose different colours, your gut will thank you for it and since it’s where 70% of your immunity is and is also connected to your brain, this one change would really support you in multiple ways. Win-win.
Hydration: Sipping your way to health
Are you one of those people who struggles to drink regularly throughout the day? It's common to forget about water intake. Personally, I have a big glass of water on my bedstand and when I wake up, I sit on my bed and I drink that before I do anything else. That helps to wake my body up and sets me on the right path to keep drinking throughout the day. I then place that same big glass on my desk, making sure it’s always in my eyeline – and I refill it immediately once I drank it, it’s a reminder that works for me.
Maybe you would prefer to infuse your water with slices of citrus or fresh herbs, to make it tastier and more appealing to you. Or embrace the cold weather and alternate regular water to herbal teas which yes, count towards your daily hydration. My favourite at the moment is Yogi, an affordable, good-quality brand that has so many flavours to choose from. Lastly, monitor your urine during the day and make sure it’s always a pale yellow to ensure you are hydrated.
Harmony in habits: Nutrition meets lifestyle
Remember, it's not just about food, when it comes to health optimisation, we want to think about lifestyle too: sleep, stress, movement…If any of these areas are the ones you want to gently improve, please read on.
Move with joy: Find activities you love
Do you want to move more but hate the gym? Trust me, you are not the only one. Bid farewell to tedious workouts and embrace movement that brings you joy. Maybe it’s dancing (you can’t see me, but I am raising my hand here..), hiking, or yoga, find activities that make you happy and do not feel like a workout. This not only keeps you active but also nurtures your mental well-being.
My favourite app is called FitOn, I started using it during Covid and never stopped. I use it for cardio, strength, even meditations and mobility. There is so much to choose from. I use the free version which is plenty, but you can move on to a paid pro version and access additional features such as recipes etc.
Sleep sanctuary: Prioritise restful nights
I believe sleep is the number one parameter of health, when that goes wrong it can affect everything else: your energy, focus, hunger, mood and so much more…
Create your own cosy sleep sanctuary. Top tips include eating at least three hours before bed, unplugging from screens, dimming the lights in the evening, and indulging in a bedtime routine that signals your body it's time to wind down. Whatever that may look like for you.
Creating your stress toolbox
Stressors will always be there; we can’t get rid of them. But if you are going through a particularly stressful time or generally struggle to handle stressful situations, then maybe this could be the one thing you focus on for now.
In my talks, I always mention the stress toolbox. You create it, filling it with activities that you know work for you when you need to calm down, relax or just quickly access that parasympathetic system of yours (the side of your nervous system that chills you out). Example: my top three tools in my toolbox are hugging dogs or borrowing one thanks to Borrow my Doggy, dancing bachata and walking anywhere where there are trees.
Progress, not perfection: Celebrate small wins
Let me finish by reminding you to celebrate every step forward, no matter how small. Did you choose a nourishing salad over a quick snack? Woohoo! Small victories pave the way for lasting change.
Now go and rock this 2024.
1. Zhou B, Wang Z, Zhu L, Huang G, Li B, Chen C, Huang J, Ma F, Liu TC. Effects of different physical activities on brain-derived neurotrophic factor: A systematic review and bayesian network meta-analysis. Front Aging Neurosci. 2022 Aug 26;14:981002. doi: 10.3389/fnagi.2022.981002. PMID: 36092802; PMCID: PMC9461137.
2. Wang DD, Li Y, Bhupathiraju SN, Rosner BA, Sun Q, Giovannucci EL, Rimm EB, Manson JE, Willett WC, Stampfer MJ, Hu FB. Fruit and Vegetable Intake and Mortality: Results From 2 Prospective Cohort Studies of US Men and Women and a Meta-Analysis of 26 Cohort Studies. Circulation. 2021 Apr 27;143(17):1642-1654. doi: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.120.048996. Epub 2021 Mar 1. PMID: 33641343; PMCID: PMC8084888.
3. Lozupone CA, Stombaugh JI, Gordon JI, Jansson JK, Knight R. Diversity, stability and resilience of the human gut microbiota. Nature. 2012 Sep 13;489(7415):220-30. doi: 10.1038/nature11550. PMID: 22972295; PMCID: PMC3577372.
4. Chaput JP, Dutil C, Featherstone R, Ross R, Giangregorio L, Saunders TJ, Janssen I, Poitras VJ, Kho ME, Ross-White A, Carrier J. Sleep duration and health in adults: an overview of systematic reviews. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2020 Oct;45(10 (Suppl. 2)):S218-S231. doi: 10.1139/apnm-2020-0034. PMID: 33054337.
5. Yaribeygi H, Panahi Y, Sahraei H, Johnston TP, Sahebkar A. The impact of stress on body function: A review. EXCLI J. 2017 Jul 21;16:1057-1072. doi: 10.17179/excli2017-480. PMID: 28900385; PMCID: PMC5579396.
6. Seib C, Whiteside E, Humphreys J, Lee K, Thomas P, Chopin L, Crisp G, O'Keeffe A, Kimlin M, Stacey A, Anderson D. A longitudinal study of the impact of chronic psychological stress on health-related quality of life and clinical biomarkers: protocol for the Australian Healthy Aging of Women Study. BMC Public Health. 2014 Jan 8;14:9. doi: 10.1186/1471-2458-14-9. PMID: 24400870; PMCID: PMC3890545.