At the beginning of every year many people set up their “New Year’s Resolutions”. They are all excited, often ecstatic, about them and cannot seem to stop talking about how they will achieve them.

Aiming to live healthier has been at the top of the “new year revolutions” list for women, as well as men, in the last 25 years, and in 2014 is no different. A statistical analysis made by experts at the University of Scranton and published at the Journal of Clinical Psychology determines the top 10 of 2014’s resolutions. In the top spot is the never-ending goal of many women, to lose weight, followed, amongst other things, by other health-related issues like quitting smoking and staying fit and healthy. 

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Still, the road to a good health is not an easy one. It needs dedication and devotion which often does not conform with everyday life’s demands. Nevertheless, a hectic lifestyle should not stop you from claiming a healthier life.

There are easy ways to do it starting off by approaching this year’s health resolution a bit differently. Instead of saying “I want to lose weight this year or quit smoking or start exercising” let’s say: “I want to take care of me!” Be gentle on yourself, do not punish youself for “health mistakes” of the past and everything will fall into place in, all or some of, 4 simple steps.

“Taking care of me” Step No 1: Eat

Many women, at the beginning of every year, feel the need to set the record straight between themselves and the scales on their bathroom floor. It’s a love-and-hate relationship which needs instant fixing, so they end up setting targets that are most likely to fail. Women think that unless they become overly strict about the matter it will not resolve hence, adopting an attitude of “I will stop eating desserts at once, no more carbs for me, take-away food? no way”.

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The point, however, is not to stop eating things but to eat them controllably. Yes, you can eat all you like as long as you can keep a balance. For example, choose to have a dessert every other weekend instead of eliminating them from your diet or have a pizza night with your family every fortnight.

Bonnie Taub-Dix, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association said: “women tend to cut out major food groups which is a set up for failure”. She also says that food is one of the pleasures in life and people should enjoy it even if they do not have the weight they would like.

What it is important is to keep a healthy way of thinking regarding food:

  • Try to eat more fruits and vegetables
  • Introduce more fibre in your diet
  • Cut back on take-away food
  • Drink more water
  • Choose olive oil instead of butter
  • Minimise the amount of alcohol you drink
  • Stop buying unhealthy snacks like crisps, biscuits, candies

The key to success is not deprivation but control. Control your food and you will see how much easier it is to control your weight balance.

“Taking care of me” Step No 2: Move

Every January many gyms see an increase in their annual gym memberships by women who need to become more active and physically healthy. They do not consider, though, the fact that they might not have enough free time to go or even worse, they might not like it. Gym owners get extra happy and you end up feeling even worse than when you started; you feel a complete failure.

However, going to the gym is not the only way of keeping fit. Stop and think for a moment what is it that you can do in your everyday life that can help you keep fit? The answer is move; move as much as possible. Engage into any form of physical activity that will make you get off your sofa.

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According to Mayo clinic, 30 minutes of physical activity per day are enough to:

  1. make your heart beat faster improving circulation and hence reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases,
  2. strengthen your muscles and boost your endurance,
  3. help you burn calories.

Physical activity, besides engaging into sports, includes things like playing around with your children, walking more instead of using your car, using the stairs instead of the elevator, cleaning your house, washing your car, mowning the lawn, having sex.

Be active to stay healthy.

“Taking care of me” Step No 3: Smoke less (until you quit)

Smoking is one of the leading causes of preventable deaths globally. Smokers have a high risk of developing atherosclerosis and subsequently coronary heart disease, suffering a heart attack and stroke. Women smokers face other health problems also, including infertility and difficulty in conceiving, going into menopause earlier, increased risk of oral and cervical cancer and lower bone density compared to non-smokers (data from the World Health Organization- WHO).

[quote_box_right]According to the American Heart Association68% of smokers want to quit but it is, primarily, the physical addiction to nicotine that makes quitting so difficult and then, it’s the psychological habit of the whole smoking process. [/quote_box_right]

All smokers know that it is bad for their health but the truth is it is not that easy to refrain from it. Before you can quit smoking you need to thoroughly work it through in your head and try to find alternatives that will take your mind off cigarettes, like keeping yourself busy by going for long walks or reading a book, keeping your hands (and mouth) busy by squeezing a stress ball and chewing gum and many more. After you have worked out everything in your head, set up a “quitting day” and quit.

Not all people, though, can quit smoking cold turkey (stop at once without the use of any medication). If you get cold feet only by talking about quitting, then why not consider going just a step towards that direction and not the whole way (yet)? Don’t say “I will quit smoking” but instead “I will smoke less” to also prevent the forbidden mysteriously becoming extremely desirable. Even though the main target is to quit eventually, start with setting goals that you can actually achieve, like not smoking while at work or when out with your friends.

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To control the cigarettes you smoke at work or when out, take only one cigarette with you and leave the rest of the packet at home. Try to convince yourself to light that cigarette the minute you finish work and not anytime in between or when you feel you really cannot do without smoking.

By the time you get home, you will feel very proud of yourself and you will have reduced the overall number of cigarettes you smoke during the day. Gradually, you can cut down on the cigarettes you smoke per day and eventually, quit.

Don’t forget to let your friends and family in on your plan to quit smoking and they will give you all the encouragement you require. And, you can always talk to your doctor who can prescribe medication and recommend options that will help you quit eventually.

“Taking care of me” Step No 4: Relax

Women, traditionally, are nurturers taking care of everyone around them. New responsibilities appear, however, daily concerning home, work, children, making the 24 hours of a day and the 7 days a week not enough. The result? Women become frustrated and utterly stressed.

A little acute stress every now and then is welcomed. Short-lived stress can create motivation, to finish a task before its deadline for example, and once the situation is resolved, the stress diminishes. Chronic stress, on the other hand, can wear you down and lead to many health problems:

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  • cardiovascular disease
  • gastrointestinal problems like diarrhea
  • insomnia
  • decreased sex drive
  • depression
  • obesity and other eating disorders
  • menstrual problems
  • skin conditions like acne, eczema, psoriasis
  • permanent hair loss

The list of the negative effects of stress is endless as well as the stimuli that lead to it in the first place. Stress factors will always be there, therefore we need to find ways to change unpleasant situations.

Our own Effie Papadopoulou, psychologist, MSc, says that “the most important step towards stress handling is to accept the things you cannot change. We might not be in control of every stressful situation but we are in control of the way we deal with it”. She suggests to take charge of your emotions, your feelings and thoughts, the way you deal with problems, your schedule, and your environment. Start off by taking up some kind of exercise or a new hobby. If you feel you have no time for yourself “you need to find time, every day, even if it is 5 minutes, to disengage from everything and everyone”. Meditate, take a walk, talk with your friends, listen to a song, have a pampering bubble bath, anything that makes you happy because “when you cannot change the stressor, try changing yourself”.

So, this new year, avoid the all-or-none approach and think of what it is important to you. Make small steps towards a healthier life and promise yourself that you will primarily take care of you, because a better “you” will provide better for your significant others! And the moments you feel that you might be failing think of Confucius:

[pull_quote_center]When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don’t adjust the goals, adjust the action steps.[/pull_quote_center]

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Lab scientist, sharp dresser and cooking guru Maria is one half of the original alwaysladies.com founding team. She brings her opinions with earnestness and a smile, even when there are razor blades inside.

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