How to be happier and healthier
Whether it’s the latest health craze on TikTok or your favourite fitness influencer has the new must-do workout routine, it’s fair to say that the majority of us are on the lookout for the next best thing that will keep us happier and healthier for longer.
But with the average person in the UK working a 36-hour week, can you realistically commit to that new (and expensive) exercise bike you’ve been eyeing up or that online fitness class subscription your friends are raving about?
Deep tissue and remedial massage therapy can be key in developing a happier, healthier lifestyle, but what about tactics that you can adopt at home or in your own time? Well, we might just have what you’ve been looking for with these six simple steps for a happier and healthier life.
Take an early morning walk
Getting up an extra 20-30 minutes before your alarm might not be the most appealing idea. In fact, most of us would probably prefer to hit snooze rather than lace up a pair of trainers and go for an early morning walk. But before you shelve this idea and start scrolling, take a moment to consider the amazing health benefits an early morning walk could add to your life.
Firstly walking is free and it’s something that most of us can do. Walking regularly for at least 20-30 minutes a day will not only help to improve muscle tone and fitness, but it’s also really good for our brains. A recent study found that breaking up periods of sitting with exercise, like walking, can boost our brain’s ability to problem solve and even improve our working memory. There is also evidence that walking outside is better for our creative thinking, blood pressure, stress, nervous and immune system than simply walking on a treadmill. For those of you who enjoy the 12-3-30 workout but are getting bored of the gym now is your chance to try brisk hill walking outside.
Walking any time of day is good for us, but walking in the morning is particularly good because it exposes us to light. Exposure to bright light, specifically blue light, in the morning helps to suppress the production of melatonin – the hormone that tells our bodies when to go to sleep. The earlier we are exposed to daylight in the day, the better effect this can have on the quantity and quality of our sleep because being exposed to light resets our internal body clock which then makes it easier for us to go to sleep in the evenings.
If that’s not enough to get you reaching for your walking boots then you should also know that daily walks were the exercise of choice for some of history’s greatest minds including Albert Einstein and Charles Darwin, of which the latter went for three, 45-minute walks a day.
Stand on one leg
To put it simply, standing on one leg has some surprising health benefits. When we stand on one leg we are actually giving our brains a workout. That’s because when we balance on one leg we are asking our brains to do the complex job of interpreting the information coming from our muscles, inner ear and our eyes at the same time in order to keep us upright.
A study of 2984 53-year-olds examined the association between grip strength, chair rise speed and standing balance time and all cause mortality over a 13-year period. What they found was that those participants who were unable to perform the tests had a higher mortality rate than those who did and did it well.
Well, if you have good balance as you get older you are less likely to have a fall that could cause a serious injury. However another argument is that poor balance could actually be a marker for other things the brain might be struggling with, such as managing your hormones or your cardiovascular system.
The good news is you can improve your balance, and you needn’t put yourself through a grueling yoga class to do it. All you have to do is simply stand on one leg. That’s it. You can do it whilst you brush your teeth, or whilst boiling the kettle and the longer you can do it without wobbling, the better.
It’s said that being active every day leads to a happier and healthier lifestyle, and the evidence does point in that direction. However, for most of us, the pressure of modern life simply doesn’t allow us to fit in the 150 minutes of exercises recommended by the NHS. So what if we don’t have time to fit in the five, 30-minute runs or the three exercise classes at the gym each week? Well, there might just be an answer and it’s called Exercise Snacking.
Like the name suggests, instead of doing one long bout of exercise each day you break it up into smaller bitesize chunks, say 10-minutes at a time. If you have to spend most of your working day sitting then breaking up your day with small bouts of moderate intensity exercise has been found to help improve your blood sugar, especially if you have a high BMI (Body Mass Index). Equally, the type of exercise we do is important.
Choosing to perform resistance exercises like push ups or squats can not only help strengthen your body, but also your brain. Exercises like these increase and decrease blood flow and in turn challenge the inner linings of the arteries that supply blood to the brain. There is even evidence that some areas of the brain such as the hippocampus actually receive increased blood flow during acute bouts of exercise and this could help to reduce cognitive decline.
