How you can get healthier in 2014

Yoga is one way of keeping yourself in shape. Picture: Getty
Yoga is one way of keeping yourself in shape. Picture: Getty
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Resolving to improve health and fitness? What a chore – well, not really . .

Run a marathon, lose weight, eat better, eat less, eat only raw vegetables while running back from the gym while stopping at the supermarket to buy fat-free natural yoghurt and the latest superfood.

Sometimes setting ourselves New Year targets can get us into all kinds of trouble – from the resolution that’s just too hard to ever maintain beyond the first two days to the gym membership that costs a fortune with nothing but a very stubborn beer belly to show for it.

That said, there’s no better time than the start of a shiny new year to focus on making a few changes for the good of our health.

So, with the year well under way, let’s kick start this whole new era, chuck out the impossible resolutions and make a new one instead – to focus on our ten must-do straightforward living tips for a healthy and happy 2014.

COOK IT UP

Chuck out the takeaway menu, ditch the Domino’s, step away from the chip shop door. Our love affair with fast food and ready meals may tickle our taste buds but it’s also helping nudge us ever closer to an early grave. Ready meals are often packed with nasties like salt and unhealthy fats – one Food Standards Agency probe into chill cabinet meals discovered a single Sainsbury’s standard shepherd’s pie contained 98 per cent of an adult’s recommended daily salt intake. Eating too much salt regularly can lead to high blood pressure, increasing our risk of heart disease or stroke. Better invest in a cook book, crank up the cooker and do it yourself.

UP AND APP IT

Never mind Angry Birds, download an app that can chart your weight loss, keep a record of your exercise, help plan your meals or just remind you to occasionally stand up and walk around. Around 38 per cent of the health apps out there are related to fitness and it’s estimated that the next three years will see us download nearly a billion exercise apps. Many, like MyFitnessPal, Couch to 5K and Endomondo Sports – which alone has more than 20 million users – are free and will not only track and record your progress but can pitch you into virtual reality races with your friends, deliver pep talk encouragement and set goals.

Use them alongside one of the thousands of diet related apps, and even keep a pictorial record of your progress by uploading a daily picture to Blipfoto or Instagram.

MOVE IT

It’s now that our thoughts turn to exercise and the horrific pain that entails. Choose an activity you love to make reaching your goals less of a chore. Never has the choice of exercise classes and fitness options been greater – whether it’s joining a hillwalking club or skateboarding, running a marathon or just sticking on the Wii Fit and jogging around the room. For a taste of various activities and a kickstart to your new regime, head to Battlecamp in the Pentlands, for a weekend in five-star luxury with everything from kettlebells to boxercise and yoga. Book for the January 17 weekend and receive a 20 per cent discount, go to www.battlecamp.org for details. Edinburgh Leisure runs more than 700 fitness classes a week at its centres and has just launched its 2014 timetable. Choose from hula style Power Hoop, Sh ‘Bam – a hip hop inspired workout – CX Worx, a 30-minute high intensity workout and good old bums, tums and thighs.

QUIT IT

Fags and booze do not exactly go hand-in-hand with this new healthy lifestyle. No good comes from tearing open a packet of fags and puffing your way to an early grave. Whether you choose nicotine patches, NHS support groups, e-cigarettes, hypnotherapy and good old-fashioned will power, stubbing out can bring almost immediate health benefits, reducing the risk of smoking related illnesses like heart disease, cancers and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Port Seton based clinical hypnotherapist Keith Fowler (www.keithfowler.org.uk) says just three one-hour sessions can be all it takes to wean a smoker off their habit. “It is devastatingly quick,” he says. “Hypnotherapy gets to the unconscious mind and emphasises the positive aspects of not smoking. It destroys the positive image smokers have of smoking and replaces it with positive aspects of quitting. It works, too, for people who want to stop drinking or lose weight.”

