Our Feel-Good Guide: 20 Ways To Put A Pep In Your Step In 2021
Begin as you mean to go on with this tip-filled guide
1. Move more
Move over HIIT, and welcome its more achievable cousin, HIIPA, which stands for High-Intensity Incidental Physical Activity. That’s short, sharp bursts of intense movement that can be incorporated into your daily routine — without setting foot in the gym. From climbing stairs as fast as you can to carrying heavy shopping home, or even cleaning the shower at high speed — each of these activities is an opportunity for exercise and the subsequent mental health benefits. In a piece published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, sports scientists from around the world argued that many daily tasks can be considered “high-intensity” physical activity, if they’re done with enough oomph.
2. Harness plant power
Now is a better time than any to make the jump to a plant-based lifestyle. The benefits are many, including reducing the risk of heart disease and the majority of cancers; reducing blood pressure; helping to reverse type 2 diabetes; eliminating diverticular disease and IBS; alleviating rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and multiple sclerosis; improving mental health; helping with menopausal symptoms; and improving skin health. But where to start? First ask yourself: why am I moving towards a plant-based lifestyle? That, whether it’s for health reasons, animal ethics or helping the environment, will inspire you to start and also to keep going. Begin with one meal a day — breakfast is the easiest. Add vegetables as and when you can and make friends with beans and lentils, which are full of fibre and protein.
3. Work out in the morning
Carve out some time each morning that’s solely for you to focus on your fitness goals. You could go for a run, do some Pilates or light cardio, or even go for a walk while listening to a podcast — anything that gets you up, and active. Exercising in the morning could be more achievable than trying to squeeze a workout into your lunch break, or after work. A high-intensity workout late at night can lead to excess cortisol running through your body, which can disrupt your sleep pattern. The power hour isn’t about giving up sleep to get up early, so it’s important to go to bed earlier too.
4. Try a power break
Your body has its own 24-hour clock, known as the “ultradian cycle”, says stress and sleep expert Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, author of The Little Book of Sleep. “You might think you can keep working, shopping, cooking or cleaning for hours on end but, for this cycle to function at its best, you need to take a break every 90 minutes.” She suggests “5555 breathing” — taking five breaths made up of five counts in and five counts out, for five minutes, five times a day. Do it before you eat and sleep, or during the day when you need to refresh your mind or calm down.
5. Switch up long jogs for tempo training
This type of bite-sized training will get lungs working and make it easier to run long distances. If you normally go for a jog at a steady pace at 50 per cent power, try pushing up to 80 per cent for one minute, then back down to 50 per cent. For first-timers, walk for two minutes, then jog for one. Use trees or lamp posts to mark the distances. When you start finding it easy, make the intervals longer.
6. Mind your magnesium
“For your mood, your muscles, your energy and the health of your mind and body, keep your magnesium level up,” says Dr Jenny Goodman, author of new book Staying Alive in Toxic Times. She suggests eating your greens — dark leafy vegetables are the richest source — and considering a supplement: most people have low levels and if you have trouble sleeping, taking a magnesium capsule before bed is great for calming the nerves and muscles.
7. Get cooking with spice
Several spices contain anti-inflammatory compounds which can help treat a range of conditions. A long-time staple of Indian cooking (and now lattes), turmeric contains curcumin, which is as potent as some anti-inflammatory drugs, but without the side effects. Chronic low levels of inflammation are linked to a range of health conditions, including arthritis, anxiety and muscle soreness after exercise, so reducing it with molecules like curcumin can have wide-ranging benefits.
8. Take a cold shower
One clinical trial suggested that taking a short, cold shower two to three times a week could have antidepressant effects. Exposure to cold is known to activate the sympathetic nervous system and increase levels of the brain’s upbeat chemicals beta-endorphins and noradrenaline. “Due to the high density of cold receptors in the skin, a cold shower sends an overwhelming amount of electrical impulses from peripheral nerve endings to the brain, which could have antidepressant effects,” the researchers concluded, also noting that it has a pain-reduction effect, too. You could also try one of the new whole-body cryotherapy chambers springing up in New Zealand where you’re deposited into a cold glass box and exposed to temperatures ranging from -37C to -120C for about three to four minutes (it’s hugely popular in the professional sport circles and now it’s hitting the consumer world).
9. Flow your own way
Try a full-body massage like you’ve never seen it before. Created by lymphatic specialist Desiree De Spong, Flowpresso uses non-invasive compression technology, far infrared heat and deep pressure therapy for a three-in-one sensory experience that’s designed to restore a “flow state” to the body — releasing toxins and promoting relaxation, repair and performance. The secret lies in the physical suit, which is comprised of 22 individual chambers that cover your torso, arms and legs. Each chamber inflates sequentially then deflates, flowing air around the body. Flowpresso is priced from $80, from Ata Bodywork in Mount Maunganui or Auckland.
