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5 Simple Changes for a Healthier Lifestyle

A healthy lifestyle means something different to everybody! It's important to remember that very few people have a "perfect lifestyle" when it comes to health. Life can sometimes get in the way and make it unrealistic to workout everyday or have a healthy, homecooked meal every evening, but there are some small and simple changes we can make that could make a big difference to our overall health!

1. Drink more water. The human body is made up of around 60% water a lot of which is in our vital organs. The brain and heart are 73% water, the lungs are 83% and the muscles and kidneys are 79%. The skin is also very water dense at 64% and even bones are 31%! It has many roles in the human body which is why it is so important to stay well hydrated.

  • It is one of the building blocks for all new cells in the body and a key nutrient for existing cells.

  • It helps to nourish the body by metabolizing and transporting proteins and carbohydrates from the food you eat.

  • It helps to flush waste from the body.

  • It helps maintain a healthy body temperature through sweat and respiration when the temperature rises

  • It's part of the fluid that surrounds and protects the brain and a baby in the womb

  • It's the main ingredient in saliva which is important for digestion.

  • It helps to lubricate joints. (1)

Drinking more water can also help if you are trying to lose weight. Sometimes if we are dehydrated we can mistake thirst for hunger. Try drinking a glass of water and waiting 20 minutes to see if you still feel hungry.

By the time we feel thirsty we are already dehydrated so try to keep sipping water all day long. Another sign that you are dehydrated is to check the colour of your urine (sorry, but it's true!) If it is darker than the colour of light straw then you are dehydrated and should have a drink of water. If this is something you would like to know more about or would like to see a helpful urine colour chart (and why wouldn't you!?) then you can do so here: Hydration Chart: Learn to Read the Shades of Your Pee (

One of the easiest ways to drink more is to keep a water bottle with you throughout the day. Keeping it somewhere you will see it will remind you to drink from it regularly. The general advice is that we should all be drinking around 2 litres of water a day, or 8 glasses. If you would like a more personalised quantity then you can try multiplying your weight in kg by 0.033 to give you the amount in litres that you should aim for. Example: if you weigh 60kg: 60 x 0.033 = 1.98 litres, if you weigh 90kg it would be 90 x 0.033 = 2.97 litres, etc.

Give it a go, you may be surprised at the other effects it has on you too such as feeling more alert and energetic!

2. Switch to whole-grains. Grains are basically the seed part of a grass-like plant such as corn, wheat or rice. They are made up of three main components:

  • Bran - the hard, outer shell and contains fibre, minerals, and antioxidants.

  • Endosperm - the middle layer of the grain is mostly made up of carbohydrates.

  • Germ - the inner layer which contains vitamins, minerals, protein, and plant compounds.

They are available as food in two forms, whole and refined. It is considered a whole-grain if it contains all three components in their original proportions. Refined grains have had their bran and germ removed leaving just the endosperm. This obviously means that most of the fibre, vitamins, minerals and other nutritious elements have been removed, leaving just starchy carbohydrate. Sometime refined foods are "enriched" meaning some of the vitamins and minerals lost during processing have been added back in, but they are still not as healthy as their whole-grain version. As well as being higher in fibre and nutrients, here are a few other benefits of choosing whole-grain over refined:

  • Many studies have shown that eating whole-grains everyday could help lower your risk of heart disease and stroke.

  • The high fibre content means they can help reduce the risk of obesity by filling you up and reducing the likeliness of overeating.

  • Studies have shown eating whole-grains can lower fasting blood sugar levels and improve insulin sensitivity meaning they could reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.

  • The fibre in whole-grains can also improve our digestion. It is what "bulks out" our stools (yes, more toilet talk!), helping to reduce the risk of constipation.

