6 (Easy) Habits to Adopt This Year

New Year, new resolutions. But how long will they last? Prioritise your physical and mental health with simple habits that are easy to stick with.

1. Walk when you can.

Want to get from point A to point B? If you have time (and it is safe to do so) then walk. Or walk part of the way and take public transport the rest.

Walking is underrated as a form of exercise. It can improve blood flow, strengthen your heart and immune system, build lung capacity, tone muscles, improve your sleep, increase flexibility and moderate blood pressure. And as a bonus it is free, you do not need expensive gear, and you do not need to get to and from a class.

Beyond the physical benefits, walking is surprisingly good for your brain. It is shown to strengthen your memory, reduce your risk of cognitive decline, and help reduce the symptoms of depression.

“Walking seems to facilitate the formation of new synapses, of new brain connections, and it seems to increase blood flow to the brain,” Professor Tim Olds, a professor of health sciences at the University of South Australia.

Professor Olds recommends adding walking into your life whenever you can. “Walking will get you there, it will just take a bit longer.”

2. Take a piece of fruit to work.

We do not eat nearly enough fruit and vegetables, with only six per cent of us getting the recommended daily amount of fruit (two servings) and vegetables (five servings).

A simple way to increase your intake is to replace one snack a day with a piece of fruit or serving of vegetable. Carrot, celery, snowpeas and capsicum can all be eaten raw, and prepped and chilled beforehand.

That extra serving goes a long way. A study in the British Medical Journal found that for every additional serving of fruit or veg eaten daily, there is a four per cent reduction in the risk of heart disease.

Another bonus? Fruits and vegetables are packed with fibre, which can reduce your risk of heart disease, improve your gut health, lower your cholesterol and help you lose weight.

3. Have (at least) two meat-free days a week.

Eating less meat and more plant foods such as vegetables, fruit, beans, seeds and nuts, can improve heart health, decrease your risk of developing type 2 diabetes and some cancers, and help you maintain a healthy weight. Yet globally, we are eating more meat than ever.

Eating less meat also helps lower greenhouse gas emissions, with a recent UK study finding a vegetarian diet produces 59 per cent fewer emissions than a non-vegetarian one.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, 14.5 per cent of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions are attributable to livestock farming (including diary and wool production), a figure that almost equals emissions produced by the transport sector.

4. Make plans with your friends

Reconnect with friends and turn acquaintances into friends by being the one who makes the arrangements.

Schedule regular time for a walk with a friend, try a new bar or restaurant, or ask a workmate to join you for lunch or coffee. And if you have no time for a physical catch-up, make a phone call.

Friendships often take a back seat to family and work obligations, says science journalist Lydia Denworth, author of Friendship: The Evolution, Biology, and Extraordinary Power of Life’s Fundamental Bond. But that is a mistake, as research suggest friendships help us find purpose and meaning, stay healthy, and live longer.

“Having good, strong friendships is as important for yourself as diet and exercise, and so it is something you need to prioritise,” says Denworth.

“You need your friends to be there down the road,” she says, “But you have to do the work along the way, or they will not be there. Friendship does take some time, but that is kind of good news because (mostly) hanging out with your friends is fun.”

5. Take breaks from the news.

When alarming events unfold before your eyes on news channels and social media, you can end up being in a constant state of high alert.

“Doomscrolling can be addictive and amplify the tragic nature of events,” says psychotherapists Lesley Alderman, writing in the Washington Post.

She advises patients who are feeling depressed by the headlines to read the news just once a day, turn off alerts on their phones, and, if possible, check social media sparingly.

6. Clean between your teeth.

You can use string floss, interdental brushes, or flossettes, but the important thing is to make interdental cleaning a key part of your daily health routine.

While various surveys show an increase of people brushing their teeth at least twice a day, far fewer report cleaning between their teeth daily.

If you do not clean food particles and bacteria that collect in these spaces where your toothbrush cannot reach, you can develop gum disease or tooth decay, which potentially can lead to losing teeth.

Gum disease may also trigger body-wide inflammation, which plays a role in heart disease, diabetes, cancer, respiratory disease and dementia.