Best Health

YOU SAY YOU WANT A RESOLUTION?

The key to successful change is to start small. In that vein, here are 10 tiny steps to get you on a path to wellness.

- By JILL BUCHNER

STRETCH IT OUT

When you wake up, give your muscles a stretch to reconnect with your body and how it’s feeling. Ask yourself, Are there any tight areas? How is your neck feeling? What about your shoulders and back? “It’s just about spending time in your own body rather than focusing on everything else you’re doing that day,” says Dr. Eric Viegas, a naturopath­ic doctor at Ottawa Holistic Wellness.

MAKE OVERNIGHT OATS

It may seem more convenient to grab a coffee in the morning and go, but Dr. Viegas warns that skipping breakfast creates dips in blood sugar and makes you more likely to overeat later in the day. By prepping oats the night before, there are no excuses when mornings get hectic. Simply submerge quick oats in just enough water to cover them and add chia, flax or hemp seeds for protein and maple syrup or berries for sweetness.

SPEND TIME OUTSIDE EVERY DAY

Dr. Viegas recommends heading outdoors to be mindful and to reconnect with yourself and nature, but the benefits don’t end there. Being outside ensures that you get a dose of vitamin D from sunlight, encourages you to keep up your workout a little longer (a trail is so much more motivating than a treadmill!) and helps keep your circadian rhythms in check so that you sleep well at night. Research also shows that exercising outdoors boosts mental health.

ELIMINATE UNNECESSAR­Y INGREDIENT­S

This year, forget about calories on nutrition panels and focus on ingredient­s instead. Registered holistic nutritioni­st Andrea Donsky simply wants you to eat foods that contain only real ingredient­s (that go by names you can comprehend on an ingredient list). In other words, you don’t want to eat processed foods that contain artificial colours and flavours, aspartame, MSG, trans fats and high-fructose corn syrup. Those additives have been linked to everything from headaches to obesity to diabetes. Donsky, who is coauthor of Unjunk Your Junk Food and founder of NaturallyS­avvy.com, says this doesn’t mean that treats are off limits. If you decide to indulge your sweet tooth, she recommends avoiding artificial sweeteners. Instead, reach for a treat that is naturally sweet or contains unprocesse­d sugar (all in moderation, of course). If you’re craving sugar, it’s OK to have it once in a while, but seek out the real deal, not chemical imitations.”

FOCUS FOR TWO HOURS

Set aside a couple of hours a week to turn off your phone and email notificati­ons and work on a personal goal. Whether you spend Sunday afternoons doing meal prep to adopt healthier eating habits or take some time to read a few chapters in a book that will help you with a career objective, certified coach and registered nurse Callie Bland says that an important aspect of well-being is to focus on one project at a time and be fully present – this ability to focus enhances performanc­e and productivi­ty. “In this day and age, we’re constantly being distracted by devices, and that holds us back from achieving our goals because we’re like ping-pong balls bouncing from one thing to the next,” she says. Putting all your attention toward a single task is a skill that your brain needs to redevelop.

GREEN YOUR WATER

Staying hydrated is vital to keeping your body systems working smoothly. Lemon water may already be a favourite, but if you need a new way to liven up your H2O, Donsky suggests adding refreshing mint chlorophyl­l (available at your local health food store), which gives plants their green colour and contains antioxidan­ts and nutrients like vitamins A, C, E and K. “It’s great for detoxifyin­g the body and promoting digestive health, and it’s a natural deodorizer,” says Donsky.

MAKE TIME TO CONNECT

Health researcher­s are predicting that the next major epidemic could be loneliness. Studies have found that social isolation is associated with poor sleep, elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol and increased rates of mortality. “Connecting with others is important for well-being and helps build resilience to overcome obstacles,” says Bland. Schedule social interactio­ns that will help you connect with people in real ways – and Facebook doesn’t count. Plan a monthly dinner club with a few close friends or schedule a weekly phone call with a family member who lives out of town. “Whatever it is, you need to schedule it into your life,” says Bland. “If it isn’t in your schedule, it’s not a priority.”

RE-EVALUATE YOUR HABITS

We’re creatures of habit, but some of those habits are unproducti­ve and even downright destructiv­e. Wonder if that three-glass-a-night wine habit is bad for you? Bland says to ask yourself how satisfied you are with your well-being afterward. Are you energized? Do you feel more relaxed? Rate how you feel from one to 10, and be honest. The way you rate your daily activities may surprise you. For some people, a weekend Netflix binge might be restorativ­e, while for others, waking up at the crack of dawn for gym workouts could be leaving them feeling drained all day long. You might just find it’s time to make a change that’s healthier for you.

TAKE TIME TO SELF-REFLECT

“Self-reflection is really about asking questions in a non-judgmental way to learn and move forward,” explains Bland. Unfortunat­ely, for many of us, when we think back to the things we’ve done, we end up merely ruminating, going over the same things again and again. But Bland says that the capacity to selfreflec­t improves with practice and is a skill that needs to be developed. Set aside a few minutes at the end of each day to ask yourself these questions:

• What was I grateful for today?

• What triggered or frustrated me?

• How was I feeling?

• Did I satisfy the needs and values I wanted to?

• What would I do differentl­y going forward?

When we learn to be self-reflective, we develop compassion for ourselves. “It shifts us away from being robots and into whole human beings who are able to connect with ourselves,” says Bland.

SET A BEDTIME ALARM

We all know we need to get enough sleep each night, but the evening’s activities have a way of pushing bedtime later and later. Bland suggests setting an alarm for when you want to start your bedtime routine so that it’s non-negotiable. Work back about nine hours from when you have to wake up so that you’ll have 30 minutes to an hour to engage in a daily downtime routine of calming activities, such as drinking a cup of caffeine-free tea, taking a bath or doing a guided meditation from an app like Headspace. “It’s your sleep hygiene time,” says Bland. “You should be turning your body down, not ramping it up.”

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