  • Some types of fibre are actually prebiotics which feed our beneficial gut bacteria, further helping to improve our digestive health. (2)

There are several ways to increase your intake of whole-grains. First, try swapping white for brown. Instead of white bread, buy brown bread, swap white paste for brown pasta and the same with rice! Then try introducing more grains into your diet. Oats, quinoa, and buckwheat are all easy to find and prepare. Even popcorn counts as a wholegrain, just make sure it is air popped to keep it healthy! Many studies have shown that we should aim for at least 3 1oz(28g) portions of whole-grains per day but just by switching from refined to whole-grain can make a big difference to your overall health!

3. Get regular exercise. This doesn't mean you need to start marathon training or anything extreme! The WHO recommends that adults (aged 18-64) should do at least 150–300 minutes (2.5-5 hours) of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity such as walking or swimming, or at least 75–150 minutes (1.25-2.5 hours) of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity such as running; or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity throughout the week. This is the minimum amount of exercise recommended and more than this will only increase the health benefits. It is also recommended to do muscle-strengthening activities at moderate or greater intensity that involve all major muscle groups on 2 or more days a week, as these provide additional health benefits. (3)

There is a huge variety of benefits to regular exercise such as:

  • improving muscular and cardiorespiratory fitness.

  • improving bone and functional health.

  • reducing the risk of may illnesses and diseases such as hypertension, coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes, various types of cancer.

  • reducing the risk of falls as well as hip or vertebral fractures.

  • helping maintain a healthy body weight.

  • improving mood by releasing endorphins.

  • improving sleep.

  • reducing stress.

Try finding a form of exercise that you enjoy. If it makes you miserable then you're much less likely to want to do it. Experiment and see what you like! Finding someone to do it with you can also be a good motivator! If you arrange to meet a friend at a regular time

If you find it difficult to make time for exercise then try reducing the amount of time that you are sedentary. Modern life means a lot of us spend much of our time sitting at a desk, in a car or on the sofa in the evening. Many offices are introducing standing workspaces so that employees can stand at their computer rather than sit, this alone can make a big difference! Get creative, maybe do some squats while you wait for the kettle to boil, march on the spot while you watch TV, anything that gets you moving that little bit more!

4. Eat the rainbow. We all know how important fruit and vegetables are for our health. They contain high levels of different vitamins and minerals which are essential for keeping our bodies working at their best. At a minimum we should be aiming for at least 5 portions a day (at least three of them should be vegetables). But did you know that variety is just as important as quantity? As every fruit and vegetable contains a different combination of vitamins and minerals we need to vary them as much as possible. Each colour also represents a different group of phytonutrients (also referred to as phytochemicals). Although phytonutrients aren't essential for keeping us alive but they can work alone or together with certain vitamins and minerals to help reduce our chances of developing chronic disease such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

They are represented by six colour groups:

  • Red - Lycopene is a red coloured phytonutrient that may protect against cancers of the prostate, breast and skin as well as reducing the risk of heart attacks. Anthocyanins are found in many red berries such as raspberries and strawberries as well as some other red foods. They also help to reduce the risk of cancer as well as protect the heart and brain.

  • Orange - Beta-Carotene is present in orange coloured fruits and vegetables and is one of many "carotenes" that can turn into Vitamin A once in the body. Vitamin A helps to promote healthy vision, immune and inflammatory systems and healthy cell growth. There is also an orange coloured group of phytonutrients called Bioflavonoids. These work with Vitamin C to help reduce our risk of heart attacks and cancer as well as helping to maintain healthy bones and teeth.

  • Yellow - Lutein & Zeaxanthin are both carotenes and can help reduce the risk of cancer, may protect the brain and heart and act as an anti-inflammatory.

  • Green - Glucosinolates are found in brassica vegetables such as broccoli, kale and Brussel sprouts and help the liver to flush out toxins more effectively and can also help to protect against breast and uterine cancer. Phytosterols are found in some green foods such as avocado and lettuce. They are compounds that look like cholesterol but actually help to block the absorption of LDL cholesterol (the bad kind) by the gut!

