It’s a triumph of hope over experience that every January we clear out the fridge, buy new running shoes and promise ourselves that this will be the year we finally take back control of our expanding waistlines. But the resolve only ever seems to last as long as those last few butter cookies rattling in the tin. Eventually, you cave in, gobble them up, and that’s it for another year.

Research backs this up. In fact, there is a day dedicated to giving up on our New Year’s resolutions. Quitter’s Day is the second Friday in January, so if you’ve already ditched the diet you are not alone.

But adopting a healthier lifestyle as we get older is not something we can afford to ignore. Research published in the British Medical Journal found that having healthy habits in midlife can add up to 10 extra years of disease-free life, what’s known as our healthspan. Instead of abandoning your plans to get fit and healthy and lose weight in 2022, psychologist and author Dr Meg Arroll advises us all to take a gentler approach.

“Make it as easy as possible for yourself,” she suggests. “Think about what is optimal for you and what you can realistically commit to. To really maintain behaviour change your goals need to be specific, measurable, and fit into your daily life.”

With this in mind, here are nine effective and practical midlife health habits that should stick and are proven to deliver results.

1. Wake up to water

This is a quick win if you stack it with taking your supplements. Have a large glass of water in the morning to give your body a hydration boost. Researchers from the University of Ottawa found that as people age they need to drink more water to compensate for changes in their body temperature regulation. Dehydration can cause a number of ailments, including muscle pain and fatigue, so if you struggle to drink enough water, get on the front foot early in the day.

2. Beware so-called “health products”

At this time of year, we might be tempted by all those ‘health’ products that line the supermarket shelves. But buyer beware, just because something claims to be healthy doesn’t mean it actually is. Eschew the gimmicks and resolve to buy simple, good quality, minimally processed food.

The consumption of UPFs (ultra-processed foods) has been associated 
with an increased risk of cancer, so 
check the labels of everything you buy regularly and switch to healthier 
alternatives if necessary. A good rule 
of thumb is not to buy anything 
containing more than five ingredients, especially if they are things you 
can’t pronounce, and look out for added sugars. 

3. Do mini-fasts for major results

You would have to be living under a rock not to have heard of intermittent fasting. It’s been hugely popular since it first entered the mainstream in 2012 and there have been many different manifestations of it since. But let’s face it, most of us can’t commit to such a regimented dietary timetable long term.

What’s emerging now is that even a relatively small fasting window can deliver substantial health benefits, such as reducing oxidative damage and inflammation in the body, which contribute to ageing and also play a role in the development of a range of health conditions.

So why not try a midweek mini-fast? From Monday to Friday adopt the 14:10 approach where you only eat within a 10-hour window, for example, from 10am to 8pm, and fast for the other 14 hours. (Important: Consult your doctor before adopting any changes to your diet.)

4. Stack your habits

Arroll advises “habit-stacking”, where 
you anchor a new habit onto an existing one, making it easier to integrate into 
your daily routine. If you are giving the midweek mini-fast a go, then try stacking another new habit on top, such as keeping red meat for the weekend.

Reducing our red meat intake is one 
of the best things that we can do for 
our heart health and the planet. This is a simple rule that you can apply right away – think how much more you’ll enjoy that Sunday roast.

5. Don’t restrict, add

Most diets operate on the basis of restriction, which focuses the mind on what you are not allowed to eat. Reverse this mindset by thinking about what to include in your meals to make sure they are nutritionally balanced and satisfying.

Multiple studies have shown that eating a balanced diet comprising complex carbs (vegetables, whole grains, beans), lean protein (chicken, fish, tofu, lentils, yoghurt) and healthy fats (olive oil, avocado, cheese, eggs, nuts) positively influences health and helps prevent common illnesses including cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Weekly menu planning is one of the best ways to ensure your meals are balanced and it doesn’t have to be complex. Often just adding a tin of lentils or beans to your favourite recipes can make all the difference.

6. Take your supplements

Ideally, we would get everything we need from our food, but one crucial micronutrient, Vitamin D, is primarily derived from exposure to sunlight. If you are in a place where sunshine is in short supply in the winter months, a Vitamin D supplement is advisable.

Also, if you don’t eat much oily fish, it’s worth considering a good quality omega-3 supplement, which is essential for heart and brain health. Stocking up on supplements, however, is only half the story: you need to remember to take them. Think about your morning routine and where would be best to keep the supplements, perhaps in the same cupboard as the tea and coffee so you’re prompted when you make your morning brew, or set an alarm on your phone.

7. Ditch the lattes for a simple coffee with milk

If coffee is your midlife petrol, you’ll be happy to know that a new study by the European Society of Cardiology concluded that drinking up to three cups of coffee per day is associated with a lower risk of stroke and fatal heart disease.

The downside comes if you are partial to the milky varieties that can pack a hefty calorie punch. Try and switch to black coffee, or if that’s a bridge too far, just add a splash of milk. This could add up to a saving of 1,400-calories over the week if you average two coffees a day.

8. Speed up your steps

The benefits of walking are well documented and getting our daily 10,000 steps has become almost a national obsession. But walking for an hour-and-a-half every day is an unrealistic goal for most of us, so it’s better to commit to a 20-minute vigorous stride.

You’ll get much more bang for your buck by walking briskly and engaging your glute and leg muscles. Do this by increasing your pace, extending your step and pumping your arms as you go along.

Studies have shown that the speed at which we walk is a signifier of our subjective age (the age we feel, not the age we are) – picking up the pace might make you feel younger, too.

9. Ban screens from your bedroom

If you are determined to sort out your sleep, the most effective change you can make is to banish screens from the bedroom, particularly the phone. Start today and it will be the most life-enhancing thing you do all year.

Decide on a screen curfew (at least one hour before you go to bed) and set an alarm on your phone. When the alarm goes, plug your phone in to charge overnight elsewhere in the house and leave it there until morning. You might have to buy an old-fashioned alarm clock if you’ve been using this feature on your phone, but it’s a worthwhile investment.

Of course, you won’t be able to implement all these new habits in one go. “Be specific in your goals,” advises Arroll. “Pick three or four things that are realistic for you and commit to them.”

It takes on average 66 days for new habits to become automatic, so give it due time and you might just find they have finally stuck.

The Daily Telegraph

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