Life

Your A-Z guide to a happy, healthy life in 2017

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Katharine Busby
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Great intentions for Your Healthiest January EVER are all well and good - but it's all OTT resolutions and extreme measures, isn't it?

You could think a little further ahead instead. Rather than blasting your body with a month of green juices and detox tea, coupled with a punishing exercise regime you definitely won't continue with once your social life picks up again, use this alphabetical guide to a whole year of general better health and feel the difference right up until next Christmas.

Photos: Rex Images

  • A is for Alcohol

    Dry January... Sure, you can give up alcohol for the whole of January if you wish - or you could not. After the general excesses of December most people are likely to want to drink less anyway, so maybe just have a glass of red on a Saturday night during that first month of the year.

    If you generally like a drink and decide to cut it out entirely you risk turning January into a big countdown to your first 'proper' night out of 2017 - on February 1st. By cutting back but not entirely abstaining, you may find you actually quite enjoy it and then it becomes a way of life you're more likely to continue with through the year.

  • B is for Boxing

    Sooooo 2016, right? Wrong.

    Boxing is fast becoming one of the most popular workout choices for women - the combination of cardio and toning moves in a boxing workout mean it’s a full-body whammy; all the fun of pretending to be Rocky, with no chance of coming away with a shiner.

    Now, the classes are evolving so if you’re already enjoying boxing’s benefits but want more, you may find a gym near you offering boxing combined with ballet, with high-energy dance moves or even with yoga. 

  • C is for Calm

    Make room for a little head space in 2017.

    Download a mindfulness app, join a meditation class, start a bullet journal – or just spend an extra half an hour in bed, doing nothing.

    However you choose to guard against the endless chatter and hurl of modern life, slowing things down on a regular basis means you’re less likely to feel stressed and overwhelmed. 

  • D is for Dentist

    January is always on the slow side so while your diary isn't jam-packed with more exciting options it's a good time to get those general well-being appointments sorted. 

    Dentist, hygienist, optician, smears... if you're behind, get them booked in. Your body will thank you for it and your mind will be free from that irritating feeling that you have forgotten something.

  • E is for Eating Happily

    Here's an idea: instead of making rules about what you can and can’t eat, just set out to enjoy food in all its multitude of texture and flavour. 

    That way, you make a new year's resolution that actually helps you feel better about yourself, rather than worse.

  • F is for Fad

    Gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free... fun-free? 2016 was a year when free-from foods were all the rage. Which was great for those who had an actual reason (such as an allergy) not to eat them. But for the rest of us, was there any real benefit or was/is it, like so many things before it, a passing phase that took an idea too far?

    So-called 'clean-eating' - which initially came about after 'dirty' burgers were a thing - veered into unhealthy territory as people swore to 'eat clean' 24/7 and never touch a banana (one OTT website labelled them 'nature's Mars bars' due to their content of naturally occurring fructose).

    In 2017 be wary of fads . If you don't instantly recognise them, just look for anything that promises more than it can deliver.

  • G is for Go

    That voice in your head telling you that it's far too cold and horrible to go out to the gym/ head for a run? Tell that pesky voice it's had it's Christmas fun and now you want to stop feeling sluggish and actually get moving, thank you very much. 

    Alternatively, choose not to even hear that voice. Just put on your trainers, open the front door and GO. Once you've shut that door behind you, you'll find the voice well and truly shuts up.

  • H is for Hygge

    Possibly the most over-used and mispronounced term of 2016. We’re not suggesting you go all-out Danish and sit by a fire for the entire year. The idea of cosiness, of being kind to yourself and giving yourself the odd evening of pure comfort is clearly going to be good for your general wellbeing, however.

    Take time to relax, to switch off your phone, pick up an old-school proper book or read a newspaper from cover to cover. Put simply, slow down and breathe. 

  • I is for Instagram

    Ignoring the ridiculous inspirational-quote-on-a-sunset-background posts, social media can be an excellent place to find people or groups that really motivate you to get moving, exercising, cooking, eating well.