  • Blue/Purple/Black - Resveratrol is purple phytonutrient which can help promote a healthy aging process by reducing inflammation and blood sugar as well as being beneficial for the cardiovascular system. Pterostilbene may help to ward off cancer, reduce blood fats and help to preserve cognitive health.

  • White/Tan/Brown - Allicin is found in garlic and it is believed that it is responsible for garlic's anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties. Lignans are commonly found in nuts and seeds and are anti-inflammatory, promote healthy blood vessels and can act as anti-cancer agents. (4)

By picking fruit and veg from as many of these colour groups each day, you will increase the variety of not only the vitamins and minerals you consume, but also the phytonutrients! Next time you go shopping for fruit and veg, try picking two or three from each colour group.

5. Reduce stress. In today's busy world this one may seem easier said than done but stress can have many negative effects on our health. Our body responds to stress by releasing the hormones adrenaline and cortisol which raise our heart rate and breathing, make it easier for our muscles to use glucose for energy and reduce the blood flow to other parts of our body, such as the digestive system, that the body doesn't need to use at that moment. This is the "fight or flight" response that kept our ancestors alive. Originally, the stressful events that our bodies were responding to would have only lasted a short while, but today with such busy lives stress can be almost constant for some of us!

The problem with this is that frequent adrenaline surges can cause damaged blood vessels, high blood pressure or hypertension, higher risk of heart attack and stroke, headaches, anxiety, insomnia and weight gain. If cortisol levels stay high for too long it can contribute to weight gain, high blood pressure, sleep problems, lack of energy, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, mental cloudiness (brain fog) and memory problems as well as a weakened immune system, leaving you more vulnerable to infections. (5) Luckily there are some easy strategies and simple changes we can try to reduce our stress levels.

  • Belly breathing - you can do this anywhere to quickly alleviate feelings of stress or anxiety. Sit or lie flat in a comfortable position. Put one hand on your belly just below your ribs and the other hand on your chest. Take a deep breath in through your nose, and let your belly push your hand out. Your chest should not move. Breathe out through pursed lips as if you were whistling. Feel the hand on your belly go in, and use it to push all the air out. Do this 3 to 10 times, taking your time with each breath.

  • Yoga - there is no doubt that yoga has many positive health benefits. The following yoga techniques are particularly useful when it comes to stress relief; controlled breathing, meditation, physical movement, mental imagery and stretching.

  • Reduce caffeine - caffeine raises cortisol levels in the same way that stress does, exaggerating the negative health effects of prolonged cortisol elevation.

  • Exercise - We've already seen above the health benefits of exercise. It is thought that exercise such as walking or jogging also boosts the production of endorphins in the brain. Endorphins are often referred to as happy hormones because they help reduce feelings of stress and also pain. In fact the word Endorphin comes from the word "endogenous" which means "within the body", and "morphine", an opioid pain reliever. If you are feeling stressed try going for a 30 minute walk in the fresh air as see how you feel afterwards.

I hope this has given you food for thought when it comes to making healthier choices! Health doesn't have to be complicated and it certainly shouldn't be an "all or nothing" lifestyle. It is unrealistic for most of us to make 100% healthy lifestyle choices, but you can see how even just one or two small changes could make a big difference!

(1) Ginger Wojcik, "Are You Dehydrated? Our Pee Color Chart Will Tell You," Healthline, updated 27th December, 2019, accessed 17th April, 2021,

(2) Kerri-Ann Jennings, "9 Health Benefits of Eating Whole-Grains," Healthline, updated 26th April, 2019, accessed 17th April, 2021,

(3) World Health Organization, "Physical Activity," WHO, 26th Novemeber, 2020, accessed 17th April, 2021,

(4) The Institute for Functional Medicine, "Phytonutrient Spectrum Comprehensive Guide", IFM, 2014, accessed 20th April, 2021,

(5) Timothy J Legg, "Everything you need to know about stress," Healthline, updated 25th February, 2021, accessed 27th April, 2021,

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