Take first steps to a year of better health

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With the enthusiasm and good intentions that come with New Year resolutions fading to a memory, February is the perfect time to take stock of where we are with our health and wellbeing – and look at what could be achieved over the year ahead.

It’s only human to want a quick-fix solution that brings results overnight but there is no miracle product, diet or workout that will quickly whittle away the pounds 
and inches.

But before you give up at the thought of the word “willpower”, take on board that very small changes in your lifestyle can have a positive, and potentially life-saving, impact when you play the long game and look ahead months rather 
than weeks.

So set yourself a challenge for 2016 and see the difference you can make by the end of the year.

Slow and steady is the mantra for successful weight loss – small changes to what you eat is the healthiest and most achievable way to lose weight.

Stand on the scales today to get your starting point and make a target to lose a couple of pounds a week.

According to the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), most people who need to lose weight can get health benefits from losing even a small amount – about five per cent – of their weight.

It’s not rocket science. The first step is to eat fewer foods high in calories, fat, salt and sugars and swap them for something healthier, including more fruit 
and vegetables.

These small changes add up to make a big difference.

If you smoke, quitting is the single best thing you can do to improve your health.

And if you suspect you drink too much, you’re probably right – the UK has just introduced new guidelines that has cut the safe drinking levels.

While we are all guilty of burying our heads in the sand, there is no escaping the health problems linked to being overweight, including increased risks of high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, some types of cancer, infertility, osteoarthritis, back pain and depression.

When it comes to exercise you don’t have to sign up for gym membership nor do you need to spend money on special equipment, other than a pair of comfortable shoes for walking.

Getting moving doesn’t need to cost a penny. Walking is underrated as a form of exercise, but it’s one of the easiest ways to get more activity into your day.

Try to fit walking into your routine by ditching the car for short journeys, park further away from your destination, get off the bus or train one stop early, and do longer walks at the weekends.

To reap the health benefits, aim to walk 10,000 steps a day, which can burn up to 400 calories. To keep track of your walking, use a pedometer.

We’ll be coming back to look at different aspects of health and wellbeing over the coming months to make 2016 a year of positive change but you can start that journey right now – what are you waiting for?

How much physical activity do we need to stay healthy?

Adults need to do two types of physical activity each week – aerobic and strength exercises – and how much you need depends on your age.

If you are between 19 and 64 try to be active daily and do at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity such as cycling or fast walking every week, and strength exercises on two or more days a week that work all the major muscles (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms).

For over 65s who are generally fit and have no health conditions that limit their mobility, the advice is the same – 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity and strength exercises on two or more days a week that work all the major muscles.

Older adults at risk of falls, such as people with weak legs, poor balance and some medical conditions, should do exercises to improve balance and co-ordination on at least two days a week. Examples include yoga, tai chi and dancing.

Moderate aerobic activity means you’re working hard enough to raise your heart rate and break a sweat. If you’re working at a moderate intensity you can still talk but you can’t sing the words to a song. A good way to do your recommended 150 minutes is to do 30 minutes five days a week.

Where do I find out more?

Information on healthy lifestyles can be overwhelming and it’s easy to feel bombarded by magazines articles, advertising and television programmes.

But good sensible advice is out there.

The NHS online is a good place to start. The Livewell project (www.nhs.uk/Livewell) covers everything from Get Fit for Free to all aspects of healthy eating and from alcohol to mental health.

Thousands of Scots have taken up jogging and running in the last few years – if you want to join them, check out www.jogscotland.org.uk to find a local group.

If you want to stop smoking, Smokeline is a free service supporting people in Scotland, offering useful advice and tips, where to get help locally and how to choose quit methods that will work for you. For more information about stopping or if would like to chat to a Smokeline adviser, visit www.canstopsmoking.com or call free on 0800 84 84 84. Smokeline is open 8am to 10pm, seven days a week.

If you have any existing health problems or concerns, check with your GP before embarking on any exercise plans.