We all know what it takes to be healthy and happy – a balanced diet, exercise, cutting back on drinking and smoking and proper sleep.
Yet for millions of Brits, achieving a healthy lifestyle is easier said than done.
A lack of willpower, lack of time and lack of results can leave you feeling defeated and deflated.
But if you’re stuck in a post-lockdown rut, there are some quick and simple cheats that will get your body and mind working for you, not against you.
With the help of some clever tips and tricks, you can fast-track results in everything, from fitness and diet to blood pressure and eye health.
Blackcurrants are bursting with anthocyanins – powerful antioxidants which have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes.
But now scientists at Liverpool John Moores University have discovered that taking a blackcurrant extract called CurraNZ for eight days will have the same impact on your blood sugars as four weeks of regular exercise.
Their study also found the extract improved insulin sensitivity by 22 per cent and reduced sugar spikes after meals. C-reactive protein – a marker for unhealthy inflammation – was also cut by 24 per cent.
Dr Sam Shepherd, a senior lecturer in sport and exercise nutrition, said: “Studies looking at exercise training have shown a 15 to 25 per cent improvement over four to six weeks.”
The CurraNZ extract contains anthocyanins extracted from New Zealand blackcurrants, which have the world’s highest levels of these antioxidants.
A daily dose of 600mg is the equivalent of several handfuls of the fruit.
If you don’t have time for hours in the gym, try short bursts of high-intensity activity instead.
Scientists found that 79 per cent of couch potatoes who tried HIIT – high intensity interval training – stuck with it.
Matthew Stork, from the school of Health and Exercise Science at the University of British Columbia, said: “The number one cited barrier to physical activity is a perceived lack of time. But as little as ten minutes of HIIT, three times per week, can give meaningful health benefits.”
Mix ‘n’ match diet
Eating specific combinations of foods increases absorption of the nutrients they contain.
For example, Vitamin C boosts iron absorption so it’s a good idea to drink orange juice when you’re eating iron-rich foods, such as red meat or spinach.
And forget about going fat-free. Vitamins A, D, E and K are all absorbed more readily when eaten with a small amount of fat – so add some oil-based dressing to boost the benefits of a salad.
Vitamin D, which increases the body’s uptake of bone-strengthening calcium, is found in oily fish, eggs and fortified foods so make sure you add plenty of those to your diet, too.
Tune in, work out
Listen up! You can exercise harder and for longer if you work out to some music.
Patients taking tough cardiac stress tests – which involved running on a treadmill as the speed and slope increased – kept going for almost a minute longer when they did it to an upbeat soundtrack.
And, according to the study at Texas Tech University, that’s enough time to make a difference.
Lead researcher Dr Waseem Shami said: “After six minutes, you feel like you’re running up a mountain, so being able to go on for 50 seconds longer means a lot.”
Using the muscles across your ribs to breathe results in shallow breaths, so start using your stomach muscles to draw air more deeply into the lungs.
Breathing from the diaphragm is taught in yoga, tai chi and pilates.
It pushes more oxygen into the bloodstream and benefits include a slower heart-rate, lower blood pressure, lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol and better concentration.
Staring at a screen for hours on end can leave your eyes feeling tired and dry and there’s evidence it increases your odds of becoming short-sighted.
But researchers at Reading University have discovered a really simple trick to improve focus and reduce eye strain – just stare at the end of your nose every 20 minutes or so.
The study looked at several different techniques but Dr Anna Horwood, said: “Looking at the end of your nose proved significantly more effective than complex methods traditionally thought to be better.”
There are also some other simple ways to avoid the symptoms of screen strain.
Dr Horwood said: “If you experience headaches, tired eyes or blurred vision, take regular short breaks, shut your eyes or look out of the window.”
Be a regular drinker! Because alcohol is bad for our brains, our bodies produce an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase to break it down.
But if you have a tipple at the same time of day, the body learns this routine and ramps up production of the enzyme to limit the damage.
Prof Robert Pickard, from Cardiff University, says: “The person who is most at risk is the person who has the most erratic drinking style.”
Time to stand up
Sitting is the new smoking, with studies showing that being seated for long periods escalates ageing and increases the risk of an early death.
But it’s not just the number of hours which count, it’s how often you stand, scientists at Columbia University say.
The good news is that standing up every 30 minutes can halve the risk of an early death.