It’s the start of a new year and there is no doubt that 2019 will be as saturated with nutritional nonsense as 2018. From appetite suppressant lollypops to activated charcoal, the wellness industry was worth $4.2 trillion in 2017 and this figure is set to keep rising.
With this in mind, the start of the year seems like a good time to round up the latest health research – to give you a better understanding of the best things to do to support your health in 2019 that are based on evidence.
1. Eat more fruit and veg
Last year saw a sharp rise in the number of people adopting vegan and plant-based diets. The scientific jury is still out on whether a completely vegan lifestyle is the best thing for our health in the long run, but eating more fruit and vegetables has always been high on the list of positive things you can do for your body.
A growing area of interest is the impact of diet on brain function. One big review of studies published in 2018 reliably demonstrated that for every additional 100g of fruit or vegetables eaten, there is a 3% reduction in the risk of depression.
The last couple of years have also seen increased interest in the role of polyphenols – particularly flavonoids – in our overall health. These phytochemicals are naturally occurring in fruit and vegetables and are responsible for helping the plant to stay healthy. Unlike vitamins, they are not essential to our health but they do help to prevent disease and keep our bodies working effectively. It is thought that they benefit the immune system and have an anti-inflammatory effect. This means they can play a role in the prevention of progression of many diseases – including diabetes, neurodegeneration, cancer and cardiovascular disease.
2. Do less sitting
Research shows that exercise can not only help us to reduce our waistlines – by helping to create the right balance between energy in and energy out – but there is strong evidence to show that being physically active reduces the risk of colon cancer, womb cancer and breast cancer.
This is thought to be because of the improvement in hormone profiles in those who are exercising regularly. There is also really strong evidence to show that exercise is a great way to improve our mental health.
At the start of a new year, it can be easy to think that you need to be joining a gym, aiming for visible abs and adopting that latest gruelling workout schedule – but the truth is that anything that gets you off the sofa will do wonders for your health. In essence, the less time you spend sitting still, the better.
3. Get more sleep (but not too much)
There were several interesting breakthroughs in research in 2018 in linking the “dose” of sleep we get and our health outcomes. It turns out that too much as well as too little sleep increases the risk of heart disease, diabetes and obesity. Healthy adults need between six and nine hours of sleep a night.
New research has also revealed how lifestyle interventions can help to extend people’s sleep – and how a better night’s sleep might help to improve dietary intake during the day. The same research also found that partial sleep deprivation can lead to people craving higher energy foods and – consuming more than 400 additional calories over the course of a day.
4. Make a stress management plan
Modern life can cause huge stress and this has a massively detrimental effect on our health.
This is why it’s important that any plans you make to improve your health in 2019 should not add to your stress burden. Put in place an effective stress management plan for the year ahead. This should include an understanding of the cause of your stress and a plan in place for how to reduce your hormonal response to these stresses.
5. Drink more water
Did you know that being just 1% dehydrated can impair your ability to concentrate? We all know that drinking water is great for us but, on a busy work day, forgetting to drink enough and then becoming just slightly dehydrated can really impair our performance and increase stress.
Make sure you keep a reusable water bottle with you to keep topped up. You’re looking for your urine to be the colour of pale straw throughout the day. Don’t fall into the trap of adding lemons to your water either – lemon juice is more damaging for tooth enamel than coca-cola.
Ultimately then, for the year ahead, aim to focus on your overall wellness and not just one aspect of it. This is important, because a strict diet that adds to your stress because you can’t find anything to eat, or an exercise regime that has you up at five in the morning everyday is going to have many of its benefits offset by detrimental health effects. And as the research shows, being tired and stressed makes eating healthily much more difficult.
So rather than adopting a strict new diet or intense daily workout regime, aim for small achievable health goals each week and you’ll soon start to notice sustainable benefits.
The Conversation is a nonprofit news organization bringing knowledge from academia to the wider public. Articles are written by scholars who are experts on issues of public interest, assisted by editors who help unlock the knowledge.