Alternatively, huff and puff to one of Edinburgh’s growing band of speciality e cigarette shops – iVapour in Easter Road or Emporium Vapour in Gorgie Road and Great Junction Street Leith can guide you through the options.

If booze is your poison, it goes without saying it can wreck your liver, lead to heart problems, cancer, sexual dysfunction, destroy relationships and cause accidents. Twenty Scots die of alcohol-related problems every week. Tackle a serious drink problem with help from your doctor and Alcoholics Anonymous. If you just feel you want to cut down, join Cancer Research’s fundraising New Year dry-athon, and step away from the alcohol for a whole month. Visit www.cancerresearchuk.org.

AND RELAX....

Worry and stress can lead to physical and mental health problems, play havoc with our sleep patterns, harm our appetite, cause headaches and affect our blood pressure. So just chill! Yoga is perfect for combating stress, teaching us how to control our breathing and clearing the mind. Hot yoga (hotyogaedinburgh.com) involves turning up the heat to 38 degrees, helping the body clear out toxins and raising the heart rate for a good workout. Sessions are currently held in studios in Newhaven Road and Broughton Street Lane. For a cooler option, try strength and posture building Iyengar yoga at Craiglockhart Leisure Centre or classic Hatha yoga at Drumbrae. Details from Edinburgh Leisure.

LEARN FIRST AID

with a medical emergency or an accident, most of us would turn to the Holby City school of first aid. But learning the basics of how to respond properly could save a life. St Andrew’s First Aid (www.firstaid.org.uk) runs various classes in the essentials at its Dock Place base plus specialist courses on how to treat allergies and techniques for dealing with burns.

VEG OUT

Tuck into 2014’s big new “superfood”, the buffoloberry. Packed with cancer-busting antioxidant lycopene and rich in phenolic antoxidants – said to help stave off cellular ageing – it’s a small, sweet but also slightly bitter red berry. Downside is you may have to travel to North Dakota, where it’s found, to get your hands on some – production of this new superfood is only just getting under way. Not so much a new superfood as one that has fallen off the radar, but celebrity nutritionist Madeleine Shaw has just given her stamp of approval to good old kale. Nutritious, with high doses of chlorophyll, easy to digest protein, enzymes and bursting with vitamins and minerals, it helps cleanse the kidneys and boost the immune system. Plus its twitter account, @Daily_Kale is sheer comedy genius.

GET STEAMY

Take a really long, hot bath at least once a week. A hot bath will raise your inner temperature controls, diluting blood vessels and helping circulation. Mineral rich salts will help draw out toxins. Then, as impurities are released, the skin soaks up the properties of the salt – sodium, zinc, magnesium, potassium and calcium. A good, long, warm bath will soothe post-workout aches and pains, helping increase blood flow to the muscles and joints and reducing inflammation and soreness. If you’re in the grip of a winter sniffles the steam can help clear your head. A good scrub will leave the skin feeling great and, naturally, nice and clean.

SLEEP IT OFF

Sleep is your body’s best friend, helping recharge worn out batteries, keeping our skin fresh, it could even help ward off certain illnesses by ensuring our body is in prime condition. The Sleep Council says around a third of Britons get by on just five to six hours sleep a night – an adult should aim for seven to nine hours. People who exercise
regularly tend to sleep better. Switching off gadgets and winding down slowly get you in the mood. If sleeplessness is a problem, try Edinburgh-based herbalist Napier’s Sweet Dream Remedy, a blend of sleep inducing and relaxing passion flower, Jamaican dogwood, valerian, hops and skullcap (£13.75 for 150ml, available online and at the Bristo Place centre).

CHECK IT OUT

Make a “must keep” resolution to ensure that strange lump, niggling cough or nagging pain gets proper attention. Stick to cervical smear test appointments, breast screening sessions and post off the bowel cancer screening pack that’s been staring at you,neglected, for months. Hot news: these health checks are painless,easy and they really could save your life.