    Don’t go for accounts that are likely to intimidate or irritate you – if you know you’re not a ‘clean-eating’ type, endless pictures of ‘cake’ sweetened with medjool dates are just going to send you straight for the remaining Quality Street (the rubbish ones). Likewise, pictures of stick-thin models claiming they’re #strongnotskinny may not be hugely motivational either. Find accounts by people who seem to have a balanced but predominately healthy lifestyle and they're likely to inspire you more.

  • J is for Jamieoliver.com

    It doesn’t really matter if you do or don’t like Jamie Oliver’s TV programmes or on-screen style. It doesn’t even matter if you haven’t seen any of his programmes since the Naked Chef. If, however, you don’t know anything about his website, you are missing a trick.

    Packed with straight-forward meals rated for ease and filed in categories such as family dishes, healthy options, and vegetarian, this site is a gem. You can search by main ingredient, plan three-course meals or find an easy weekday supper. There are so many recipes and with new ones being added all the time, you’ll be getting foodie inspiration right through the year.

  • K is for Killer

    Abs, workout, heels, boxing session... it seems most things can be pre-fixed with 'killer' these days, and it mostly means extreme or impressive. Just to be clear: most people don't have killer abs. And aiming for them by the end of January after a month of mince pie abs is, frankly, silly and will only lead to disappointment.

    Try to stay realistic and set goals you feel you can achieve, rather than ones you feel you should achieve. A feeling of being less bloated by the end of January is achievable - more definition in your tummy muscles will likely take a few months longer, so set short-term, medium-term and long-term goals.

  • L is for Lunges

    Walking from the living room to the kitchen? Lunge your way there. Waiting for a colleague to arrive for a meeting. Lunge while you wait. You see, a couple of lunges can be done anywhere and at any time.

    Done correctly (see this video) they’ll work on your glutes, hamstrings and even your abdominal muscles. The more of these easy do-anywhere exercises you do, the less unappealing a full-on workout will feel.

  • M is for Music

    It's not unusual to have music pumping into your ears as you do an exercise class or pound the pavement in your running gear. But the music you're listening to can have all sorts of positive impacts on your general well-being so it's worth investing in, even when not exercising.

    When we listen to music we like our body releases dopamine, a feel-good chemical; so if you're feeling sluggish, unmotivated or just generally a bit blue post-December, putting on your favourite tunes at a volume that wakes you up a bit could be the mood-lifter you need to get you into action.

  • N is for New

    New leggings, new class to try, new friend who wants to go for a run with you, new challenge be it a 5km or a marathon. New year is a good time for trying new things.

    It doesn’t have to be expensive – we’re not suggesting you need a new pair of trainers every week – but maybe try to do or try something new each month for the whole of 2017. Write down what it was you did and you’ll have a written reminder that no, you’re not getting into a rut. Well done you.

  • O is for Oxygen

    Many of us pay no attention whatsoever to the way we breathe, but tuning in and learning how to breathe from the stomach comes with a raft of benefits. 

    By training yourself in a few simple deep breathing exercises, you can train yourself to put a dampener on everyday nerves, anxiety or anger. 

    Deep breathing triggers the release of endorphins, lowers blood pressure and can have a major impact on stress (which is exacerbated  by short, shallow breathing).

    Research online tutorials to find out more. 

  • P is for Poo

    Without meaning to come over all Gillian McKeith, if you have a healthy gut you’ll suffer less bloating, while also feeling leaner and less tired. Constipation is a pain, quite literally, but the excessive salt and general slow-down over Christmas means it can be a familiar feeling.

    The first thing you can do to, um, get things moving, is to, well, get moving. Aerobic exercise can help by increasing blood flow to major organs, meaning stronger intestinal contractions, and so a swifter - y'know - output. Delightful.

  • Q is for Questions

    If you have questions about your workout, a piece of machinery at the gym, your running technique, that weird but niggling pain in your knee... ask someone who actually knows. Depending on the question that person may be someone working in the gym, a personal trainer, your GP or a physiotherapist.

    Carrying on in your clueless state will lead to one of two results: you'll injure yourself or you'll quit out of fear of injuring yourself. Neither needs to happen, you just need to be brave and ask the questions.