Most of us, whether we are comfortable admitting it or not, have sedentary lifestyles. In the UK it’s estimated that many adults sit for around 9 hours a day. Sitting in itself isn’t the problem, but sitting for long periods without moving and being inactive is. Long periods of inactivity can slow the body’s metabolism down and this affects our ability to break down fat, regulate our blood sugar and our blood pressure.
As early as the 1950’s, researchers found that double decker bus drivers were twice as likely to have heart attacks than their bus conductor colleagues. The drivers spend the majority of their shift sitting, whilst the conductors would climb about 600 stairs a day. But if your job demands that you sit in front of a screen for most of the day or requires you to do a lot of driving, what can you do? Well, there is one simple solution, and that is to stand up. Yes. Breaking up periods of inactivity with standing is really good for your body. It raises your heart rate, kick starts your metabolism and gets your body engaging with gravity which is really good for bone density.
In 2013, researchers compared the effects of an afternoon of sitting with an afternoon at a standing desk in normal desk-based workers in a real office environment. There was no difference in step count between the two afternoons but by just simply standing up they found that the office workers’ blood sugar levels dropped and their energy expenditure was 174 kcals greater than when they were sitting. If that’s not enough for you then there is plenty of evidence out there on the negative effects bedrest and lack of engagement with gravity has on the body as demonstrated in bed-bound hospital patients and astronauts.
So the next time you have to write a report or take a meeting try doing it on your feet and reap the benefits of standing up.
Meditation or Mindfulness is a practice that originates in Buhdist traditions. In its most simplest form the practice of mindfulness is about being present in the moment. The practice of mindfulness has become incredibly popular, with big companies including Apple offering courses and onsite meditation rooms to their employees to help boost morale and productivity. But how does it work?
There are so many day-to-day distractions in our lives; some of these are external, like the sound of a car or the banging of a door, and some are internal like our emotions and feelings. Meditation is a practice, the act of taking the time to step outside of our everyday life to allow our minds to become more present in the moment.
The average person takes roughly 14 breaths a minute, but in moments of stress most of us will tend to hold our breath. Holding our breath in moments of stress or anxiety limits the oxygen supply needed to make those all-important decisions. Learning to slow down our breathing and take deeper meaningful breaths can be a really effective way to control anxiety and chronic pain which are amplified by stress. Some stress is necessary, especially when we are responding to an acute threat – like jumping out of the path of an oncoming vehicle. In those moments our brains release cortisol which is helpful when we need bursts of energy, but long term exposure to cortisol can damage areas of the brain like the hippocampus, and it’s this area of our brain that is responsible for learning and memory.
In 2002, researchers in Wisconsin, USA asked Buddhist monks to alternate between one minute of meditation on compassion followed by 30 seconds of rest, completing this task four times in succession. What they found was that the monks’ brains produced high amplitudes of gamma oscillations which lasted minutes. Gamma oscillations, one of five different types of brain waves, are associated with flashes of insight or “ah-ha!” moments, which usually last seconds.
So how do you start meditating? There are a number of ways to try meditation from mobile apps to joining a yoga class, but if that isn’t for you, you could try to just sit for one minute and do a ‘4-6’ breathing technique. Breathe in for the count of four and exhale for the count of six.
Laugh once a day
There is nothing like a good belly laugh, and for those of you who regularly do it you will be glad to know that it has some great health benefits.
When we laugh our brains release endorphins – ‘feel-good hormones’ that lift our mood. One hormone in particular is oxytocin which helps to combat stress and anxiety. Laughing – or moreover understanding a joke – leads to a moment of insight, and there is evidence that the same area of the brain that is associated with humour comprehension also overlaps with the areas of our brains that deal with problem solving.
So, the next time you feel guilty for sitting down on the sofa to watch your favourite comedy instead of hitting the gym just remind yourself that you’re giving your brain a bit of a workout.
The bottom line
So there you have it, some simple changes you can make to your day-to-day to improve your health and wellbeing.
What is important to remember, though, is that none of the advice in this article should substitute medical care. If you have a serious health condition, physical or mental, you should discuss any changes in your exercise regime with your doctor before trying something new.