Health is a human right and if there is any good that came out of these two years of Covid-19 pandemic, it has to be the way it made us prioritise physical and mental health like never before. From paying attention to our diets to cooking our own meals in the lockdown and taking out time for exercise as the world slowed down, our health was our primary focus and as 2021 draws to a close, it’s a good time to look back and to look forward to ring in the New Year 2022 with a sense of positivity and hope while continuing to aspire for better physical and mental health.
Dr Jennifer Prabhu, MD in internal medicine and pediatrics, spills the beans on 5 fitness tips for a healthier you in 2022. If you are looking for a few simple fitness tips to help you achieve those seemingly elusive long-lasting health results, check out these easy tips on diet, exercise, sleep and more.
Tip #1: Eat more plants
Don’t underestimate the power of plants as preventative medicine. There are so many seemingly innocent fruits, veggies, nuts, grains and legumes that pack quite a punch of immunity boosting nutrients.
Is there a better way to start out a new year than with a stronger immune system? Just a few examples- for a natural vitamin C and E kick, make sure you pile on the palak (and other leafy greens like methi, sarson ka saag, laal bhaji) and bring home the broccoli (and gobi and cabbage).
Zap those viruses away with zinc— found in all mushrooms, nuts, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds (til) and of course lentils and beans. Delight in more vitamin D to reduce inflammation- found in most fortified cereals and all plant based milks (soya, almond, oat, rice).
Tip #2: Reduce the inflammation-producing foods in your diet
Many people don’t realise that what you put in your mouth ultimately affects the rest of your body, not just your digestive system. If you suffer from knee pain, acne or headaches (to name a few), it might just be a result of what you eat.
Unfortunately- one of the most pro-inflammatory foods is actually milk and milk products (dahi, butter, cheese, paneer and yes, even ghee). Instead of giving up all your dairy, try just 1-2 dairy free days a week and notice how your body feels the following day.
You will feel lighter, more energized and experience less aches and pains over time. It has been proven that each time people avoided dairy, something positive happened to their bodies.
These days, it is not tough to avoid dairy. Thankfully, there are a plethora of plant-based dairy substitutes out there to help when a craving strikes.
Tip#3: Move it! No really- get up and go
You don’t have to join a fancy gym to reap all the incredible benefits of cardiovascular exercise. Did you know that incorporating just 30-45min a day of heart pumping activity three days a week has a 2-fold impact on heart disease for example?
Increased heart rate means more blood and oxygen supply to all your vital organs including brain (better mood and concentration), intestines (less bloating and acidity) and skin (less oil and acne). A simple rule of thumb to make sure you are putting in the ‘right amount’ of exertion is if you can hold a full conversation while exercising (without feeling breathless).
If you can, you need to push harder! Walking fast will do the trick- no need to run a marathon. If you can’t get outside, there are plenty of free videos on the internet to choose from, for every age and skill level.
Tip# 4: Sleep on it
Another simple lifestyle change that can make a huge impact, is working towards increasing your sleep quality and duration. Poor sleep has been linked to depression and anxiety, obesity, high BP, even a higher risk of infections (i.e.- suppressed immunity).
In the new year, set a goal to improve your ‘sleep hygiene’ and notice a surprising positive impact on many aspects of your life. How to achieve this? If you move your exercise to the evening or night, your sleep will likely be longer and deeper. Even if you just do this 1-2 days a week.
Turn off your ‘devices’ at least one hour before bed. Choose a good book, some calming music, a warm bath or even better – meditate! There are also safe, non-habit forming and natural supplements that can help retrain your body to sleep more efficiently.
Melatonin, Ashwagandha and L-theanine have been proven to have these benefits in many clinical trials. Of course, always consult your doctor before starting any supplement.
Tip #5: Teach an old dog a new trick
It seems almost silly but learning a new skill, taking up a new hobby or even just setting a different long term goal (at home, at work or with family) can start a snowball effect of positive changes. Create a goal and move towards it. Having something to look forward to and be proud of is an enormous mood booster.
In fact, many research studies have found that those people without a hobby are significantly more likely to develop a mood disorder in their lifetime (anxiety, depression, PTSD, ADHD to name a few). Having something to work on makes one feel positive.
Another remarkable benefit of hobbies is in finding like-minded people that share your passion. Building your friend and community support circle is just as important as eating healthy and exercising. So, try something new and different this year- you never know where it might lead you!