  • R is for Regularity (and Rest)

    Of course you don't have to exercise every day but there's also no need to insist on 'rest days' every time you feel a bit tired. By doing regular, rather than sporadic, exercise you'll feel more energised, thus making you more likely to do another session sooner rather than later.

    Aim not to leave more than three days between exercise classes/workouts/swims etc. Some days you might go hard and feel like your legs need a day off so either take one, or find an upper-body workout to give those weary legs a break.

  • S is for Squats

    Isn't there some awful slogan T-shirt you can get that reads "When in doubt, squat it out"? Yeah, don't buy one of those. But do squat.

    Like lunges (see L), you can do squats every day in barely any time, building up to more each time as you get used to them. Squats, done properly, will work many muscles in your legs and buttocks, and will strengthen your back. They don't, however, require a smug T-shirt.

  • T is for Time

    What's that? You haven't got any? Really? Yet, you had time to do Christmas shopping, go to Christmas parties, write off entire mornings because of said parties, watch Elf, eat mince pies, buy a New Year's Eve outfit... you get the idea.

    In the New Year, how about setting some specific time aside to healthiness? It might be that you spend it exercising, or perhaps cooking meals to put in the freezer so you're not caught short after a long day at work (and thus order in takeaway).

    If you don't have time, it's time you made some.

  • U is for Ugh

    Some days you just feel 'Ugh' or ‘Oof’. There’s no better way to describe it. While the temptation is to get under a duvet with a box of Celebrations, this choice will NOT make you feel more energised.

    The best thing to do is get up and get out. Go for a ten-minute walk, dance in your bedroom and take on plenty of liquid – sluggishness is often down to dehydration. The ‘Ugh’ days are a challenge but it's one you can rise to.

  • V is for Variety

    It’s the spice of life, isn’t it? Well, it could actually be the key to your healthier 2017.

    So, picture the scenario. You swear to eat salad every day, to go running three times a week and to only drink on a Saturday. You do it, you keep it up, you get to around February 20th, you’re so proud of yourself, you’re so… so… bored.

    While having meal plans in place will help you stay healthy, being fully regimented is a fast track to utter tedium. So keep things interesting by mixing them up. Don't let boredom lead you to unnecessary quitting.

  • W is for Water

    Gah, this is a boring one, isn’t it? It’s right up there with ‘Ooh, frozen bananas are just as delicious as ice cream’ (not true) and ‘Get off the bus a stop early to do more walking’ (yadda, yadda, like you’re ever not late for work as it is).

    But water? Well, it may be boring but think of the benefits. Being well hydrated will help your post-festive knackered skin and make you feel less tired. It also helps any digestionissues you might be having and – somewhat confusingly – helps with water retention.

    Water: boring but brilliant. You can even drink it while you walk from that early bus stop…

  • X is for X-rated

    Let’s talk about sex. Because, frankly, if you want that glowing skin you remember having back in November before you lost it to wine and late nights, a little bedroom action will help.

    And you'll save the money you'd have spent on expensive cosmetics of course. Not to mention the extensive workout you can get if you REALLY go for it...

  • Y is for Yoga

    Yoga, with its incredible ability to stretch and strengthen your body beyond what you could ever imagine it would do, is often poo-pooed as too gentle in January, when the emphasis seems to be on going hell-for-leather in the gym and burning out by the 24th of the month.

    However, after the hectic decadence of Christmas and New Year, a few yoga classes will be just what your body is crying out for. If you've never done it before, you'll be amazed at how calm, balanced and often well-exercised you feel at the end of an hour.

    Look into beginners' or drop-in classes in your area and prepare to feel saved from real life.

  • Z is for Zzzzzzz

    Get some sleep.

    Better skin, better mood, more energy, more likely to go and exercise. And it's jolly nice to sleep, isn't it?

    That's not to say that lying in bed until 11am every weekend nursing a hangover is advised but an alcohol-free, good night's kip will do you the world of good, as your mum always told you.

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Katharine Busby

Katharine Busby is a writer and editor. She knew she was a feminist when she realised it didn’t mean chucking away her lipstick, but having the choice to do so should she wish.

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