10. Sip on hibiscus tea
Several studies have shown that drinking a few cups of this sour tea every day can reduce high blood pressure, and often has a significant enough effect to bring it into a normal range. Other smaller studies suggest it may also be beneficial in reducing cholesterol, and be protective for the liver. When taking natural remedies in a tea, it’s important to take note of the strength of the brew. You will need to drink well-brewed tea, which has steeped perhaps for as long as 10 minutes, to get the full range of beneficial compounds.
11. Book your next holiday
Research has found that anticipation of an event, such as your next break away, actually evokes more positive emotions than remembering what happened on your last one. But make it a holiday or an experience you’re anticipating, not buying your next car. A paper published in the journal Psychological Science looked at research on the subject and found that looking forward to events — such as concerts and trips away — makes us happier than buying material goods.
12. Take your supplements
Boost your beauty regime with the new supplements-as-skincare trend, set to be one of 2021’s most prolific beauty movements. Beauty Ceutical Co is New Zealand’s newest beauty collective, founded by Beatrice Thorne, who worked for one of the country’s biggest names in wellness before making the switch to beauty with her range of skin-boosting substances. Beauty Ceutical Co’s first product is its Collagen Beauty Milk in vanilla or natural, $51, which looks to 100 per cent sustainably sourced bovine collagen and Australian oats to stimulate collagen production, protect skin from sun damage, aid muscle growth, support wound-healing and reduce joint pain. Each verdant jar can be refilled at Auckland’s GoodFor refillery, or upcycled for a second lease on life.
13. Make time to meditate
Meditation coach Shirley Zerf says meditation has been proven to have profound health benefits if practised regularly. “It can literally change the way we function,” she says. “It does all kinds of things, physiologically, to the chemicals within your body and your heart rate and blood pressure.” Shirley says there is no one who couldn’t benefit from trying meditation. “Eventually, it gets to the point where there’s nothing left to do but make peace with your mind. That’s what meditation is.” Start small with just three minutes. Sit with your eyes closed, observing your mind. Consider it a three-minute treat for yourself, like having a cup of tea. Meditation works when you do it regularly, so try to do it every day.
14. Be good to your gut
The microbiome is the bacteria, viruses, fungi and other microbes that live in the large intestine or colon. The microbiome is shaped by genetics, but it can also be impacted by lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise. As we get older, having an abundance of ‘good’ bacteria living in our gut is increasingly important to fight infection and prevent the onset of diseases. One of the best ways to improve the “good” microbes in our gut is through eating high-fibre foods, as well as probiotic- and vitamin C-rich food.
15. Ditch the tech
With the term “doom scrolling” firmly in the lexicon — that means endless scrolling through negative news media, social media posts and immersing oneself in general bad vibes — it could be time to try a tech cleanse. Extended time away from our phones and computers, or simply deactivating social media accounts for a while, has a multitude of benefits, from sleeping better to lessening feelings of anxiety, FOMO (fear of missing out) and, most of all, freeing up time for other, more analogue pursuits.
Dr Libby Weaver is a nutritional biochemist, speaker and best-selling author of 13 books. She shares her five top tips for a vital year ahead.
16. Focus on how you feel
When we’re making changes, we tend to want some way of tracking our progress. The problem is, if we only focus on one specific measure — such as body weight (which I don’t encourage as a focus) — it can be easy to get discouraged if we don’t see this change right away. Yet, there could be other indications that what we’re doing is incredibly beneficial, such as improved energy, a glowing complexion, a more even mood, better digestion… the list goes on. Focus on how you are feeling and celebrate the wins along the way.
17. Prioritise sleep
When we don’t get enough sleep, this interferes with our hormonal appetite regulation, not to mention our energy and mood. If you struggle with sleep, consider if this might be driven by too much caffeine or perhaps from bright light and screen use too late into the evening. Or, is your fight-or-flight response in overdrive due to perceptions of pressure and worries? Make it a priority to work out what is disrupting your sleep, as this will help you understand how to improve it.
18. Care for your liver
The liver plays a major role in how you feel, function and look each day. Focus on giving it more of what it loves, and less of what it doesn’t — more whole foods, particularly bitter foods like green leafy vegetables, and less alcohol and highly processed foods.
19. Stay hydrated
Even mild dehydration can lead to symptoms such as headaches and fatigue, so if you struggle to drink enough water, try keeping a water bottle nearby to prompt you to take sips regularly across the day.
20. Just breathe
Diaphragmatic breathing is one of the most effective ways we can reduce stress hormone production — and it’s free! This can have a profound effect on numerous aspects of our health, including energy levels, sleep and digestion, to name just a few. Try taking 20 long, slow breaths, with particular focus on extending the exhalation, and notice if it leads you to experience a sense of calm.